Washington Bear

 

IMG_0065.JPG

Washington Bear

Washington Bear crosses the Potomac in a boat filled with Christmas oranges. Well, that’s what it looks like. Though of course they may be tangerines, or clementines, or mandarin oranges. It doesn’t really matter, because Christmas is now over, the Potomac is crossed, and world and wold have returned to whatever normality is currently available.

Brave Washington Bear. He was the first to pose for my pre-Christmas present: a new small Canon Camera. Hand-size, it fits in a pocket but takes the sharpest of pictures. It’s a Wifi camera, so they say, but we spent the largest part of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day trying to set up the Wifi connection, without success. When we checked trouble-shooting online, we found about 400 links complaining of the difficulty of linking Windows 10 with the Wifi Canon cameras. Oh dear: all fingers, thumbs, and steamed up glasses, with miniscule codes thumbed onto Lilliputian screens. How frustrating and, as we grow older and sight and touch grow frailer, and brain power for new things lessens, and new things encroach more and more and faster and faster onto our sensibilities … how triply and quadruply and really bigly, big league frustrating. As we slow down the world and the increase in daily innovations speed up. It is only now, that I begin to understand the frustrations of my grand-mother: “Thread the needle for me, Roger, for I cannot see too well and my hand is shaking.” Little did I know then that I too would be making the same and similar pleas when my turn came around, as it is coming.

The optometrist scheduled three eye operations. all minor, for me in October. I have had one already, the removal of a cyst, and now have two more to go: cataracts in both eyes. It will be good to see clearly again. Perhaps I will be able, once more, to thread my own sewing needles. I like sewing. I find it very relaxing. I have a wire needle threader (from Spain), an automatic needle threader (from my time quilting in Moncton), and I have my own sense of direction, corrupted now both by vision and shakiness. I guess that, like Washington Bear, I will be crossing my own Potomac soon, not to mention my Rubicon.

Not that it matters. Not that much matters in the enormous scheme of this world that rolls onwards and onwards, perhaps to its own inevitable end. Others have become extinct before us. We too are faced, once more, with our own extinction. Washington Bears, one and all and all for one, we must stand together in the prows of our boats laden with oranges and step forward, bravely, into whatever awaits us. Fortune favors the brave or so they say. But don’t be too happy about it, for they also say that “those whom the gods would destroy, they first make happy.” So bravery, yes, but with a little pinch of doubt and a peck of cynicism, please. Enjoy the old year. Welcome in the new. But don’t be too happy, not just yet. Let’s see what’s ahead of us first.

 

Xmas Birthdays

IMG_0013

Xmas Birthdays

They come in all shapes and sizes. The ones closest to Christmas, are they the best? Good question. Are the later ones any better? Who knows? In my case, January born, all I remember are the broken promises.

“I’m not buying you a Christmas present this year. I’m saving up to buy you something special for your birthday. What do you say to that?”

“Thank you, Auntie Gladys. You are so kind. I’ll look forward to my birthday.”

I next meet Auntie Gladys two weeks after my birthday. “Oh,” she says. “Was that your birthday just went by? I forgot all about it. Sorry.”

That’s just one example, but I remember many broken promises. I had to be older, sadder, and very much wiser before I realized that perhaps my Auntie Gladys didn’t have enough money to buy me one present, let alone two.

Then there was my mother’s mother’s birthday. It took place on December 23rd every year. During November, my mother never mentioned it. At the beginning of December, silence reigned. When my father’s office parties for Christmas drew closer, around the 15th or 16th of December, my mother’s mother’s birthday grew in stature and importance.

“Where’s your father?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s late. He should be home. Did he tell you what he’d be doing tonight?”

“No.”

9 pm, 10 pm, 11 pm … then a key in the lock, I’d run to the door and heave at it with enthusiasm, and my father, pushing against a door I was now pulling open, would fall face first onto the mat, writhing and giggling.

Two or three nights like this and, on the evening of the 22nd or the morning of the 23rd, my mother would announce to me in a loud voice and in my father’s absence: “It’s my mother’s birthday. Pack your bag. We’re going to see her.”

“Aren’t you going to wait for dad?”

“No.”

“Aren’t we going to tell him where we’re going?”

“No.”

She’d call a taxi that would drive us to the train station or the bus station. She’d buy us tickets to her mother’s hometown, 40 miles down the road, and off we’d go.

I was often too tired to note the anxious tones of my grandparents’ questions. The mumbled conversations behind my back. The little errands that I was asked to run while the ‘grown-us’ discussed the nature of the current situational crisis.

“What do you want for Christmas?” my mother’s family would ask.

“I want my dad,” I’d reply.

Then, On Christmas Eve, still fatherless, but full of hope and the promises of presents and joy, I would go to bed and fall asleep, too tired to wait up and spy on dear old Santa.

Next morning, my father, hung over, rather smelly having slept in his shirt, unshaven, and looking sleepily sheepish, would appear and offer me whatever special gift he had been looking for during the past three days.

“Just for you,” my father would say, handing me his wrist watch (one year) or his fountain pen (another). “I went up to the North Pole specially to get it,” his smile lit up the room.

“Liar,” my mother would say and her family would roll their own sheep eyes and look at the ceiling or at their shoes.

“Well, maybe not the North Pole,” my father, now a little moth or butterfly, would wriggle on the pin my mother was sticking into him. “I went to London, actually.”

“Liar, liar.”

“But it was the office club’s official party trip. We saved a shilling a week to hire a coach and drive up to London to see Swansea playing Tottenham Hotspur.”

“Liar, liar, liar.”

“Well,” my mother’s father would mediate, “Swansea were playing Tottenham yesterday.”

“Told you so,” said my dad.

It was Christmas. Mistletoe would appear, kisses would be exchanged, peace would be bought, my watch wouldn’t work, and next time my father saw me he was wearing a brand new wrist watch that actually went tick-tock.

23 December … it’s my mother’s mother’s birthday again. I welcome the day with open arms, yet I always fear what might happen, and I always wait for the worst to come when the first of those Christmas birthday ghosts arrives to sit on the end of my bed and taunt me as I lie there, eyes wide open, haunted, sleepless remembering …

 

 

Twits, Tweets, and Twitter

img_0281

 

 

Twits, Tweets, and Twitter
aka
Bits and Bytes

After a very cold and snowy December, with low temperatures, way below average and dropping at times to -24C, with snow on the ground almost all month, and all this in the fall, aka autumn, since winter didn’t officially begin until 6 pm yesterday, December 21, it was a real shock and surprise to listen to the rain fall and high winds batter the windows all night as the overnight temperature rose to +14C and we received 40 mms of rain. As a result, we awoke to warnings of flash floods from melting snow and an influx of rain as winter has begun with a more of a whimper and a watery splash rather than with a flash freeze and a bang as your bottom hits the ice. I wonder what the deer think as they paddle through the puddles on their way to and fro from the water-logged feeders. I know what I’m thinking: ‘thank heavens we don’t have to shovel it’, but it will be a totally different story when it all freezes over, the road are like bottles, and we descend the hill in first gear with an ever-present fear of a much too welcoming ditch.

I have just read an interesting article on how, accustomed as we are to Twits and Tweets, many of us are no longer capable of unravelling a long interesting sentence that rambles on and on and refuses to make an immediate Twitter Point, usually underlined by the use of CAPITAL letters for KEY WORDS and all of this for a sound byte audience that is becoming less and less literate as social media proliferates and news is telescoped into tiny jam jars of meaning that are spread around with an illiterate spoon and many exclamation marks. There: you have just read a 96 word sentence. I wonder how you did with it? Did you persevere? Did you give up half way through?

In my former life, when I encouraged young people to read Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote from cover to cover (and they did), I was surprised to discover the difficulties they had with his long sentences, some so long that they continued for a whole paragraph or a full page. I was also surprised to discover that many Spanish speaking people are now incapable of reading Don Quixote in the original Spanish as it is too complicated for them and too difficult in meaning and structure. I have cartoon versions of Cervantes’s master-piece, but have always found them to be simplistic and undignified. I have read the original, in Spanish, twenty-seven times, usually in the Martin de Riquer edition, and have never found the language to be a problem. Indeed, it is refreshing to enter the labyrinth of a long sentence and to struggle for a little while with the exact meaning of a complicated structure that offers so many multiple readings that no single meaning can easily be extricated, if at all, and so the mind wanders on and on in the Cervantine maze spun by a spider-web pen and a brilliant mind, now no longer accessible to the multitudes: a paradise now closed to so many, a garden open to a only a select few / Paraíso cerrado para muchos, jardines abiertos para pocos.

The spirit of Cervantes, the creator, appeared to me last night in a dream. ‘Rogelio,’ the master said. ‘Spare me and spare my creation.’ ‘Don Miguel,’ I mumbled sleepily, ‘here sit beside me on my bed. Welcome to my humble home.’ ‘I am not don Miguel,’ Cervantes replied. ‘I never was a don and I never will be one. I am humble Miguel, writer, poet, and son of a vagabond surgeon who, like father, like son, often entered the debtor’s prison’. ‘That same debtor’s prison where the history of your hero was engendered,’ I replied. ‘So they say, but I am not here for that. I have come for you to save me.’ ‘How, my Lord, how can I save you?’ ‘Rogelio, I am not a Lord, but a rumor has reached me in my after-life, that they have modernized my knight, given him a car, not a horse, set the Civil Guard against him, ridiculed him with condoms that he blows up like balloons, sent him to Salamanca, and Galicia, where he never went, continued his adventures, reborn, in a foreign language that I loathed …’ ‘That is bad, my Lord, I mean don Miguel, I mean Miguel …’ ‘Worse is to come.’ ‘Worse? How can it get worse?’ ‘Indeed, it arrived at my ears, you might say a little bird told me, that they are releasing my book in a series of 240 word tweets on a thing called Twitter that speaks like a Jesuit with false flickering words.’ ‘But you were brought up by the Jesuits …’ ‘That’s how I know of what I speak. This cannot be, the history of my knight reduced to episodes of 240 words, the whole 124 chapters, 1000 pus pages of finely scrawled ink, reduced to tweets on twitter by some poor twit … you must stop this nonsense. I and my knight depend upon you.’ ‘How can I stop it, don Miguel?’ ‘Charge the windmills of Twitter. Attack the falsehoods of Tweets. Stand up for the long, soulful sentence that will withstand the winds of time …’ ‘As your book has withstood, until now, the literary storm that is about to engulf it in an Alfred Hitchcock swarm of wild birds that is poised to twitter and tweet you to your doom?’

The ghost of Miguel de Cervantes vanished with a howl, only to be replaced by that of Pierre Menard, Borgian author of the renewed Quixotic page. ‘To tweet,” the ghost whispered in a thin, shrill voice, ‘or not to tweet, that is the question, and therein lies the Cervantine rub.’

Umbrella

IMG_0144

When it rains, everyone needs an umbrella.

IMG_0170

 

Umbrella

Black clouds overhead,
yet I walk dry
beneath a black umbrella.

Pitter-patter of falling rain:
my ears strain to catch
a nearby robin’s song.

I have mislaid his voice
and can no longer
translate his liquid trills

nor transform them
into a sunlight that will glisten
through dripping leaves.

Frogs in the summer pond
explode light bulbs in my brain.

A rainbow glistens in the pools
beneath my feet.

I want to see my garden reborn,
with words and my world renewed.

I thirst once more for life’s
sweet, fresh water.

Here below is the voice recording of my poem Umbrella.

An old song …

img_0448

 

An old song … 

            … words wrapping themselves around your neck, the tune a loose scarf, brilliant in the sunshine, and so warm, flapping as you walk the street … people see frayed ends … wave back at you … the sun picking out gold spots in your hair … all’s well with the world … a marching song … the world walks over the hills … and far away … you march to work or play … every day is a new day … blood stirring with this call to arms … to alarms … everything up for grabs … tunes in your head … words wrapped around you  … warming you …

            … a sad song … rain drops falling … mist or mizzle … you walk through damp, low clouds … you are sad … but comforted … wrapped warm in a verbal comforter … the sun breaks through … throws its arms around you … hugs you …. until raindrops radiate … gathering on eye-lash … at leaf’s end … twinkling on an abundance of radiant flowers …

            … a Nor’easter … snow in the air … on the trees … on the ground … a steady accumulation … you know how it is, East Coast Canada … down by the Fundy …  a fire in the fireplace … warm heart … warm hearth … no travel today … books and computer beckon … a time to read … to write … to remember the old ways … the old days … those memories … a warm scarf wrapped around the neck … and the comforter … so comforting … so much to wrap around you … so much to wrap your head around …

Even tho it was Xmas

 

IMG_0150

 

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

039

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.

img_0122