Saturday, July 18, 2015
As my wife and I drove though Chattanooga this past Thursday, just after 11:00 o'clock on a muggy July morning, I was completely unaware of the level of terror and mayhem being dispensed with fury that very moment. While we skirted the east side of town, on our way to Roanoke, bedlam erupted some ten miles away, as four unarmed marines were being murdered while three other men sustained wounds. One of the three wounded, Petty Officer Randall Smith, died this morning. A police officer and a marine recruiter are expected to recover. So, in addition to the twenty-three year old father of three, Petty Officer Smith, the following men are no longer with us on this earthly plane: Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, Lance Corporal Skip Wells, Staff Sergeant David Wyatt, and Sergeant Carson Holmquist.
I didn't know them but my heart aches. Like the nine innocent beings who were shot to death in Charleston, South Carolina just a month before, these young men got up on the morning of the last day of their lives with death not even a thought.
Kids, jobs, grocery lists, birthdays, lunch destinations, weekend plans, God, friends - yes.
Death at the hands of consummate evil in the flesh - no.
But don't let me digress into that soul-less, pit-bound, grisly, rotten evil and the so-called human being who breathed and bled that evil. The so-called human being whose name I refuse to type in the same space as five American heroes. There's another time and place for that. And a wise and loving Power beyond my comprehension will handle that issue in good time.
I also don't want to allow my mind to wander to how horrific it must have been for those tried and trained soldiers, including a two-time purple heart recipient, to be in the position of facing an armed enemy with no weapons with which to protect themselves. How absolutely mind-blowing to try to comprehend that after tours in battle zones, after learning how to counter-attack, how to fight fire with fire - in their last battle on this earth, they were left to face death without a fighting chance. To slap at their sides and find nothing there. To be empty handed in the face of mortal conflict.
No I don't want to do that.
What I really want to do here is something personal and self-serving. I want to acknowledge the five men by name, thank God for their lives and service to this country, and rejoice in the knowledge that they have been welcomed with great joy and celebration into the heavenly realm. I want to send bear hugs and love to their families and loved ones. I want to wish them comfort and healing.
I want to pray for the wounded to recover.
And, if I could, one more thing, please.
I want to ask God to instill fresh courage, insight, and wisdom into the elected leadership of this great country, even as it staggers and reels from cancerous divisiveness. Even as it shows the weakening of spirit brought about by too many years of real and hypothetical enemy fire and friendly fire. Even as the cracks widen and deepen in its aging foundation for our lack of strong craftsmen to render repairs. Even as the absolute fiber of this nation unravels because we don't have leadership in place at any level capable of stemming the unraveling and managing the repair.
Some twenty-four hours after the first four young men lost their lives, four sleek black hearses led by state troopers, winded their way north in the inside lane of I-81, along the exact path my wife and I traveled the day before. Just as I had no idea of what was unfolding in Chattanooga as we passed through Thursday morning, I had no idea that we were traveling what would become, at least for some time, hallowed ground. If I had known, I might have found even greater glory in the Blue Ridge mountains ahead of us as they pushed their way through the clouds toward heaven. I might have perceived the green of the endless forests to be a little greener and the blue of the sharp Virginia sky to be a little bluer. For there were, after all, heroes on the way.
So when I pray to God for divine guidance out of this sinkhole we seem to be trapped in, I'm not just doing it for me - or for you. And I'm not just doing for the five most recent casualties of our national illness. I'm praying for our children and their children. And for the children beyond that. I'm praying for our future. I want them to have a better and braver nation than we have. Because, let's face it, we need a better an braver nation. A good deal better and braver.
And, dear God, we need it fast.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
I wanted to re-share this post I did in March of 2014. Looking at it now, in concert with all the hype that Pluto has gotten over the past couple of days, I think I may have taken a pretty good swing at the head of the nail. If you google Pluto, you get over 56 million results. Not bad for a planet delegated to dwarf status. John Grunsfeld, NASA's science chief, has been quoted: "Pluto is an extraordinarily complex and interesting world."
Take that, you eight full-sized planets!
Stand by. I think the accolades have just begun.
From March 13, 2014
Shakespeare might have written:
Alas, poor Pluto, we knew him Horatio; when he was a planet full; though tiny icy sphere he had pedigree in the Heavens. Though flung furtherest afar, a simple dot, a flea on Neptune's knee, nonetheless we paid homage to him and his five moons. Now, Horatio, he dons the dress of the dwarf, a cuckolded planet, a plutoid if you dare, while us poor mortals who once claimed nine, must now make do with eight.
Sorry, Will. I know you could have done a much better job giving notice of Pluto's ignominious delegation to a dwarf planet. I'm not certain why we felt it necessary to strip Pluto of planet status. You'd think the guy would have been grandfathered in after all these years. Let's face it, he'd been around since 1930 and we were all quite content as fifth graders to triumphantly name him last as we recited the nine planets in our solar system. Maybe it's just me, but there was something magic about nine. (I've always been partial to anything divisible by three.) Eight planets and the sun just doesn't do it for me. And honestly, he was one of the easiest to remember in order of distance from the sun. I always got hung up around Neptune and Saturn.
But I digress.
What we did to Pluto would be akin to removing Doc from Dwarf status just because he was the only dwarf who had a name that didn't describe a disposition or mood. The original Snow White movie was released in 1938, so Pluto had seniority on Doc. I happen to think that Walt Disney had better judgement and a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than the International Astronomical Union. He knew that "Snow White and the Six Dwarfs" would be a day late and a dwarf short. (Oooooh...that was bad...real bad.)
That said, Pluto will soon have a visitor. The space probe New Horizons will reach Pluto in 2015. July 14, 2015 if all goes as planned. Interestingly, New Horizons was launched in 2006, just before the IAU decided to embarrass Pluto, and has zipped along at the pace of just over 36,000 miles per hour since launch. Sort of a long way and a short time to get there, at least from the perspective of our 13.2 billion year old galaxy. I wonder if NASA had waited a few months to when Pluto was canned as a planet if they would have spent those billions of dollars to visit a plutoid. I wonder if maybe they might have had New Horizons dip and weave through the belt of Saturn, do a quick flyover of Neptune, and then pull a u-ey and head back home?
We will never know. I think it would be great if the probe got to Pluto and discovered that though it was small, the dwarf formally known as a planet had more character than Venus and more spunk than Mercury, hidden attributes to the point that it deserved to be reinstated to full planet status. A formal apology would be issued by the IAU guys and NASA would be exonerated in its decision to send a probe about three billion miles to inspect a chunk of dirty ice.
I think that would be neat, don't you? Exactly what the Doc ordered.
Monday, July 13, 2015
This morning, I don't care about the Confederate flag. Or that the fleur-di-lis is now being investigated as a potential symbol of racism. I don't care that the umpteenth Republican has thrown his hat or her scarf into the ring. I'm not concerned about Greece's debt or which food group Ariana Grande is going to lick with her careless tongue.
I do care about the little four-year-old from down the road who got tangled up with a bulldozer this past weekend and is now hospitalized and struggling through the pain of recovery. My thoughts have traveled this July morning to many people I know who are personally waging battles against injury, disease, or grief or those who are hunkered down in the bunkers on behalf of those in the thick of the battle. This morning, those who I am close to on a daily basis or those who I tend at a distance, or even through social media, are on my mind. They are in my heart as I ponder my own way through life's journey on the roadbed of God's plan.
I covet, on their behalf, the blessings that await them just around the next sharp corner.
At the same time, I always try to remain mindful of the simple pleasures of life that surround and envelop me: the amazing greens of this summer landscape; the piercing blue sky, finger-smudged by clouds; the insistent and incessant buzz and rattle of July flies. Even the dream-induced whimpers of two, lazy black cats, stretched out on the shady floor of the screened-in porch. I even try to find pleasure in heat so humid and thick it permeates the rich bottom soil of the old homeplace, then arises to be stirred and lifted by the occasional breeze, prompting that full, fertile smell to wing its way into my senses.
And I see that life is good.
Life is good because it is life. I think the parents of that little cast-imprisoned four-year-old would tell us, as bad as it is today and with a long road ahead, life is good because their son lives.
In all the current divisiveness that infects us like a mental and emotional plague - like a germ for which there is no antibiotic - we must step away for just a minute and be thankful for a heart that beats strongly every second or so, for the ability to breathe the next breath, for eyes that can choose to see the beauty, ears that can choose to hear the blessings, and mouths that can choose to sing the glory and speak the good news.
This morning, I choose no flag, I claim no politics, I have no soapbox, and commit to nothing more than the commandment to love my neighbor as myself. This morning, I give my heart to all who need it in a way that is good and kind. This morning, I share a smile.
If anyone needs anything else...check with me tomorrow.
Monday, June 22, 2015
My wife is growing a tad concerned toward my relationship with our two pool swans. She uses words like "obsession" and "creepy." But, hey, sticks and stones...right? Though I have quietly observed her journey around my so-called creepy obsession going from "playing along," to complete disinterest (poorly feigned, I must say), to me discovering a Google search history on "mental health facilities in central Tennessee."
Frankly, I don't know what the problem is.
I purchased, inflated, and installed Steve a couple of years ago. I found him on Amazon and thought that his stately presence would be a nice addition to our pool. I was quite proud of him and he became, for lack of a better phrase, something of a son to me. For that year, and last year, he seemed satisfied to be the lone occupant of the pool, except for an occasional spider, frog, and, in one instance, a very confused and frightened baby rabbit. I have to credit Steve with taking on the suave demeanor of the consummate confirmed bachelor. He was truly an exceptional son. I mean, swan.
This spring, I noticed that Steve looked a bit, should I say, downtrodden. He'd let his appearance go over the winter. Unbeknownst to me, a hard southern wind had buffeted him from the pool, into the surrounding foliage, and he had endured February and March trapped up against the corner of the fence that surrounds the pool. Out of sight. Out of mind. Anyway, when I finally noticed him missing and searched him out, he had quite a bit of mildew buildup and was remarkably deflated. Not to mention a good dose of goosey attitude.
After a bleach bath and a few puffs of air, accompanied by my contrite explanation as to why it took me so long to notice him missing, he was as good as new. Almost. Some of the mildew had been impossible to remove, giving him the appearance of a 5 o'clock shadow. There were a few scratches and scrapes on his body, and his eyes and beak line had faded slightly. But that wasn't the real problem. Nope. The real problem was latex deep. Somewhere in his great, airy void. Steve was lonely. I knew it. He knew it.
My wife didn't know it, and according to her, she frankly didn't care.
So back to Amazon, and, thanks to Prime membership, two days later, Lady arrived.
And was she a looker! The beak on that gal!
I couldn't wait to remove the packaging, resuscitate her, and set her afloat.
I did and the results were instantaneous. As soon as Lady's cute little swan butt hit the water, Steve made a beeline toward her. A stiff breeze from the north didn't hurt.
And since then? Inseparable.
Swans mate for life, you know. Yep. Other than the occasional nesting failure (hey, it happens to the best of us) or the untimely death of one of the pair, swans are in it for the long haul. It's obvious when you observe Steve and Lady. Where one goes, the other goes. It's like they're connected at the wing. Sometimes, especially on hot, calm days, they will hook necks and just bob around and around in the same spot.
The pool is their universe and love is their language.
I'm not saying that they don't have a spat now and again. It happens. How does a swan know what perfection feels like unless there's a little imperfection stirred in every so often? And when that rare tiff erupts, Lady will scoot to the other end of the pool and sulk, bouncing and bobbing against the pool liner like she's going to leave and never come back. Then it's just a matter of time before ole Steve slinks over and apologizes. He's such a sucker for her feminine wiles.
I'm sure that there's more than one of you out there who shares my wife's skepticism around the Steve and Lady love affair. That's okay. I don't expect everyone to get it. I've seen it with my own eyes. Plus, you can't be around pool swans for long without picking up on their vibes. And, you know, at the end of the day, the important thing is that they have each other and what people think doesn't really matter. Does it?
In fact, they would like nothing better than to be able to declare their undying love for each other in voices so loud the entire world could hear. They would like to proclaim their monogamy from the rooftops. Or at least from the deep end to the shallow end. If it were even remotely possible, they wouldn't hesitate to snort it across the the mountains, hiss it upon the four winds, and wou wou their whoopee to the masses.
Nope. That would suit them just fine.
You know, it's too bad they're mute swans.
Friday, May 29, 2015
I was trimming a bush today - you know, those evergreen ones with the hard little leaves with a half dozen needle sharp points to do you in - and taking great care because I knew there was a cardinals' nest in the center of the bush. For years now, smart birds, usually mockingbirds, have been building there, realizing that even my ornery cats aren't going to expose themselves to lots of excruciating pain trying to maneuver through the bush to destroy the eggs or the baby birds.
Unfortunately, upon the first or second snap of my clippers, two startled baby cardinals plummeted out of their nest and through the bottom of the bush, hopped a half dozen hops, and then made what I believe was the first flight of their life. Mamma and Poppa bird materialized out of nowhere and started making warning chirps and circling the cardinal Wright brothers. (Or sisters.)
I observed the commotion for a time, and when it appeared that the little fellows had the ability to fly short distances and attain sufficient height, I assumed all would be well, even though I'm certain flying lessons weren't scheduled that day.
Continuing to trim, I glanced over my shoulder at some point and saw Tiger, one of our three city cats, stretched against the chainlink fence, paws above her head, like she was going to leap or climb up the fence - something she just might be able to do but something she wouldn't do. Would she? Raising my gaze a few feet, I spotted one of the baby cardinals sitting on the top rail of the fence, three feet from my cat's paws. Tiger was poised to pounce and all of a sudden I saw me spending weeks agonizing over the fact that it was my fault that the baby birds had exited their nest prematurely and one of them ended up as Tiger's brunch.
Momma and Poppa Cardinal were swooping like the Red Baron, screaming out warnings to the clueless chick. I dropped the clippers and grabbed Tiger by the scruff of her neck and carried her to the patio. Simultaneously, the baby Cardinal, already sporting a little mohawk-looking cardinal peak, took the longest flight of his (or her) life, managing to wing his (or her) way across the back yard to the top of the fence on the other side.
Catastrophe avoided. As long as both birds kept moving and I kept an eye on my cats. Which I did and was able to feel completely at ease when, after a few minutes, I noticed that both babies and both parents had made it to the stand of trees at the edge of my back pasture.
Later, I encountered a pouting Tiger in the basement. Already the most standoffish of the three, she was, at this moment, particularly perturbed by me. And I knew it was because I had intervened on behalf of the baby bird. And I'm sure Tiger couldn't understand why I had chosen to preserve the bird as opposed to allowing nature, and her cat instincts, to take their course.
So, I chose to tell Tiger the story of how she and her sister Gracie and brother Rocky came to have the life they've had for the last eight years. How one late afternoon in July, we had discovered some evil people in a Toyota parked on a country road and reaching into their trunk and throwing things out. And those "things" were Momma Kitty and her three kittens. And how they had hit the ground running and disappeared into the woods. And I told Tiger, pulling her toward me and scratching her behind her ears in an attempt to smooth things over, how the four of them were on the side of that dirt and gravel road the next morning. Looking like forlorn little hitchhikers, flea-bitten bags of bones, hungry, thirsty, and near death. And I told Tiger how we had rescued them and slowly nursed them back to health, and, except for maybe stepping on the toes of their cat nature a few times over the years, how we had given them a chance for a pretty doggone good life.
And, Tiger, I said, that's why I saved that baby bird from you. The same reason I saved you. To give it a chance for a good life.
Of course, Tiger didn't really care. She pulled away from me, walked over to her water bowl, got a drink, and then disappeared through her cat door, tail high in the air and twitching with agitation. Leaving me sitting there without even a glance over her shoulder. Not even a bored yawn or dismissive gaze. Out the door and into the yard. Gone.
Probably to try to hunt down that very lucky little bird.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Soon, four months will have passed since the day I lost my brother. He was granted 727 months on this planet. Right now, the four months without him seem more of a lifetime than the 727 months with him. I can't explain that. Let me just say that missing someone appears to be more time consuming than not missing them.
I suppose if I were to scrutinize my writing, and apply labels that I so often see applied to other people's writing, I would probably fall into the scurrilous category of sentimental writing. I don't think that I ever understood what a critic was trying to project when he or she labeled someone's book or poetry or newspaper article "sentimental." What I do know is that it isn't intended to be a compliment. I've heard the use of sentiment described anywhere between a pejorative and a cardinal sin. So maybe that's not really a good thing for me, if you subscribe to the indecency of sentiment, especially when the next most used tool in my writing belt is sarcasm. If sentiment is my hammer, sarcasm is my saw.
Regardless, here goes.
Early morning on the beach is my favorite time. It's a great time to walk: the waves break more gently; the gulls and waders and shore birds scurry and swarm in anticipation of breakfast. Squadrons of pelicans soar overhead to their daily destination somewhere westward. People are more scarce but more alive. So I followed the pelicans and headed west where Destin rose like a mirage in the middle distance.
A lady popped out of her condo with a dog on a leash. As she neared, I could see the wizened muzzle of the old pooch and I thought how the older a dog gets the more special he becomes. The old fellow may have looked at my wizened muzzle and thought the same thing. Like myself, he was still game for early morning beach exercise, even if it made both of us pant a little.
A couple strolled leisurely just at the edge of the water, perusing more than walking. Speaking softly in the way that only people who have earned the gold standard of comfort with one another can speak. Even in silence, they communicated.
A gentleman sat in a sling-type beach chair, puffing hard on the last couple of inches of a fat, aromatic cigar and laser focused on something intriguing in the vast emerald waters before him.
But what caught my full attention was the sight of two brothers walking toward me. I guessed them to be five or six years apart. The older one was probably 13 or 14...the younger, maybe 8 or 9. Definitely brothers...similar facial features, same hair color. But those details were dwarfed by their brotherhood. Their closeness. An obvious emotional bond, supported by genes and blood but fused by love. No way, you say. No way could you see all of that in the ten or fifteen seconds you had to observe them. No. Way.
The older brother had his arm around the shoulders of the younger boy who sported a set of earbuds but was still dialed into his older brother's excited stream of chit-chat. Theirs was a comfortable embrace: simultaneously protective, comforting, loving, and, for lack of a better term: natural. They marched along in quick time, the older boy subconsciously shortening his steps to compensate for the younger one's shorter legs. Their eyes virtually shone with contentment. Whatever they shared was good and fun and full.
Needless to say I pushed fifty years aside and imagined myself in the role of the older brother and my recently lost sibling in the role of the younger one. For just a few moments, it was 1960, and me and Buddy were on Daytona Beach under blue skies and a much younger sun, and we were walking together connected at the hip planning our day of battling the waves, building sand castles, and looking for shells. We were talking about things that made sense to only us. Things that were uniquely sibling proprietary. I had my arm around his shoulders and we were close. And, for those few moments, I had a brother again and I felt his sunburned skin and I saw his tousled blonde hair and I heard his excited jabbering. I shortened my steps so that we could travel down that beach in brotherly synchronization. I didn't want to lose the rhythm, the sweet cohesion. In 1960, life had no limits and time had no boundaries. And brothers were forever.
But back to this morning....
I turned when I knew the two compadres were well past me and took a quick snapshot. I wanted to remember this morning. And the moment. As they faded into the distance I had some hopes and prayers for them. I hoped the older brother never got tired of putting his arm around the shoulders of his younger brother. I hoped the younger brother always felt good and safe and uplifted in his older brother's presence. I hoped the connection they had on this beautiful, sun-filled morning on this wind-swept beach would be carried away with them wherever they went and whenever they needed a memory. I hoped that nothing would ever come between them, that they would never feel self-conscious in displaying love and affection, that they would always be best friends, that they would always put all pettiness aside. I prayed that they would remember this day forever and that God would give them at least another 727 months together. At least.
It was a good walk with an unexpected but well appreciated God gift.
Call it sentimental if you like. But you know what? Sometimes, doggone it, just sometimes, you just flat out miss yesterday. And the ones you love. Especially those you loved and lost. Sometimes sentiment is the best tool in your writing belt because it lets you build the memory to your specifications.
But sometimes you just miss your brother.
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Moths spiraling to a flame have nothing on people being drawn to the ocean. I suspect if I could finally grasp what pulls us to the sound of the surf collapsing against the shore, waves curling and white capping on themselves, I would have yet another of those intriguing little puzzle pieces that I hunt like buried treasure. What it does to us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, chemically...to stare out into that vast infinity of water, straining to see beyond the horizon, as if something we lost - or something we gnawingly anticipate - will suddenly appear along that picture perfect straight-edge. And solve a mystery.
On my walk this morning, I saw a young lady in a state of complete mesmerization. I'm certain she was without and within thought simultaneously. There was no ocean and there was nothing but ocean. There was deafening surf and sheer silence. The sense of physical paralysis while hurtling through our solar system at a thousand miles an hour. Absolutely everything in the midst of irretrievable emptiness.
I know nothing about this solitary human being. I could virtually write one hundred and one stories about her...change her age, her marital status, children or childless, a marine biologist with a slight lisp or a newlywed who just awoke to discover she had married a stranger. She is every-woman and she is one woman. She is body and she is soul.
And for several seconds...a minute or two...she is one with all. The only thing that separates her from the sand between her toes, the salt water licking at her feet, the wind buffeting her face and stirring her hair, the distant clouds slipping down to taste the ocean...the only thing that separates her from the inhalation and exhalation of God's breath...is the density of the atoms in her body. How tightly packed they are. How well held together. Change that one simple thing and she becomes the sand and the sea and as subject to being blown about as a stray gull feather.
And that oneness, that kinship, leads me to believe that perhaps what we seek where the sky meets the sea...or that mystical square footage just beyond the range of our eyes... is actually what we seek within ourselves. What we anticipate outwardly, we simultaneously ruminate inwardly. The rhythm of the waves is the rhythm of our body...the blood coursing through the one hundred thousand miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries. Thoughts skipping about our brains like shifting winds. Each breath its own wave curling over itself and receding to make room for the next. After all, there are more atoms in the human body that the combination of grains of sand on the planet and stars in the universe. Doesn't that count for something?
Sea. Meet me. We are not so much different. We can hang.
When we find that unique peace in those moments of magnetic connectedness, as I suspect this random lady did...when we get our souls into the eternal rhythm of God's breath, when we define that space just beyond the horizon and, for at least a few seconds, meet the mystery face to face...isn't that the ultimate healing? Whether ocean side or in a quiet forest or beneath a brightly stitched night sky, when we lose ourselves, do we find ourselves? Could that be the coveted goal of our outward search and our internal quest? Could that be peace, love, and joy all rolled up into one? The Truth...capital T? I suspect so.
I hope that random soul found some of that this morning. Especially Truth. I am in her debt now for she blessed me with fresh thought, renewed awakening, and a nice little glimpse of heaven.
I pray she got a good solid look for herself.
Monday, May 4, 2015
Last week, there was a day of lost...but not found. A friend and I spent an entire day looking for a lost calf, slashing the pasture in straight lines and diagonals, from behind the wheel of an ATV and on foot. We were convinced that we searched every square foot of a 30 acre field, the ground obscured by red clover a foot high and spring grasses up to the knees. Undergrowth that could easily conceal an eighty pound newborn calf. We crossed the hot wire in several areas, around the pond, to the edge of and into the woods, into the bottom. Thinking that a newborn could stumble over the low voltage without missing a beat. It was a great day for looking - blue skies and slight breezes - but not a good day for finding. As the day wound down, we conceded that there was nowhere else to search and were required to accept the "coyote theory." That some time the night before, coyotes had slunk up from their dens at the river and dragged away the defenseless calf. Not a pretty picture but one we had to draw.
A short back-story on the missing calf. My friend had put the mother up in the barn one evening since the weather was calling for flooding rains and possible tornadoes. She was close to giving birth and he didn't want to take any chances of her or her newborn getting injured. The problem was: he didn't know she had already given birth that day. When he released her from the barn the next morning, her older calf ran up to her and started suckling, confusing the momma cow into thinking that her older calf was her newborn. So momma cow didn't venture out into the pasture to try to locate her new calf. Letting that job fall to my friend and me. And we failed. But not for lack of trying.
It's a sad story, but, during the search while my aching feet and legs covered acres of rolling land, I had plenty of time to think. And the story that came to mind was the parable that Jesus told about the lost sheep. And how the shepherd left the ninety-nine to go in search of the one. And of the great joy upon finding that single one out of an even one hundred.
I've never admitted it, but I'm not sure that I ever fully understood the parable. I guessed that it was a simple concept but, as usual, I was always looking for something else...something hidden in the undergrowth.
I felt many things during the search. Frustration ranked pretty close to the top of the list. Hope was embedded in there somewhere. Futility crept in every so often. But, strangely, each and everything that I felt was wrapped in something else. And that something else was love. Love for life in all its forms. Love for the calf that I had never laid eyes on. Love for things in need. And love for the connectedness of all things under the sky.
Maybe that was all Jesus was saying when he talked about the lost sheep. That it isn't about the sheep at all. And not really about the shepherd. The search, though. That's different. Because the search signified a caring heart and the recognition that all things are precious. And worthy of effort. The search was, and is, an extension of love. My search said that something was important enough for me to leave my regular life behind - to allow the ninety-nine other things that were orbiting my existence to stay suspended in orbit for a little while - while I expended all my time and energy and, yes, love, on something else. Something that needed me. Something that couldn't help itself.
And though I didn't find the calf or experience the joy of locating something that was lost, I found one more little universal puzzle piece. And, snapping it into place with a satisfying click, I became just a little more whole myself.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
The hospice room is cold. But that’s the way my brother wants it, and it is his death, so be it. He wants it dark as well. So the blinds are pinched tight, so now, even at noon, just the barest sliver of sunlight seeps inside. And quiet…so very, very quiet. The television that sits upon a pedestal in the wall is dark and mute; voices behind that wall waver somewhere between hushed and a whisper. That’s the way he wants it, it's his death, and I am but an observer.
One sconce wall light aims a pale glow toward the ceiling, and, with the door closed tight, the silence and darkness have a tomb-like feeling. My brother's physical being has already begun to take on a waxy pallor, almost translucent…a delicate, ivory container of a soul preparing to drift. He lies on his back, his breathing a soft snore. He wakes sporadically, or appears to wake, his slitted eyes barely focusing with just a ghost of a glint, his mouth barely moving, suggesting just the hint of a smile. This wonderful man, this brother of mine, always bigger than life, always pleasantly loud, and with a presence that crowded rooms in a comfortable fashion.
Where is he going, this brother of mine? I knew where he had been, I knew where he thought he would be going over the next several years of his life, the silver, golden, and platinum years, but melanoma stepped in and said, “Hey there, Buddy, hang on a minute. There’s been a change of plans.” My wife said that she was mad at the melanoma and I told here that hey, it’s just cancer being cancer. Truth told though, if I could have personified it, I would have grabbed it and choked the life out of it, and sent it back to the bowels of hell from whence it came.
I profess my love over several hours but suspect my timing sucks. It isn't the first time I've told him I love him, but I have to admit that the two of us only came to terms with terms of endearment late in life. But I suppose that when it comes to expressing love, it may be late, but it doesn’t ever have to be too late.
I hold his right hand. The one that I shook so many times before we got comfortable with man hugs. If we ever did get comfortable with them. His hand is cold, really cold. And it makes me think: you know, it just isn't right for him to be lying there in that bed. That’s not the territory that he is supposed to be exploring. He is supposed to be on the beach with his wife and with Dude, the rescue dog, while Pearl, the rescue cat, waits for them to return to their retreat on St. George Island. He is supposed to be cleaning his pool or claiming a stalk of bananas from his tree out back or seeing what's good on the tube for the evening. He is supposed to be walking and talking and breathing big, huge breaths of humid, salty Gulf of Mexico air. Or planning to head back to the farm on Champ Road in Kelso to help Deyton prep the seedlings for the upcoming garden season. Or just sitting on the front porch of his cabin and gazing in the direction of the Elk River, wondering if the herons would return in the spring though a tornado had turned their century old habitat into splintered and twisted ruins.
He isn't supposed to be taking shallow breaths and making restless movements in a metal bed in the hospice wing of a hospital in Panama City, Florida. He isn't supposed to be battered and beaten by a nasty, aggressive cancer that made the fury of last year’s tornado appear as innocuous as a pesky April breeze. He isn't supposed to be dying in front of my eyes.
Little brothers aren’t supposed to die before big brothers. It’s the big brother’s job to see the little brother all the way through. A big brothers’ work doesn’t stop at holding onto the back of the bicycle until the little brother learns the physics of balance… running alongside him as he gains confidence…faster and faster…until the little brother says, “Hey, I got it!” Until he wobbles and twists to that point of no return, and, if you love him, you let him go.
It doesn’t stop at sideline coaching at Little League games. A big brothers doesn’t get to stop pacing the floor when his little brother with brand new driver's license isn't home at midnight or when you stand with him at the altar waiting on the love of his life to walk down the aisle or any of those times as an adult when he ask for a little advice he doesn't plan to heed anyway. It doesn't stop just because you're both north of sixty and with more age spots than hair.
Oh, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Because I’m here to tell you it does. I’m hear to tell you that little brothers sometimes leave this world before big brothers. Oh, yes, they do. And it isn't pretty but it is what it is.
So I sit in that cold, dark, quiet room and listen to my little brother breathe. I whisper I love him in case he can hear. I pat his hand and kiss his forehead. I cling to the back of that strange ride he’s on...as he goes faster and faster as I strain to maintain my grasp. Until eventually something tells me he’s got it…that, yes, he has reached that point of no return.
And then, because I do love him, I’ll let him go.