Birthday

 

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What a gift for my birthday: sunshine and light among water, glass, and flowers. It’s hard to believe sometimes that light and angle make such a difference. Who would believe, for example, that these are the same flowers taken from a different angle in a later light?

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What is it about birthdays? They are the same length as any other day, 24 hours. And yet, like milestones along the roadside, they mark our passage down the long journey of life. Miles, kilometers: my father could never make up his mind. When driving from Wales to Spain, he loved the miles, because they were fewer in number, yet he also loved the kilometers because, although there were more of them, they passed by more quickly.

Long journeys those: crossing the channel by ferry, then down the various routes nationales from the channel down to the Spanish border where we entered into Franco’s Spain, a very different world. Tricornios, the Guardia Civil, checking everything and everybody. We soon learned to carry an extra packet of cigarettes, some chocolate bars, something small that could be handed over or ‘confiscated’.

So what is it about birthdays, those milestones that mark our ways and our days? And where am I now on my life’s journey? Two years older than my mother, when she passed. Two years younger than my father. I look over my shoulder and see behind me the shadow of a bearded man, with a scythe, walking after me. He stoops at Lords cricket ground and, at six thirty, on the dot, he removes the bails from the stumps to signal the end of the day’s play.

Shadows are lengthening. I check my watch. The days are closing in. The umpires pass the stones they carry from hand to hand. One more over of seam, two or three more overs of spin? I adjust my stance at the crease, back away from the wicket and, like Sir Donald Bradman, I ask the umpire to give me a new guard …

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… I take it, scratch my marks in the crease, and look around me … shadows and the fielders are closing in.

Even tho it was Xmas

 

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Even though it was Christmas

I am as free as my father was free. He was free to walk on his walker, as far as he could go down the street. Free to walk in the wind and the rain. Free to sit on his neighbor’s wall when his legs and back got tired. Free to sit there, although it was raining, until he had recovered his strength and energy. Free to get soaked so badly that he caught a cold. And the cold was free to turn into bronchitis and the bronchitis was free to turn into pneumonia and the pneumonia was free to perform its assassin’s work as it tried to kill him. But my father was still free and strong enough to call the doctor and the doctor was free enough to call at the house and visit my father and write him a prescription for a free anti-biotic that would free his body from the pneumonia that was free to leave when it’s time was up and it felt ready to go. Pneumonia, the old man’s friend, they used to call it, sitting there, in my father’s lungs, muttering away to him, day after day, louder at night, and my father slowly getting stronger and the pneumonia growing weaker until one day it felt free to leave and freed my father from his immediate ills. Then my father was free to get up or to stay in bed. Being a free man, he chose to stay in bed all day and to listen to the radio and to read a book and when he got bored with reading he just lay there and counted the dots on the wall “one, two, three…” and “seventy five thousand, one hundred and forty three,” he told me one day when I was free to visit him, “though I have lost count once or twice and have had to start again from the very beginning. And the sun gets up at seven-oh-three, and strikes the third dot at seven fifty-three … and goes round the wall thirty-three dots to the minute; and leaves that third dot from the right at a quarter past three …” And there he stayed, day after day. But he was free. And sometimes the home help came and sometimes she didn’t, for she too was as free as the birds in the garden. And sometimes she remembered to buy him some food and sometimes she didn’t. And she was free to come and go, free to remember or forget. And my father was free to mumble or complain or grumble, though he rarely did. And he was free to eat, so long as there was food in the house. But when I went there to visit him I often saw that the cupboard was bare and my father had neither milk, nor eggs, nor bread nor cereal, nor tea nor butter. And all those people, those acquaintances, those friends, they too were as free as the sea-gulls in the sky. But to find the time to set my father free from the hunger and thirst he seemed predestined to freely suffer, they were never free enough for that.

Neither was I. Even though it was Christmas.

Even though it was Christmas
Voice Recording

 

 

This story is dedicated to all who spend time alone this Christmas, be they street people, homeless, or merely forgotten and neglected. Please consider sharing this story. And if you know someone who is alone at this time of the year, please phone them or visit them.

 

Death’s Angel

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Death’s Angel, also known as the Angel of Death, or the Black Angel, is probably the most important figure that we will meet, face to face, here, in the evening of our lives. He appeared at my bedside the other night, and spoke to me. Bright moon. The Angel stood there, haloed, blazing in a spotlight of glory.

“Everything you have, I own,” he announced, taking my hand. “Your house, your wife, your children, your cat, your dog, your car, your books, your flowers, your garden, they are all mine. And one day I will return and take you  from them.”

Cold, the moonlight. Frigid, that waking from my dreams. My hand burned with his fire, yet I shivered.

“When will you call for me?” I asked?

“Soon,” he said. “Very soon. And remember: it will always be much sooner than you think.”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. I will lend you all these things that you think you own, for a  little while longer, but you must never forget that I am lending them to you. You do not possess them. They are only borrowed.”

“And then?”

“And then they will be mine As you will be mine.”

“There must be something I can do to …”

“There is always something. Embrace me now. Hold me. Breathe in my breath. Know me for who and what I am.”

I did as he asked and his warmth filled me. I looked into his eyes and no longer knew fear.

“There is no past,” he said. “No future. All that you own is this precious moment, the magic of the now, this breath you inhale, this air you release. That is what you own. Understand that, and let everything else go. Live in the moment, for the joy of the day. Seize each second, as you live it. Enjoy it, for that alone is yours. Knowledge, foreknowledge, and understanding: these are my greatest gift to you.”

Then, for a moment, I knew and  came to terms with the gifts he gave me.

“Sleep now,” he said. “But remember, I will be back.”

I fell asleep and dreamed of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death, and traveled as swiftly as he could to Baghdad. where he met again there with Death, who welcomed him.

“Why were you so surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked.

“Because we had a meeting here in Baghdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

When I awoke, a joyous sun illuminated the world. What I had heard and seen rang out with splendor of church bells calling across green fields and leafy woods on a summer morning. I also knew that what the Angel told me, was not for me alone. It was for everyone I knew. A message, not of sorrow, but of joy, not of despair, but of hope.

This wine I sip, this bread I break, this ray of sunshine, this raindrop glistening, that nervous deer peering shyly from the woods, that chickadee feeding, those crows that bring the world back to life with their daily chorus, each is instant of life held, for the briefest of moments, and then released.

My greatest joy, gained from reading Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements,  is to pass his wisdom on to you who read my words, for this message will change your life, as Don Miguel Ruiz’s message has changed mine.

Carpe diem: seize the moment. Deus est in nobis: it is the world soul alive and living within us, unique to each of us. While it is with us, our joy will live forever, and, even though we perish, that joy once shared will never die.

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Touch and Go

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Touch and Go

            Rain. Persistent rain. Cornish mizzle that chills and wets. Basque chirrimirri penetrating flesh and bone. Low clouds blanket buildings, wrap themselves round the windshield. Cling with the tenacity of Saran wrap. Visibility variable, now clear, now a muffler round the car’s headlights. Darkness gathered, still gathering. Lights moving, cars moving, the road moving, blending first with the lights then with the shadows, shape-shifting.

            Down the hill now, out of the city lights, into the countryside. The road changing, patches and potholes, lights flickering in and out, darkness and light. Small animals of light, the potholes, shimmering, bumping by. Another pothole, moving, turning from side to side, a pothole with a ringed tail and two tiny eyes. A baby pothole, misses the front wheels, not the back. One dull, dry thump.

            What were you doing there, in the middle of the road? Why alone? Why no mother, no brothers? Why so small? I didn’t mean to … I didn’t want to … Why me? Why you? Why now? If only …

            Light breaks through the darkness clouding my mind. Memories: the driver on the road to Kincardine, chasing a jackrabbit, trapped in the headlights, a Belgian Hare, dodging down the middle of the country road. Laughing, the driver, with the joy of his hunt. Then: one dry thump. The car stopped, the hare, still twitching, held by its long ears, shown as a trophy at the car window, then thrown in the trunk. Memories: two lads in a half-ton, on a back road by Grand Lake. A sunny Sunday. Spotting the ground hog at the roadside. Driving at it with the truck. Swerving to hit it. The joy and laughter in their faces, looking back. One dry thump. The ground hog, front half viable, spine fractured, back legs paralyzed, dragging itself with its forearms to the roadside, dropping into the ditch.

            Legend tells of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death. Traveled to Baghdad. Met there with Death, who welcomed him. “Why were you surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked. “Because we had a meeting here in Baghdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

“Every morning, at day break,
oh Lord, this little prayer I make,
that thou wilt keep thy watchful eye,
on all poor creatures born to die.”

            Dylan Thomas wrote those words in his poetry play for radio, Under Milkwood. All poor creatures born to die. That’s us. That’s you and me. We don’t know how, or why, or where, or when. And it doesn’t matter. That’s the whole point: it doesn’t matter. Our death was born with us, walks with us, lives inside us, and one day will take us by the hand, each of us, we poor creatures, born to die. What matters is that we live while we can, rejoice while we can, thrive while we can, think while we can, write while we can, enjoy every moment of every day that is gifted to us …

            Enlightenment came last night, at the darkest, warmest of times. It followed me home and crept with me into my bed. I thought of all the creatures found each spring morning, their lives cut short at night along the sides of our New Brunswick roads: deer, porcupine, squirrels, groundhogs, foxes, domestic and feral cats, dogs, skunks, and yes, one, very special, baby raccoon, a tiny raccoon, so small as to be almost invisible in chirimirri, mizzle, and mist.

            His spirit came to me in the under-blanket dark, wrapped itself warm around me, and brought me comfort. “You too,” he whispered. “You too. But not just yet. My work is done. I can go now. But you still have lots of work to do. Remember: Vis brevis, ars longa,” his raccoon spirit nuzzled me and I reached out and patted him. Then both of us settled down to dream our different dreams of a life and death that is surely nothing but a dream, or a game of touch and go.

Show Don’t Tell

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A barber shop quartet, four of them, singing in unison, spring birds at a feeder, early morning sparrows at a jug of milk, abandoned by the milkman on the doorstep.

Except they were none of that. How could they be? They were four brothers, torn apart at birth. They never knew each other, never sang together, never embraced each other, never held each other in their arms. How could they have done so? The first one was stillborn. The second one survived for a while, but struggled to live, succumbed, and drifted away. The third one lived, marked for life by the scars on his forehead where they dragged him from the womb. The fourth one stopped struggling in the seventh month, but the mother carried him to term, even though she knew he was dead.

She carried them, blessed them, gave them all names, and buried three of them. They were her babies and she never got over their loss. Oh, she survived physically, but mentally she was destroyed.

The priests wanted to know what sins she had committed for God to be so angry with her that He destroyed the fruit of her womb. She had no answer. Some refused to bless her. Others ignored her completely. A few used her sorrows to drag the survivor into the tangled web of the church. “He has been spared. He will be one of us,” they said, and rejoiced at the potential strengthening of their celibate ranks.

Three of her children were ever before her. But the fourth lodged like an albatross on her shoulders and hung like a crucifix round her neck. She could never see him clearly. How could she? He was rarely before her eyes, never in the range of her sight. She tried to mold him like putty, but like water or sand, he slipped through her fingers.

Her husband hated him. Was he the father? It’s a wise man knows his father, or his son. Yet they looked alike. But no, they never thought alike, or walked alike. Nor moved in the same circles.

The father, a gambler, had borrowed a large sum of money and placed it with a bookie, betting that this third son would never live and that his death would make his father’s fortune, if the child was indeed a product of the seed his father deposited in his wife’s child bank.

The father lost his bet. The son lived. The father hated him every day of his life.  A rich man he would have been, if … if only … and the scars of that lost bet raged ragged on his face as the father cursed the doctor who had pulled his  son, if he was his son, alive and struggling from the womb.

If he was his son … a strong man, magnificently muscled , it was not his fault, never his fault, it was the fault of that worthless woman, the woman who had carried his seed, if it was his seed, the woman who carried his other three sons, and never brought them alive into this world …

The ostrich sees danger, and buries his head in the sand. The son sees danger and learns to run. The wife sees danger and  learns to suffer, to be beaten, to be abused, to be the victim because yes, she is filled with guilt, and how could it be otherwise, when the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, so weak that it cannot give birth and eventually takes to the black holes of victimization, of alcoholism, and eventually of oblivion.

And the son learned to hide, to make himself invisible, never to be there, never to accept responsibility, never to sit at the desk when the buck was about to stop anywhere nearby, never to be blamed … never to turn down the solace to be found in the darkest depths of those same bottles that finally destroyed the woman he loved, who was also his mother.

Instructor’s Comments:

Rewrite.
Next time, show don’t tell.
Minimally acceptable.

D

 

 

 

Spotlight

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Spotlight

Imagine a spotlight of sun peeping for a moment through dark, cool woods. Then this glimpse of wood texture beneath the bright, creamy butter color of these fungi. A moment’s magic caught by the camera and preserved forever, or until the computer crashes, or the funds for this blog page run out. So much potential beauty lost in the impermanent mists of time.

Old, ruined buildings. Churches and barns, their people moved on, their roofs crumbling, their windows boarded up. A heavy snowfall and, back-broken, they fall to their knees and yield to the weight of snow. A storm-surge of age and ailments break over them. Wildflowers creep up and in. The names on the gravestones slowly vanish, layer by layer, letter by letter, until even the names are no more.

Such will be our fate: all our glory reduced to nothing. Sic transit gloria mundi [Thus pass the worlds’ glories] as the Romans once said. All our books and words reduced to dust. No more living words, just  Polvo seco de tesis doctoral [Dry dust of a doctoral thesis] in the prophetic words of my good friend, the Spanish-Canadian poet José María Valverde.

Haircut, anyone?

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Haircut, anyone?

Well, it’s almost time for me to have my hair cut. When I looked in the mirror to shave this morning I looked a little bit like this: beaky nose, eyes closed, well, half-closed and squinting, anyway, and all lathered up. My grand-pappy told me there’d be days like these: usually just before he cut himself shaving at the kitchen sink with his old cut-throat razor. Then he’d disappear into the outside bathroom and reappear with little Vs of toilet tissue pushed into his chin to staunch the still-leaking wounds. All that’s missing here, in this photo, apart from life itself [nature morte: still life] is my grandfather’s pink shaving cream. And a sense of humor: wreckage on life’s beach, the common destiny that awaits us all, flies and all.