“How Are You Feeling?”

He asked me, “how are you feeling, and were you feeling all right when you came in this morning?” I wanted to slam the phone on the top of my desk and say to him…”listen Doc, I was fine when I came to your office, aside from the fact that you made me wait to eat until after our appointment and so I hadn’t had anything including coffee now in over eleven hours, then you slammed a needle into my arm a few times, took seven viles of my apparently red cell deficient precious blood, poked around where no one else dares to go (enter snap of rubber glove), told me there is a possibility I may have a tumor up in there because my red blood cells have dropped through the floor and then sent me back to work.”

Now you might be thinking that he probably wouldn’t hear me at this point because I would have already slammed the phone on the top of my desk, deal with it, it’s an irrational story.

So yeah, I felt fine when I woke up this morning lying next to my honey who was whispering in a sleepy voice “have a good day love”, now I sit at work with a headache, a sore arm from the blood draw, a sore shoulder from the Pneumonia vaccine looking up side effects of taking Ferrous Sulfate my doctor insists I begin taking immediately wondering what in the hell he is thinking (insert deep breath here) calling me an hour after I leave his office to ask me how I am “really” feeling. You know that scene from the 1990 movie Home Alone when Macaulay Culkin runs from room to room screaming? Picture him at forty nine, in an office setting with a pocket protector and a ten o’clock shadow. Yeah that happened.

 

The Radish

There is something about the crunch of a juicy, sweet, Cherry Bell radish as I bite into it that excites me, maybe, it’s the realization that once I’ve penetrated its thin, spicy, reddish skin I will soon devour its cool, fleshy core. I can’t get enough of these small and flavorful fruits. From the sharply pungent White Icicle to the pallid tipped Sparkler the crunchy bite and the succulent, thirst quenching root consumes me. There must be no snack that satisfies me like a handful of this small, round, vegetable. Thus here is my ode to these pre-Roman era treats, so high in vitamin C and solid, mouth watering essence.

The Mug

He backed his truck into the spot he’d unofficially claimed as his many years ago at his place of work, turned off the engine and took a deep breath, maybe it was a sigh, and then collected his things and hopped out into the early morning drizzle. He had his lunch pail and when he grabbed his ‘ol coffee thermos and kicked the door shut behind him, his fingers slipped and his mug, this bare metal mug, its bottom wrapped in duct tape, with all its dents and dings has been there for him every single morning; Monday through Friday for the last many years fell from his grasp.

The world seemed to slow down in that instant, the rain fell silently, slowly, his gaze dropped and he fumbled with his lunch pail and his phone but just couldn’t get there before his mug hit the curb. As the sun seemed to pause for him while it peeked over the horizon, shards of light spewing through the mist and reflecting off of the sidewalk he watched in horror as the twist on top shattered into pieces, the mug bouncing and spinning, spitting coffee from a crack at its base, he knew this was its final abuse, its last trip and in its final dramatic moments, it spun like a top on its side before finally resting in the wet grass.

He stood for a moment, glaring at it and when he picked it up, it was covered in freshly cut grass, grit from the sidewalk and a shallow film of coffee as it dribbled down its side and over the back of his hand. He stood there, his chest tight, his mind awash in memories like the time it fell from his motorcycle and rolled down the highway and into the ditch halfway to Kentucky on a trip with his brother. It was always a survivor, it always kept him a hot, freshly brewed mug and when he sat down at work and readied his self for the day he could always rely on the roasted beans and its clean, velvety flavor he could only get from his percolator.

He walked into his place of business, he felt hollow, he didn’t say hi to Deb in finance on his way by, he didn’t knock on his friend Paul’s cubicle as he passed and when he sat at his desk he set the remnants of his ol pal on the desk in front of him and gazed at it, reflected in memories spanning years, through hot summer days and cold, snowy mornings. Like the blood of a sacrificed cow in the Philippines he drained what coffee was left through the crack at its base into an old company cup he’d had stashed away in his desk. There it was, in all of its dark, nutty presence, as a single swirl of steam furled from its russet surface rising above the rim and dissipating into the office air, was the final swig of what would be the last from this mug. Like so many losses we suffer through in life, this too shall lead to other freshly brewed adventures.

So long my old friend, take heed in your well deserved rest, your service has been recognized and celebrated.

When Did That Happen

I woke up this morning and stumbled through the living room, to the kitchen where I fixed a pot of coffee, only a half pot, any more and I get heart burn these days. Then on my way to the bathroom I stubbed my toe on a bench in the dining room, as I hopped around the table in the dark attempting to grab my foot and find the light switch I found I was more disturbed not by the fact that I haven’t yet learned that that bench has always been there, but more so that I could no longer just reach my foot without straining my back. I don’t know when that happened, I used to be so limber. When I reached the bathroom and found my tooth brush, the paste and looked into the mirror, I was frightened. Not by my reflection and mussed up hair, but by the crows’ feet and the creases around my mouth, the amount of gray facial hair along my jaw and the traces of so many years passed in my gaze.

I looked at my hands and saw my father’s, how long have I slept with my eyes open I wondered? The days and weeks seem to fly by without discretion now and climbing a ladder these days provokes more cautionary thought than it used to. When did that happen?

I woke up this morning and realized I turn fifty years old in a few short months. I’m scared, I‘m not prepared for this, and I am certain I knew it was coming and still let it happen; even my shadow looks longer now.

Suddenly I looked around at work and I realized I didn’t recognize at least half the people around me, and most of them look as though they just wandered away from preschool without their parents. “Excuse me Sir” they blurt out as they pass me by never looking up from their phones or their tablets, as if they have somewhere important to be…I don’t it seems, not nowadays anyhow. Not anymore.

How cruel is time when the sun gets close to the horizon before you realize it and when the days get colder and fly by as if on a train to some place out of the way. I feel like I am on a bus that suddenly stopped aggressively and I have no idea where I’ve been or why I’m being told to get off now. What did I miss, when did I last speak with my children, and why does that damned Cat Stevens song make so much sense now?

Turning fifty is no joke, and it’s not for the faint of heart either. I sat on the side of the tub, head in my hands, frantically trying to think of clues I may have missed, I didn’t see that last sign, not until now, it’s like fog finally lifting and there standing in the wet grass is me, bewildered, confused, afraid but I don’t know what it is I’m afraid of, I guess maybe it’s the thought that I missed something, that I should have taken advantage of my youth and done more, gotten lost more, played more when I had the chance. It feels like there is someone closing in behind me, I can’t see them but I know they are there, I can feel them. I turn the corner and then run as fast as I can for as long as I can and then I turn around again because I swear I heard something right behind me, but again, I can’t see them.

The shadows are crawling up the sides of the buildings all around me now, the warmer sun light out of my reach, I can feel the cooler, lonely air creep up the back of my legs and I shudder. As I stand there feeling as though I’ve missed something and can’t remember what it was I look across the street and there is another, just standing there looking lost, as lost as me, but doesn’t want to acknowledge me and turns away but can’t decide in which direction to go.

I stand up and grab my brush again; I force the last of the paste from the tube onto my brush and continue on. Isn’t that the point, to continue on in the face of it all, to attempt to stay a step ahead? I can hear the voice of my old platoon sergeant even now, of all the things…”Stand up soldier, carry on, so long as there is a single breath in you”. But there has to be more than that I think to myself. Adapt and overcome, those are words I can fight on in light of. So soldier on I will, but by gawd this soldier will adapt and overcome, I will goes places I have not been yet, I will see things I have not seen. I am not done learning and will take advantage of every day that I have.

Then the door to the bathroom opens and it’s her, my Love, she doesn’t see the crow’s feet, she doesn’t see the loneliness and the fear. She holds me, my tired body, she lays her cheek against my back and whispers to me…”I love you, with everything, I love you”. And with that the cold melts away, the fear subsides a little and I feel stronger.

The Blessing

In his well worn and weathered left hand he held a bundle of sage, between his right forefinger and meaty thumb he held a single wooden match. He stood among the tall grasses and wildflowers at the edge of Minnehaha Creek, closed his eyes and listened to the songs. He heard the bubbling of cool dark waters rushing over rocks as it caressed the shoreline near his feet. He heard the rustling of the leaves in the Oak trees on the rolling hills around him. He listened long and silently, hearing the celebrations of Sparrows and Mourning Doves. And whispers from spirits haunting the wooded acres surrounding the Burwell Mansion, good spirits, wholesome and kind, spending their days dancing in sunbeams pouring through the canopy over the property and swinging on the tender branches of the willow trees next to the bridge over the wandering creek.

When again he opens his eyes the morning sun begins to warm his neck. He scratches the match against a rock and it ignites with a searing note, a flash and then a flame. He touches it to the sage bundle and flames begin to crawl over the end of it, he pauses, watches as the flames lick at the open air and then blows it out. The bundle smokes now, thick and sweet, he raises it above his heart and out in front of him and pulls a large turkey feather from his pocket. To the North he nods, and waves the feather in back of the sage, embers glow and the smoke travels out and swims away on currents of air over the gardens and among the trees. He begins his prayer…

“Smoke of air and fire of earth,

Cleanse and bless this garden and earth,

Drive away all harm and fear;

That only good may gather here.”

Then he turns clockwise towards the East, raises the sage and wafts behind it with the feather and repeats his prayer, a blessing…

“For the garden

For the land

For Mother Nature and for the spirits.

Smoke of air and fire of earth,

Cleanse and bless this garden and earth,

Drive away all harm and fear;

That only good may gather here.”

Afterwards turning clockwise to the South and finally to the West, each time sending smoke from the burning sage into the air, watching it swing around above his head and float off into the trees, over the grasses, through the flowers, over hill and dale and delivering once more his entreaty to all that live and thrive in this place, all whom shall enter here, pass by and meditate upon its rolling and wild hills.

As the sun hovers high above him now, he gazes out over the rippling waters of the creek as it flows towards him, he steps through the tall grass, his bare feet sinking into the mud at the edge of the water, and he sets the Turkey feather and smoldering sage down on a rock and then steps into the water, he takes a few more steps to the center of the creek and turns facing the water rushing against his thighs. The pressure threatening to push him over and swallow him up, but he stands, strong and proud and lets his old fingers trail in the stream. His mind wanders to a different time, a different place, his chest swells with a spirituality that engulfs him, his eyes shine with the sparkling reflection from the sun.

His jeans are soaked, his legs cold, he touches his wet fingers to his face and his lips, and the water is sweet and tastes like iron. Off somewhere in the distance he hears his ancestors singing above the rising current, he closes his eyes and begins to hum, and then his lips part and he sings, he sings loud and he sings true. He raises his arms skyward and the sound of many drums echo in his mind as a single tear rolls from the corner of his eye and falls into the water, he leans his head back and he falls, the water consumes his body quickly and he disappears below the surface, the creek carrying him away.

And upon the afternoon breeze all along the creek today, under the rustling leaves of the poplar and the oak, against the sounds of the creek and the birds in the trees you can hear drums, and somewhere among them he sings, if you close your eyes you can hear him standing strong against the current singing the songs of his ancestors, and if you taste that water, it tastes sweet, and hard like iron, and pure like the blood of Mother Nature.

Today and Always

Life is so funny sometimes, not ha ha funny but queer funny, a little weird and unpredictable, even strange and disorienting. Every time I think I have things figured out I soon learn thereafter that I am as lost as ever and things really aren’t up to me.

When I met you I was taken aback firstly by your beautiful looks and secondly, after having listened to your voice, and then having heard you, your heart, echoes of your pain and reflections of your scars I was captured by how beautiful your really were. I connected with that pain, with that history. I recognized you like an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, not in the way that it might have been had we not seen each other in person in a long time but like when you realize that that person has been near you, close by and maybe even by your side for a long time and suddenly it hits you, the two of you are connected by something more than you can see, more than is actually tangible, by your spirit, by your yearnings and sense of desire.

When that realization hits you it destroys what you thought you may have needed or wanted, for me it was singularity, especially after having been in a relationship for so long, I wanted nothing to do with being in another one. But I would soon be captured by you in more ways than in spirit and heart, my world changed, my desires too and my needs changed shape. Suddenly I couldn’t exist without you by my side in some way, that scared me and I tried to push it away, please forgive me for that. I had been in a relationship for many years, but I hadn’t been loved for many more.

You began to open my eyes to the possibilities that lay before for me. You showed me what it means to be adored, to be loved for everything that I am and am not. I cannot thank you enough for what you have given me, for all that you have done for my soul, for my heart, it has healed far more quickly and earnestly than in any other time in my life. Also thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for my children, they are all of the parts of me that you aren’t and together all of those parts make me whole, validated, quantified. You all make me count; you have avenged me for my shortcomings and made my life so colorful and breathlessly wonderful, each day when I open my eyes and you are there beside me I know I will be all right, I know the sun will rise and the stars will shine for you, so thank you.

I love you, today, always and forever.

Falling Away

For years he walked against the wind, struggled against life’s gales, fighting for each step. He would turn his head from side to side straining to draw breath at times as he shielded his face from the stinging reach of his mistakes, and when the wind turned to a lesser breeze he’d look skyward for a light to show him the way, but all he found was reflections of shame.

He would sit down then, hunker in and wait for the storm to pass. Then when it did and he could stand and see around him all he saw was nothing, he couldn’t see into the future and he couldn’t see into his past, all there was, was nothing. He failed, failed to progress, failed to attain, he failed to be anything but present.

Like so many the present is unaccounted for, they wander between what came before and what happens next. Never knowing their fate, always looking for the solid, steady ground below their feet, which always seems to be there…until it isn’t.

When that moment comes and it always does, you have choices to make; you can surrender and fall away or reach out desperately and grab hold of the very edge and hang on. Then you fight, you fight with everything that’s left, you fight and claw and battle against gravity. You pull and struggle, and you as your fingers bleed and become cold and frozen and the feeling in your legs dissipates quickly you get angry and you spit as you cry out for a chance, just a little opportunity to show you have something left to give.

When you dig deep enough and you find that small flame buried somewhere in your soul you suck it in, and use it and crawl from that hole and roll over onto your back, exhausted, and weep. For you just learned that there is fight in you yet, that there is something worth saving and you love it and caress it and as you lay there contemplating the present, you realize that the clouds that kept your world dark and empty have begun to thin. You see blue sky and know there is something in your future if only you strive to put it there, there is something and you will find it.