The seemingly lifeless earth thrives. Below its scarred surface is a renewal in the making. Nature’s perfection seeding new life. Open to the sun and the rains and the life-giving elements of a next generation. If it’s “just nature” then why do we struggle so to understand that we humans also go through a purging, a burning, and a renewal of our own – as hard as it may be?
The wildfires burn and change direction. One day we find ourselves in their path, with no apparent escape. We burn. We fall. We recover. We renew.
Looking forward to new life. Saddened by the scarred earth left behind. It gets better though. It will.
I see those signs of life in the colorful words and time and space shared with people I love and who love so deeply.
“God, I hope they don’t play another James Taylor song,” she said.
I was sitting outside at the Village Bistro (my dining room, basically) enjoying a spinach salad, a glass of fruity Pinot Grigio, and the sounds of the acoustic trio on the patio when I overheard these words from my table neighbor. I was disappointed since I dig his music so much. It was a nice piece mixed between a Nickleback tune and a Dave Matthews classic.
Her date said, “You don’t like James Taylor?” I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but I could help but lean a little to catch her response. “I used to” she said, “but ever since I found out he supports Obama I decided I don’t anymore.” At first I just shook my head, in my head. Then I thought about it…then I started shifting in my seat…then my breathing got a little deeper…and the voice in my head said, “DON’T YOU DO IT.” I couldn’t help myself. There are times when my tolerance and appreciation can only go so far, for crying out loud. James Taylor is at stake here!!!
Yes, sarcasm can slither its way into my conversations now and then, and with the wine and the tough day and need to express, I went for the jugular.
I called my waiter over and asked if he would make arrangements for me to pay their bill. He smiled and said, “Sean, what’s up with that?” I just asked him to go with me and bring me their bill when it was time to wrap it up. He obliged.
Ten minutes or so later they were ready to leave. They sat only 3 or 4 feet from me. Jason pointed to me from their table and said, “The gentleman here would like to pay your tab.” I raised my glass. “Huh?” the woman said. Jason repeated the offer.
Her date politely invited me to join them. They denied the offer for me to pay the tab, but did suggest we share a drink. The woman asked why I made the offer. I said, “Well its not as nice a gesture as it is a charity case.” They both looked confused; understandably. I continued. “You see, I overheard you talking about how you really didn’t like James Taylor music anymore because he supported President Obama. Frankly, I was so shocked to hear of that level of ignorance (pardon my candor) and just felt like I should contribute because I kind of feel sorry for you.”
Her man immediately burst into laughter. No chivalry here, he was cracking up. She curled in her bottom lip in preparation for what was sure to be a verbal left hook. One I deserved. Instead, she began to laugh too. She lowered her head and raised it back up along with her Corona with lime and said, “Touché.”
We sat and talked about our President (although she says he isn’t “hers”) and about the general state of things. I expressed my views and my support of him – although I disagree with much of his policy right now – and, more importantly how James Taylor’s music has stood and will stand like a rock through presidencies past and those yet to come. On that, we found common ground. We laughed more than we argued. We found we had more in common than difference. We moved on to more delightful topics like our kids and the new wine list. We became friends.
I excused myself and walked up to the band with a request. “Will you guys play Shower the People?” The vocalist said, “Here is another from Carolina’s own, JT. This goes out to the fine couple right over there.” I raised my glass. When it was time for the chorus, the whole place sang together. My new friend, while wildly off key, was the loudest in the bunch.
I listened to an interview on NPR recently where the guest looked back on his life and contently said, “I have no regrets in my life.” His comment stayed with me.
I can’t imagine a life without regret. Despite how beautiful it might be, are there things I wish I hadn’t said or done? Rhetorical to the extreme.
I regret not spending a million more moments with my precious kids.
I regret the times my selfishness and flesh hurt those I loved. I regret not getting to know Dad. I regret not having the self-confidence to follow my passion versus a logical career track (although I am thrilled with the current state).
I regret that the depth of so many friendships was left wanting. I regret unkind words leveled at those I love regardless of reason for argument.
I regret spending more time building than experiencing.
I regret that I didn’t attend the funerals of some who made a difference in my life. I regret not writing the songs I wanted to write (though I am making up time now).
I regret I didn’t take that lay-up my junior year against Port Saint Joe.
I regret that I didn’t read more fairy tales to Logan and Chelsea. I regret that I didn’t take the leap into politics, just to see if I could have made the difference others told me I could. I regret I didn’t live in the mountains.
I regret so little, all things considered, but they haunt me. My glass-half-full side is saying, “What are you waiting for?” I am only fifty-percent through my years (based on my scientific calculations and determination). Stop regretting, dude. Get with it and learn!
I knew I was gonna say something. I told myself, “No…don’t…you won’t win…you can’t win.”
It was outside of a Starbucks of all things. I stopped on this beautiful day to sit outside, catch up on my book and wind down after a tough day. The three guys sitting at the table next to me, leathery old men with jeans and oil-stained shirts and caps. Hard-working, good men. They were lamenting a news story about a discussion that was taking place uptown tonight on the subject of the second amendment. As they carried on about the world going to Hell with all the liberals who want to take away their rights, their voices got louder.
One of them turned to me and apologized for getting so loud while I read. “Sorry, friend. It’s just fuckin’ crazy. Don’t you think so?”
Okay…the moment of truth was at hand. I smiled and said, “No worries. You’ve gotta have a voice on this stuff. Mine isn’t one you really want to hear on that one though.”
Jim (the name on his shirt) gripped the arms of his chair and turned it a few degrees my way. “Awe, tell me your not one of those freaks who thinks our guns should be taken away.” I laughed and said I don’t know about the “freak” part, and I support the second amendment; but that I think it has been misinterpreted, abused, and used for evil and not good.
“Oh shit, we got us one here, boys” he said. I replied, “You asked.” “So, what is your excuse for taking my gun away?” he asked. I asked if he really wanted to talk about it. “Sure, why not?” I’ll give him credit for not writing me off at that moment. Hope for Democracy and the First Amendment as well. I explained that my worry was over the abuse of the amendment in this era; assault weapons, background checks, all the usual suspects for those of us “freaks” on the more left of the double-barrel of the draft from 1791.
I asked, “How many guns do you have?” My table mate replied, “Oh, I would say fifteen or twenty.” I asked if he had any automatic weapons or any that might be considered assault. “Hell yeah. I want to line up the liberals like you and mow ya down.” We all laughed. “Just kiddin’” he said. (I’m not so sure) I asked what he thought the purpose of the amendment really is. Glazed, he said, “To allow me to protect myself.” I let him know that that was only one of a host of reasons the amendment was created, and hardly ever a factor in today’s society.” “Hell yeah, it is,” he argued. My recollection of the entire set of variables was weak, but I spit out what I knew of the general intent. “No, it had a lot to do with the possibility of the need for a militia in the event of an invasion; protecting against a government gone undemocratic; and helping in law enforcement. I acknowledged that there were others, but that my constitutional recollection was hazy at the moment.
I then asked the most rhetorical question in the world: “How many times have you used your guns for any of those purposes? More importantly, how many deaths in our country have been attributed to the use of arms for THOSE purposes?” He looked at me like I was Sasquatch. “It don’t matter; it’s my right.” I said, “You’re right, it’s your right. And it’s mine to think we should make it a little harder for those who abuse that right to get a gun.” I thought we would have an amicable and appreciative parting.
“Well, I hope ya never come to Lancaster County. You might just get shot.” He didn’t smile. I ended with this parting, and ill-advised shot of my own: “What were you doing in 1964?”
He replied, I was just a young pup, you know that, boy. But I would have fought just as hard then.” I asked, “Would you have fought just as hard for the rights of humans and their civil rights as you do for your gun today?”
Sasquatch, again. “Oh shit. You’re one of those too,” he replied. “I rest my case,” is all I could say.
I closed my book, looked up at the sky in tribute to my father who fought for the rights of humans around the planet, including the small-minded and ignorant who sat outside of this little coffee house.
An earthquake shakes countries and we respond en masse. Tsunamis come ashore and are followed by waves of dollars and volunteers and government aide. Our planet’s capacity to reach out is sometimes overwhelming. At other times it is strikingly absent.
I have spent the last few days on the water with sea life and river life and people whose lives move with the tides. We slowed the boat on our way to Daufuskie Island to let a pod of Bottlenose dolphin play. They jumped and danced and wrestled and glided all at the same time. They put on quite a show before smiling and moving down river. The pelicans moved stealthily in for the evening catch under a rising full moon. They perched on the buoys and the abandoned pilings and watched the boats and birds and waited the next course. The rhythm of the coastal breezes moved the marsh grass in wave after graceful wave.
I tried to imagine a dark death, like a plague, moving slowly in to suffocate all of this precious life. I visualized our Pelican and Seagull friends diving and unable to return to flight from the thick coating on their wings. I saw the deep greens and browns of the marshland turning black and dying and taking with it the lives of the birds and the fish who live and thrive there. I saw the banks of the river at low tide coated in this mess. The crab no longer able to run and burrow along the mud and the rocks.
Months ago the headlines were full of the response of humanity to other disasters. Where is that same humanity when the disaster is one of corporate doing? Does this make it any less a candidate for attention and response from those beyond the boardroom? Did other oil companies rush in with their best minds and resources? Where has been the humanitarian response from corporate and government organizations alike? Is it because many of the victims are not…human? Reality is that the livelihood of so many is threatened by this catastrophe. What is getting much less attention is that LIFE is at stake here too. An entire ecosystem is threatened and dying.
So, I grudgingly turn on the news. Instead of finding headlines filled with national and international response, I see a BP executive spending most of his air time answering to prosecutors from every possible group, agency, district, and agenda. The podium has no lineup of those who have come to a rescue. He stands alone. This isn’t about feeling sorry for a corporate exec. It is absolute sadness over the lack of collective good to save lives. To save livelihoods. To fix a terrible and accidental wrong that not only claimed eleven brave men, but is claiming more life with each creeping inch.
I’ve never boarded a Greenpeace boat. I don’t have a Save The Spotted Owl bumper sticker on my Jeep. I’ve never stood defiantly between a bulldozer and a Redwood. At one point I think I was even critical of these types as if they were all lunatics. But in these middle years I find myself drawn away from concrete and into the woods; from the airports and to the river; from the office and to the forest. So, here I was at dawn this morning, rowing my kayak down Richardson Creek along the marsh and feeling an even stronger conviction to preserve and protect this glorious life around me.
I am a lover of life. All kinds. Tonight I become what I once judged. I don’t want my legacy for the planet to be left to my reusable Harris Teeter shopping bag or a weekly recycling run. That is pissing in the proverbial wind. I am going for “cause” level. Too much at stake.
I was crossing a bridge along the greenway. The morning was gray and cool, like today. Void of humans…full of life though. Small creatures making crunchy sounds as they moved through the leaves that carpet the floor of the woods in late Fall.
My hand rested on the wooden rail of the footbridge that crosses over a small creek. There was a trickle from the hills to the pond just feet away from the path. I couldn’t move. I leaned forward and turned with a swing hoping that gravity and a little momentum might create a step. Nothing. I felt like a salvage diver on sea’s bottom tethered to lead boots. Tybee was on the path ahead of me. He lounged under the shade of a River Oak.
I woke. It was a dream.
For just a moment I couldn’t feel my legs. The Wonder Dog was lying down next to my bed, his tired old body stretched across his orthopedic bed and the shag rug underneath. He smiled up at me as he does every morning. But his eyes looked worried as he seemed to sense that I was out of sorts.
He worked slowly to rise from his slumber and greet me with a nose nudge that is part “good morning” and “Let’s go for our sunrise stroll.”
His front legs extended and his chest worked the lift. His back legs followed like tent poles…straightened and immobile. They collapsed under his eighty-three pounds. He panted a moment and went for a second take. Collapsing again as I got up and tucked my hands under his hips and said, “C’mon pal…need a little lift?” He steadied and his tail wagged in appreciation. I threw on my jeans and grabbed a sweatshirt and said, “Let’s go, little man.”
I walked down to the landing at the bottom of the staircase and looked back up at him. He stood ready and calculated his descent. I waited in a catcher’s position on the landing. He began, slowly at first. Momentum turned a careful walk into a slide by the time he made it to me. I caught him, as I do, and we enjoyed a laugh. It’s a bit of a kooky tradition now. Tybee navigated the two bottom stairs from the landing to the wood floors of the den. He stopped at his water bowl and lapped away as I grabbed my boots and his leash. He stood at the top of the three stairs that lead to the front door. He waits for me to open the door before going down the wooden stairs. That way he can sail right through the entry way and on to the patio.
We are now ready for our morning walk.
He loves to walk. He compensates. His front legs working, at times, in a full canter. His back legs, stiff, but steady now serve more as a rudder.
I am convinced that my dream came to me as a medium of empathy. For just a time, in my unconscious state, I was aware of the nature of a chronic disability. I felt–or didn’t “feel” in this case–what it must be like to live within a body that doesn’t work like we want it to. This wonderful companion of mine shows me that spirit and determination can trump limits of the anatomical kind.
I will be there one day. My body’s Early Warning System offers pings of what will surely be more acute in the days ahead. A pain here, a kink there, a “where did that come from?” moment. I look at my best friend of 17 years and realize that he wants to leave me with his wisdom and inspiration for living through all manner of trials. He climbs the stairs of my three story village town home several times a day. If I go up, he comes with me…despite my encouraging him to stay downstairs. It takes him a while, but he gets there on his time. He comes back down. Gravity does most of the work while he uses his front legs for brakes. Then he finds his place on his deck bed and lounges in the sun near a River Oak.
Thank you, my perfect pal.
I choose to live. I choose to live well. Despite these damned legs.