To say that a house divided against itself cannot stand is by extrapolation saying that a country divided will not survive.
These may be the darkest days of our nation. In the start of the 21st century was 911, and we stood shoulder to shoulder in support of our fallen families.
We've been strong in Boston, a strength found in universal condemnation.
We've fought wars together, as a nation, even when some have argued their legitimacy.
But one war, the Civil War, was fought primarily for one very serious reason, slavery. The turmoil of today, the distrust and distain of today, are echoes of an era that strikes an ominous ring on today’s liberty bell.
Today, each of us has the responsibility to hold high the Stars and Stripes, not a flag of Stars and Bars. America is our responsibility, and it should be our responsibility to pass it down to our children in a better more evolved way. But should we not succeed at improvement, we must succeed at passing down these united states.
I hope I'm an alarmist. But what is causing our 21st century division has a focal point. It has one polarizing person who is a caricature incarnate of a self-appointed demigod. He is empowered by a bedrock of our constitution, free speech, and given the bully pulpit of social media. And that’s fine, our country brought us Abraham Lincoln, but it also yielded Larry, Curly and Moe.
We will always have comedians to make us laugh. It's when the comedians take themselves seriously that we run into trouble.
Most serious people would say it’s wrong to shout fire in a crowded room.
Most serious people would say it's the general's responsibility to give the army orders.
Most serious people would say that it is the coach who stands before his team and urges them to march into the stadium to fight and to win.
What do people do in a theater when no one shouts fire? Nothing.
What does an army do without orders? Nothing.
What will a team do without the coaches urging? Well, they may not even play the game.
I heard a legislator argue the mob was solely responsible for their actions. And sinisterly, deflected any responsibility by suggesting an unsupported allegation that another faction was responsible.
Echoing this statement, social media became the unwitting platform to throw spitballs. Unfortunately, many spitballs stick, even though most are unreasonable and unreliable.
That leaves us in our present, with blame shared all around, and it’s a blame recognized by serious people but somehow, unthinkably, not accepted or understood by the blind followers of one source of news or information.
The burden of proof is weighed by our legal system. These are serious people, regardless of their underlying values. They have looked at the evidence, considered arguments, and reached their legal ruling.
Yet despite each of these judicial rulings, members of congress objected to the electoral vote that didn’t benefit their position. They went on to suggest that they could evaluate the law better than the law itself. I fear for our nation where its leaders spend more thought on how to remain leaders than they do on how to lead our nation.
For if they were leading our nation, they would be striving to heal the separation, not further it. If they’re not trying to solve the problem, then aren’t they part of the problem? They are, for the most part, well informed reasoning people. So, I can only speculate on the cold self-serving calculus that seems to motivate them.
We are Americans, we can only remain united if we all choose to. All other roads lead to further division, increased distrust, and mounting hatred. Do we seriously want to take that road?
I sat deep in the gloom of my dirty little room. A man sulking like a child, drowning in a sea of self-pity. Through the dust, dancing on the sole beam of light, a shadow. A flickering, fluttering of delicate wings. Then you chirped. You lighted on the sill, your eyes nervously scanned the room. And you sang, to my ears that longed for a melody of notes that would strike a chord in my soul.
Oh, speak to me little bird what brings you to my dismal little room.
Have you come to cheer me with your song? To have me marvel at your delicate beauty only to have you flutter away. Oh, I’ve seen beauty before and it is all so fragile, so fleeting. Have you come to bring me cheer? Or just to remind me of a life beyond the window, a life that I can not share.
Something possessed me to hold out my arm. Motionlessly, without a whisper, I held my breath. Your soft eyes sought out mine and you took wing and rested on my arm. I dared not speak, not utter a word. Another living creature had stolen into my room.
You eased into that same haunting melody of chirps that seemed to contain a riddle. With words that seemed to form out of thin air. What is it you sing, my dear little friend? What message from the sun do you bring? I gingerly reached out, with a tentative finger-tip, and caressed the nap of your neck. You stopped your preening. And sang to me. And the melody took form in my room, Weird and Wonderful.
Weird and Wonderful. You seemed to sing. What could you mean? I watched as you preened. Out of the shadows came your meaning. Life is weird, strange, and capricious. And I was too, for wasting my time in this prison of my own creation. My room was dismal because I let it be. My heart bleak, because I refused to see the sun. And with that the light through the nearby window turned from a single ray to the dawning of a new day. I knew too, that wonderful was still a possibility in life.
Sweet little bird with feathers so fragile but wings so strong as to carry you aloft;
Thank you for blessing me with this time, however short, where you sang to me so sweetly. I’ll always owe you every beautiful day that follows, and the reminder that though life may at times be weird, even cruel, it is at the same time, wonderful and filled with love and beauty.
I said, "Thank-you sweet little bird." As I opened the window and watched you fly away.
I am a confused child, making noise, but no direction
I am an upper air low with a surface trough; I do not know what that means
I wander aimlessly, angrily without direction, simply looking to be.
I find nourishment in my westward march and I madly eat.
Birthed in sunshine and weighing 14,971 tons of deadweight,
I am readied for departure by the 33 hands on board
I am carefully guided into the open Atlantic.
I have room to move, my heart pounds. I am eager, joyous, to race forward at 20 knots
My gaze is transfixed, southeasterly into a greying sky.
I am a hurricane, difficult and brooding, undecided on life’s direction.
I am influenced by the sea and I turn yet again to the Northwest, blowing and raining harder now, and harder still.
I am prideful, boastful in my strength and eager to show my mother, the sea, how truly powerful I am.
My bow is slammed again and again, by 60 foot waves crashing upon my deck. The cargo shifts ever so slightly with each impact. I plow into the biggest of these waves, headlong, directly into the heart of the bellowing beast, guided by my hands.
My engines stop. I don’t know why. It may have been the fierce jarring. My heart now broken, I know I can no longer plow into the waves. I fear for my hands. For all my great length, I am turned quickly by the wind and the sea. I am now parallel to the waves. Breached against the wind and sea, all hope is lost. Now the 60 foot waves and 125 miles an hour winds are full force against my starboard side.
I am slammed just a few times before the cargo restraints break free and the cargo spills from my deck. Attached together, they weigh like an anchor and I list and fall over.
Wishing for quiet under the waves, I find it is not. I am torn apart, breaking up as I sink, I cry for the hands but they are lost, some taken out by the sea but most sink with me. Darkness and quiet close in.
My youthful vigor is gone my power a memory. Mother no longer nourishes me and I cry my last tears and break up into fragments of clouds on a grey day over Newfoundland.
I am the sea. I nourish the storms. I nourish the people. I hold their memories three miles deep. I make no excuses. I make no prideful boasts. I am the sea.
I’ve done much introspection throughout my life, and have concluded that if a person doesn’t have direction than they are just drifting. Some time back, I found myself drifting on dark waters that flowed slowly through a quiet swamp. Long fingers of Spanish Moss clung to decaying cypress trees that dangled their tresses towards me. The sun hid behind a cloud and a cool breeze tussled the moss; as if mother nature chose that moment to aimlessly toss her hair aside. An insignificant insect, caught unaware of her capriciousness, fell in slow motion, from a waxen green tendril. Soundlessly, it struck the water, to die I thought.
I almost looked away. It was far too unimportant to me. But something made me look back at that tiny little creature. It hadn’t sunk below the surface of the water, instead it drifted along with me and struggled to regain a Christ like purchase on the water. It willed itself to stand on the water, or was it simply chance that it survived. I recognized it for what it was, a spider, neither good nor bad. It meant me no harm. I wondered if it lived its life as it willed, or as it was willed by some power beyond my comprehension. Was it a testament to its courage and determination, to watch it somehow scamper across the waters towards the trunk of a new tree, or was it just the way of things?
I was intrigued to see it find a new sanctuary, and climb above the precarious waters. The sun was out again. It was warmer now and the spider decided to dry out on a new tree. I drifted on and wondered if it chose to make this its new home. Or did whimsy play a part in relocating it again? I knew those unfathomable dark waters were merely a crossroad for that spider. I looked ahead, for my own shore.
The drive home was long, as it always is. My mind clouded with events of the day and thoughts of the long upcoming holiday weekend. It took moments before the flashing blue lights and alternating high beams of the trooper car tugged at a more cognitive level of my consciousness. I slowed. My car crept along the left side of the road as I followed the officer's gestures to stay to the left. Inquisitiveness or morbid curiosity, I am not sure which, forced me to steal glances at the accident. Why was I compelled to see the cause of the commotion?
What I saw unsettled me: a broken wheel, a bicycle, a ten speed I think, off the shoulder, in the sand. I thought of the child who must have ridden the bike. I imagined a young boy, not quite a teenager, on vacation at the nearby campground. I saw his gritty face from the dusty road, and the perspiration from his exertion. I heard his labored breathing as he climbed the hill, another challenge conquered, one of many on his road to adulthood.
Then the car, carelessness, I don't know by whom. It happened all too quickly. A screech of tires, the acrid smell of rubber, and a thud as the bike and boy flew through the air. For a few moments the broken wheel rolled free then it settled at the edge of the grassy meadow.
The bike, with bent frame and missing wheel was rudely left behind at the edge of the pavement, an all too real awakening to life's realities. I am a biker too.
The rain soaked streets gleamed a clean white sparkle from the street lambs as we sped by. I remember mother occassionally looking at me, her eyes wet with tears, she continually told me that everything was all right. I was afraid. I didn't know why she plucked me from my bed. I didn't know why my clothes were hastily thrown into my travel bag. I didn't understand why she now cried or why dad had stayed behind. Why did they argue so much? We sped on through the night until we reached the intersection. We couldn't stop at the red light Instead we skidded into the intersection the car turning sideways exposing the driver's side towards the approaching truck. I think mom died instantly.
As the fireman cut us from the crumbled Ford, I remember looking at Mom's face. Her eyes stared blankly at me, blood dripped from her mouth. Even after all these years, I can't forget that image. Later, at the hospital Dad arrived. He hugged me and said everything would be all right. I left the hospital the next morning. Several days later he helped me into my Sunday dress and tried to help me with my blue hair ribbon. Mom always tied it into a bow around my ponytail. I looked in the mirror. He hadn't done a very good job but I left it in anyway. He was very sad. He had said we were going to say goodbye to Mom. Even at five I knew what a funeral was and I knew we wouldn't see mom again.
Many of our relatives were at the Funeral. I saw Uncles and Aunts that I had never even meet. They all hugged me and told Dad how sorry they were. My grandmother engulfed me with her hug. Her silver hair fell into my eyes, and perfume was so thick I could hardly breath. She asked if I wanted to live with her and gramps for a time. Dad said he hadn't discussed that with me yet. The pastor stood behind a small podium in front of the the tasteful mahogany casket. I thought it strange that he would speak first about mom; he knew her least of all. She hadn't gone to church for many years. He looked out at the large crowd of friends and relatives and began to speak.
Saying goodbye is never an easy thing, but we can take consolation in having known Susanne and believing that she is now with God. She was a kind hearted outgoing soul. She touched all our lives with her Christian values, concern and compassion. The story of her love for life, humanity and animals is told by her chosen profession, charity work, and kindhearted approach to living. I understand there are others who have words to share with us today.
My mom's brother Mike stood. As a carpenter he wasn't accustomed to wearing a suit but he looked great in it. His voice was choked with sorrow as he began.
Susy, despite her diminutive stature, was my big sister. She was always there for us with words of wisdom and consolation. I remember her love for animals. She cared for them as she would a child.
Her big sister Carol, who perhaps understood her better than anyone, followed.
Suzy was a butterfly, fluttering about between uncertain futures but always touching the casual observer with her beauty and elegance.
I wanted to speak to everyone too. I wanted to tell them the mother that I knew. The mom who hugged me and played with me an took me everywhere, but I stayed quiet.
Then one by one our family and friends went up to the casket, some simply looked inside, while other's bent down to kiss her. I clung to Dad's arm. One of the last people to approach the casket was Mom's friend Mr. Bennett. Mom had taken me to see him at his house often. He had explained how his children had grown up and left him, just as his wife had. Mom and Mr. Bennett would close his parlor door while I played with his dog and the toys that had belonged to his children.
Mr. Bennett also bent down to kiss Mom. I looked at dad. His face was turning red, like when he yelled at Mom. He began to squeeze my hand very hard. He handed me to my Grandmother and walked to Mr. Bennett. Their eyes met. Dad's eyes showed anger and Mr. Bennett's showed tears.
"I'm so sorry!" Mr. Bennett said. The tears flowing more freely.
Dad eyes soften and he stammered out, "At least she won't be searching anymore."
Both men turned away from each other. Mr. Bennett walked out into the drizzle. Dad came back to sit beside me.
From the foggy dreams of my youth are haunting visions of a woman. When I'm troubled or just feel lonely I've thought of these visions, these memories of dreams I once had, and hoped they would somehow come true. The first dream came to me early one winter's morning when my childhood home lay quiet in the frosty grasp of a Maine winter's night.
The Lady of Grace
That old farm house always creaked, particularly in the winter, when the cold winds of February pushed against my sanctuary, the place I was loved and understood by a caring and nurturing family. The four walls of my bedroom bore witness to my innocent infancy, confused childhood, and introspective teen years. These walls changed too as I aged. When I was young they were painted light blue and supported pictures of clowns arranged to look down at me and my curious circus of 7 stuffed animals. Some years later the paint was covered with paneling and the clowns picked up their stakes and left with the animals. Now the walls held mountain scenes, a posters of Bilbo Baggins, and National Geographic maps which helped me to explore the world. I loved to journey, with these maps, to far off lands of imagination. What I experienced in the pre-dawn of this frigid February morning I did not imagine.
I was in the world between sleep and consciousness, shrouded in darkness, safe and secure in my own bed from the cold outside. The hot water pipes clanked madly while the furnace struggled to keep the house warm and my room, as usual, hot. I slept on my stomach with the blankets pushed down to my waist. I was alone in my room and almost completely awake when I felt her hand. I froze. Someone's hand was on the center of my back. The fingers where long and the hand was cool. The gentle pressure stayed for a brief moment. Then the hand pulled away. In the dim light of dawn I looked up. I didn't know this woman. I couldn't make out her features. The way she stood and how she gestured seemed so regal. I sensed her elegance. I wasn't afraid. I heard her voice, but she didn't speak out loud. "Not now...on earth we're still too young. We must wait for each other.", I heard her say. She raised her hand slowly and began to wave good-bye and then she was gone. Wide awake I remained in bed thinking about this woman until my father called to wake me for school.
The Woman of Wisdom
Years passed, and I often thought about that brief moment and how she awakened in me new questions--questions about love. Being a teenage is never easy. We all found ways to cope. I was always quiet in a crowd or among strangers. I preferred my own company and this day was no different. It was the day after Thanksgiving, cold and cloudy a holiday from school. After breakfast, I returned to my bedroom and sat in bed reading Robert Heinlein. My mother prepared lunch. After lunch I put on my heavy jacket, stocking cap, and gloves, then I slung my skates over my shoulder and took off. I headed out into the woods behind my house. I knew the cold snap of the past week had frozen the surface of the brook that ran behind my house. I followed the brook up stream, hoping that I would come to a place where the brook would broaden enough, and the ice would be sound enough to skate on. As I walked further from home and into the spruce forest, my breath grew heavy and clouds of water vapor formed in front of me It must have been nearly an hour before an owl dove from a tree top and swooped just passed my head. I watched it as it flew away amid the trees. I must have awakened this nocturnal predator. How miraculous its soundless flight was. I decided to walk in the direction it flew. Away from the brook the forest grew denser and the terrain became uneven. I picked my way through the trees and over rocks strewn by some long ago glacier. I was about the head-back towards the brook, and give up on the notion of skating when I noticed an opening in the canopy ahead. I walked down a slight grade and stood on ice. It was an isolated glen that must have filled with rain water only to freeze over, just for my enjoyment. I had only about 30 feet of ice in which to skate, but I was satisfied, the skating was just the pretense to go exploring. After a time I sat back on an old log. It had broken from the snag still left standing. I sat quietly and listened to my own breath. It was the only sound I could hear. No song birds sang because they had found warmer places to be. In the months earlier the animals had collected their stash so they now lay quietly in their holes and burrows.. Without a breeze, even the spruces needles were still. Nothing stirred the woods, which patiently waited for winter.
Something flew by me. I looked up expecting the see the owl. I hadn't heard a sound, it must have been the owl. I was surprised I couldn't see it. It couldn't fly that fast. Another shadow darted past me and was gone before I could turn my head to follow it. "This is very strange.", I thought..
"Hello.", I heard a gentle voice, I almost leapt out of my skin.
I stood up from the log and looked around the edge of trees which guarded this clearing. I couldn't see anyone. "Hello!", I said. "Whose there?"
Again, in a soft feminine voice, "Hello."
This time I knew the voice wasn't from the woods it was from right over my head. I looked up. Just out of my reach on one of the few remaining branches on that spruce snag was an owl.
"I've been watching you.", the owl said.
"For how long?", I asked. How could I be talking with an owl? She was a horned owl perhaps 10 inches tall with gray and brown feathers and bright green eyes. Owls don't have green eyes, but at least in this light this one did.
She continued, "I've been watching you since the day you were a born. It was a day in mid-February when your father struggled in that snow storm to get your mother to the hospital. I was already on Earth waiting for you to arrive. Now that we're on Earth together we must find each other. I've been searching you out in heart and soul, everyday of your life. I watched you grow. I have visited you before. I'm here today to remind you I'm still waiting for you and that you will find me someday, but my earthly bond self will not recognize you right away. But you will know me. I will stand out from all others. Remember that love is not built on expectations, it is made of acceptance. It can not be deformed into your wishes, but it must be shaped to fit our mutual desires. When you find me be patient. We are components of the same star you are the mass that gives me energy. I am the light and heat of day. Wait for me I'll will be with you someday, if the circumstances of or lives allow.
In a flash the owl was gone. The sun was low on the horizon and regretfully I had to hurry out of the forest.
More years passed. I left my quiet little street in the peaceful community of my birth, and went away to college. Orono was a big school for me. There were three times as many student there as people that lived in my home town. I was, for a time, intimated by my surroundings, but found I could enjoy myself. I made friends and played games. I went to class and sometimes studied. I meet a girl, and she proclaimed her love. I played at the game of love. It was a new game for me then. I didn't know the rules. I played the game conscientiously until her vision visited me again.
I was in my mid-twenties and had been seeing Michele for several years. That winter I escaped the cold streets of Portland and flew down to Florida to visit my parents over the Christmas holiday. On Christmas Eve I dreamt of her again.
She was standing at the water's edge, looking out across the water at a brilliant rising sun. I approached her. I don't remember any sounds, not even the sounds of the surf. It was hard, at first to see her, the brilliance of the sun backlit her, obscuring my vision. I was compelled to walk towards the light, towards her. As I approached her she turned and I could see her quite plainly. She smiled at me with delicate lips and pearly white teeth and held out her hand. It was the same hand that had touched my back so many years before. I took her hand and gazed into her green eyes. They were the same eyes as the owl. It was her. The vision had returned. She spoke again to me and I cradled her with my eyes. It was the same voice of reason spoken by that horned owl.
She began by saying, "I'm still out there. Look for me, Kevin. Be patient. We will one day meet. I'll be there when you least expect it. In the cool light of reality you'll one day hold me. We will start as friends but love with grow. You will proclaim your love first. I will be slow to respond, my spirit is strong and I've suffered so much but you will free my heart and I will love you, as I have loved no other. We are meant to be. Such a splendid life we'll lead. Our hearts will be joined as one and we'll walk through our lives together."
She flirtatiously kissed me and drew away. I reached after her but only managed a fleeting grasp of a wisp of her silky auburn hair. She turned back to the sea and floated out across the waves. I heard her voice calling back to me. "Be patient, wait for me."
To Touch A Dream
Dreams never last forever. It takes a great imagination and a lot of stubbornness to make them endure even a few short years. Time stole away her plea to be patient and wait for her. I married a woman and forgot this childish dream. My imagination became still and I lived and worked and played. Each day was like its yesterday and each day's tomorrow never mattered. At work I found a place where I could lose myself working at something that absorbed me even if it didn't fulfill me. My life wasn't complete, there was a component missing. I didn't recognize it at the time, but, that's not uncommon from someone who doesn't look for tomorrow. I seldom thought of the hand, or the owl in the tree, or that beautiful face in my dream. Work filled the gap. Until the woman returned.
I didn't recognize her at first. I had that vision almost 10 years earlier. In reality, she was sitting next to me, that beautiful woman on the beach. Her voice was that of the owl and her wisdom matched. She even flew like the owl on sleek soundless wings. The first time I happened to touch her hand I realized it was her. Here was a dream I couldn't wake from. She had entered my reality. "Be patient, wait for me."
Her hand reached for the top of the rock and she was ready to boost herself up over the edge. "Alice, don't go....", I said out of desperation. She turned and looked back at me. "I've got to tell you something." She sat back down on the rock. Long minutes passed, I looked from my shoes to the sea to her face. "I've fall...I've fallen...deeply in love with you." There, I had said it. I felt a great relief. I mentioned something of kismet, two sides of the same coin. I didn't tell her she was the woman of my dreams. It would have been a common line, a cliché used by many men, for me it was reality.
For me that spring was the spring of wonderment as we learned about each other. The summer was one of frustration as she distanced herself from me. I've resolved to make the fall one of with no expectations. I will wait for her. As a friend I'll greet her and always stand by her side. I'll do for her whatever she asks, because she is more than a friend. I will continue to dream of the words that the vision spoke to me, "I will love you." The fact that she exists proves that at least part of my vision proved real. Maybe it all will come true. Alice, is the woman of my dreams and undeniably she has become the woman of my reality. I'll be patient and wait, because I do love her.
Reality Vs. Dreams
Time has a way of changing of our now into then, as fall became winter and the winter became next year. A man who doesn't look into the future and won't live in the past, began to feel the pain of a present when he was truly alone. Alone, because the dream was no longer just a dream and the reality that separated them was unbearable.
I Do Still Dream
Many years have passed--many. I find my body in decline; I accept that. I find my mind slower to retrieve my memories; I fear that. I fear that the memories of the touch, the owl, the beauty by the beach have faded. I fear I’ve given up. My patience lost to a life that is far too fleeting. You once implored me to “Stop!”, “Not now.” It is still now. It always will be. But I do still dream. In these dreams your green eyes are grey. Your hair no longer flows about your shoulders. It is closely cropped. There is no longer a fragrancy of flowers about you, and the gentle waves no longer lap at our feet. In these dreams, I never see your beautiful body bared. And I regret that I never saw your soul bared. If I had, would things have been different? I never heard your voice whisper the only three words I ever wanted to hear. They are my dreams but I do not control them. In those dreams I am thankful you visit, even as you stay out of reach, a haunting, colorless, voiceless Spector. And though my memories fade and my truth has long become story. I hope your ghostly image will continue to haunt me. And some realities are best left to dream.
I was a speck suspended on a cliff face among the peaks and clouds. Watched below by gawkers with binoculars, and above by a hawk. These people, my ilk, my shadows, would judge and criticize, but the hawk just called out -- trespasser.
Even at this altitude the heat of day warmed my face. The memory of my mother’s thoughtful words saddened me to think their echoes would soon die. I tried to adjust my grip but the pain was almost unbearable.
My adulthood was a fusion of responsibility and recklessness that made friends lovers, but relationships inevitably die.
What did my life serve? I always thought it would be good to die on a mountain. I almost laughed. I wouldn’t be on a mountain but the valley floor.
The hawk’s forlorn cries taunted me, goaded me, but still I held on, clinging until I couldn’t cling any more.
Hurricane Earl Steers Clear of Maine
(Saturday September 4th 2010, Bridgton Maine)
Far to the east tropical storm Earl churns the sea, its ferocity calmed by cooler waters. What could have been did not come to pass. What could have been is in the past. I sit on this rickety wooden chair with its right rear leg teetering in a hole left by an innocent creature of God’s design. I sit among family and new found friends reminded of the expression that strangers are simply friends we have not met yet and reminded that life is remarkable.
What I see is my youngest nephew marrying atop a creation called Ministers Hill. What I experience is a reckoning with beauty and irony. A storm stirs the sea but over our heads are fast rushing dreamy clouds that fill the storm’s void as they fill my mind with wonder. I say to those that vaunt a cloudless sky, where’s the imagination in one of those. Look to all the billowy shapes that fill your sky, take time to consider each of them, to reach for them, you may just touch a few. I see a castle, or maybe it is a farm house. I see a long lanky man, he could be a farmer but he definitely has a scruffy face. I see a young woman, beautiful in her white wisps of wedding adornment. And quietly circling the pair is a precious ball of love. They have already touched me.
Every life has clouds, some are dark and bring thunder and lightning, some merely a long lasting drizzle, maybe someone’s sky is cloudless--but what fun is that. It is the clouds that cross our skies, it is the people that grace our lives that remind me to appreciate all the billowy clouds.
Snow Plows In Paradise
I remember the stillness of those long ago winters; how quiet they were as the snow piled up outside my parents home in rural Maine. Stillness, like the grave, would envelop me as I slept. Oh those unforgettable nights, when refracted light from the nearby town acted like a shroud and caste an eerie orange hue against the belly of the clouds. Somewhere in the darkness, a noisy beast lay waiting, ready to start its snowy night’s prowl. In a distant lair its throat would bellow out life and it would move out into the darkness. No one would be spared its torment. No one would sleep through these nights. It tore across the snow covered streets and breathed fire and roared at the people as they recoiled in their beds.
My bed, distant from town, was spared the early anger of the beast. As night progressed, it ventured from the town, looking for dessert. My eyes would pop open, as the beast rumbled and roared beyond my bedroom window. Thinking like an ostrich, I buried my head underneath piles of blankets deluding myself that I was somehow safe. Even Nick, my stuffed zebra, or Charlie my stuffed, brown dog, couldn’t chase the beast away. My peace was broken.
I’d hear my father grumble. He muttered to my mother, his sleep disturbed. My sister would often take this opportunity to go to the bathroom. She paddled by with her stupid slippers that looked like Dumbo soaked in calamine lotion. I lay and planned my revenge against the beast.
I’m reminded of a quote from the Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan. In it Recardo Montalban says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Although I think it predates Star Trek by centuries. Well I chose my revenge many years later on a cold and exceptionally snowy November. It was Thanksgiving my family was all about. I had been underfoot all afternoon as my aunts and mother prepared dinner. Most of the men, were clad in orange and had brought home a beast of a more passive nature. The kids, namely myself, my nieces, and nephews, were close in age, and were banished to the outer world to fend for ourselves in snow drifts that towered over our heads. We began, without purpose at first, to build the most humongous snow fort. As I created the recessed shelves for my arsenal, I realized my plan. I knew how I’d exact my toll of revenge on that fire breathing beast. I’d finally defeat that noisy cacophony of engine roaring, plow rumbling, smoke billowing creature that reeked such destruction on the miles and miles of pure and untrodden snow.
I urged the others to join me. To lay in wait behind our barricade, sure that we’d be safe. It wasn’t long and from far up the hill a rumble began. We all knew the terror of those nights when this beast would tear us from our dreams of quieter things. I’d touched a cord with the others and my men would do anything for me. I encouraged them, offered each praise before the battle. Assuring them that to die with honor was not to die in vain. The beast wheeled around the bend it’s light shown down our throats. It’s blade sent up fireworks of sparks and it carelessly and heartlessly flung aside the snow. We lay mute behind our walls—protectors of the snow each frozen, as the roar grew. We only had seconds to think about our love ones. I looked in Kim, the look in her eyes was of fiendish support of my plan. My much younger nephew, Dave, seemed ready to flee I pounced, as it roared past. The prey now the predator. I flung the first salvo. My troops responded. We assailed the plow. A new sound, far scarier than the others was the sound of air brakes. The red tail lights came on. A scary man was spit from the inside of the beast. He shouted and cursed at us. We ran very fast! The beast won another battle.
Someday all of us give up the things of youth. For some this metamorphosis is with pride and independence. With others it is with disdain and fear, so happy were we with our youth. Well, I am an adult now, though I still sometimes try to shrug off the term. But one thing I thought I’d given up was the notion of revenge against that creature of the snowy night-- okay it’s a stupid snowplow!
I decided I’d win the war in the best way of an adult. I’d buy my safety. I’m now living in a house far from the road that the noisy plow patrols. Perhaps somewhere in my mind, lurking just below the staid and “normal” me lies that plotting, vengeful mind of that spoiled boy who might have subconsciously inspired me to use this final tactic in the battle for a good night’s sleep.
Frankly, I thought I was the victor. But last January, in one of those wicked storms that New Englanders, fondly call Nor’Easter’s, the tide was turned again in its favor. A week before, I had temporarily setup my brand new mailbox for my brand new home. I had placed it into a five gallon pail of sand because the ground was too frozen to sink the post in. I put the pail a safe distance from the road. Later that week the postman left me a note. I thought he might have said what an ingenious temporary mailbox stand. Or perhaps, this is the most accessible mailbox I’ve ever delivered to. Instead he wrote, I’m having to get out of my car to deliver your mail. Would you please move the mailbox closer to the road--Peter. I remember how I shuttered as I slide the mailbox closer to the road. I couldn’t explain my fear; I passed it off as the cold. I know now it was my inner child, warning me. You know the rest.
As I drove home from work that day, I looked up the road and began to smile. It wasn’t the smile of a kid. A kid’s smile can mean only one thing—I’m happy. It was that two faced smile adults have to master before they become adults. It is the smile that says, look out I can’t be trusted. Ahead of me, lying in the snow, was my mail. I muttered under my breath, and I thought to myself, I bet that they’re all bills. My words fell as icicles upon no one’s ears. I stooped over what was my mailbox. It was heavy duty plastic but now had jagged teeth marks torn into it. Its door was gone; it must have been consumed by the beast. The pail itself lay yards away in the ditch, turned on its side, its guts strewn across the snow. The battle is joined….
Oh somewhere on a snowy night,
The beast angrily prowls still.
And I under my blanket tight,
Red eyes glaring beyond the sill.
It thunders down the quiet street,
As it breaths fire from its feet.
While chasing dreams from children--beat.
While I wish for long days of heat.
Time travel is more than a trip of fancy. Because it’s a trip I’ve taken many times myself. I’ve traveled back through the dizzying kaleidoscope of my life. Past the years of hard work. To my college days and campus life and a special place.
I would not go to this special place, on those crisp days of fall when touch football games became tackle in the way that men will always play as boys. Oh never would you find me there, on the long days of spring, when the sun chased the snow away. And the girls would fly, now unfettered from their winter’s coat, in their provocative spring plumage.
Oh but on those long winter nights, when my car’s battery would only gurgle like the unfortunate whizzing of an asthmatic aardvark. On those cold nights, when I couldn’t bare to lose another game of beer pong. On those endless, nights when I tired of the ruckus of the Frat. I might, quietly, steal away to the library.
The greatest challenge of going to the library is finding your own spot. This spot is entirely individual. I formed quite an apt judgment on people by where they chose to study.
The reference room was for those looking for a quickie. The quick fix of knowledge for the last minute report. Periodicals, well that’s were the studious social butterflies would go. And of course studious and social is an oxymoron. The serious students fought gravity and ascended to the heights. Either the third or fourth floor halls. These were cavernous spaces systematically filled with tables which accumulated the students guano. I would sometimes study here, but only as a last resort.
Even now I reverently remember the phrase “The Stacks”.
Here I found small one person tables, nested deep in the womb of the library, amid the stacks of aging books, whose titles were usually on the esoteric and sometimes on the incomprehensible. Here is where I’d try be. I’d prepare for a trip to “The Stacks”, like a mountaineer prepares for an assault on a great peak. I’d load my backpack with hardware my books would be the maps to guide me, my pen and pencil, the pitons and carabineers. And of course I’d bring nourishment. Vital nourishment, usually I could dig up some donuts and a soda. I needed that soda to stay awake.
Staying awake was the greatest challenge of the conquest. First, it was so quiet. So quiet that the humming of the fluorescent lights sounded like a mosquito as it flies over the bed when you’re trying to fall asleep. So quiet, that the old radiators would crackle like the fading embers of a wood fire. So quiet that the annoying tapping of the person in the desk next to door would merge with the dream state that I’d irrevocably find falling into. I’d think, a nap, just a few moments, or maybe a minute, I would rest my head on my folded arms.
A deafening sound, like a cough and I’d wake, often with a stiff neck. I’d turn my head and rub my neck feeling the creaking and crackling of my vertebrae. The air was so dry my sinus’ would feel like they’d become a piece of paper which was inadvertently put through the drier. And before long, I’d add my cough to the gentle harmony coughs. Yawning, I would rise and select a seemingly harmless book. “Flatworld”. I’d think, maybe it’s like Westworld No, I’m on 2B, Science and Mathematics. Imagine how difficult it is for a tired person to stay awake reading about the concept of how everything can be represented as composite of single points.
Put that evil book down. Out of my pack comes the heavy artillery; a Jolt soda. The sizzling fizzing battery acid assailed my teeth as it roughly coarsed its way down my throat. Caffeine--supercharged! Back to, chemistry more chemistry, more genetics, more microbiology. I’d give my major up for a novel, or the approval to listen to music.
I did just that. On one of those winter nights. I changed my major realizing that I wasn’t the stack sort of person. I wasn’t even a cavern sort of person. On my next trip to the library I took a quickie in reference room.
Last night’s flickering images of the crowd in Watertown showed collective hands raised in applause and voices raised even higher in cheer. This demonstration came four days late, ending the marathon in darkness illuminated by infrared instead of the brilliant Patriots Day sun. In the days that followed the starter’s gun, I realized I didn’t know who won, but did anyone really win?
We are a country, a world, maturing, we are like a child our innocence stripped away by the events that shape our lives. The Boston Marathon Bombing is like 9/11, Oklahoma City, and the all too frequent capricious loss of life at our schools, theaters and shopping centers. These surreal events are forever etched in our collective memory by washed-out TV images of strobing police lights and the talk of flash bang grenades.
Our lives are like a marathon and our race is not won. We have many miles to run, many hills to climb, many heartbreaks to endure. We need to pick each other up, wipe the dirt from our hands, spit the blood from our mouths, and take that first deep breath of resolve and forge ahead to each other’s applause.