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.

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Letters From Home

 

I heard my name over the rumble of personnel carriers and helicopters, it rang out like a church bell loud and clear. That day was mail call and I hadn’t heard from home in a couple weeks, we all gathered round the Quarter Master when he’d drag out that ol bag of mail, many of us didn’t expect anything from home and despite our impending emotional downfall at watching our buddies tearing open packages and letters we’d still gather but pretend we are cleaning our weapons or got nothing else to do. But that particular day was different for me and I ripped that envelope from his hand and stared at it a while, I held it in my hands turning it over and over knowing that my girlfriends tender fingers had held it the same way, that her lips touched the glue strips on the back and her hands slowly wrote out my name on the front.

Mail for a soldier is what drives em, it offers hope and remembrance of what we are all fighting for. It can make or break a person. It is the only tie to the reality left behind, to safety and to peace. When your feet hurt from marching for days and your hands are cracked and bleeding from the sand and the dirt and your mind is tired from operating in survival mode 24 hours a day getting a letter from home, a package or a picture can offer a moment, a respite from the hurt and the hunger.

That seems like a million miles away and too many years ago but it feels the same from time to time. When life gets tough and my body aches and my mind can’t quite figure out what I am supposed to do and I cant ask for help because I don’t precisely know what I need help with, I can’t look for a letter, these days nobody writes em. No one sits down and pens a note to a friend or a lover these days, the act of doing so is too personal I suspect. When you write someone’s name it echoes in your mind many times bringing up thoughts of moments past, memories of experiences shared with that person. When you have to sit down and think of what to write you begin to process what it means to know them, to understand them, you must rely on feelings. Today it seems most people logon to Facebook and look at someone else’s picture of a person, they might send a quick note to say hi or “reach out” but often times they might not even remember what they just wrote because it didn’t take remembering and feeling what you shared with that person. It wasn’t personal. It isn’t tangible.

I fear we are losing that aspect of reality, the tangible, the touch, the feel, that reaction or sensation we experience when we look into someone else’s eyes or touch their hands. We don’t get to smell them. We don’t get experience them as more than an emoji. I go to my mailbox now and I get junk, advertisements, bills, all sorts of stuff trying to take something from me but nothing offering a hello, nothing shared, nothing to hold, nothing that takes me away from the pain and the hunger. Not even for a moment. Somehow those days just slipped away.

I recently tore open a wall in the basement of my new home and found a small picture, the kind we use to give each other with a note on the back, this was a picture of a sweet looking young girl, maybe high school age, maybe older from the early ‘70s, and there was a hand written note on the back to someone special. It was profound and heartfelt, it was simple and sweet and penned with love. I held it and wondered how the person felt that received it. How many years had it been posted on the wall before it slipped away. The person whom wrote the note appeared to take her time writing it and did so with lots of kindness and charm. I turned it over a few times in my hands and smiled. And then I felt a little sad.

 

Tailgate Day Dreaming

I sat on the open tailgate of my truck backed up to the lake, my feet hung just above the dark, cold water. I closed my eyes and felt the early November sun’s rays as they caressed my face. The air was thin, barely warm and the surface of the lake was peppered with busy American Coots with their murky plumage and bright yellow bills splashing and diving about.

Days like this are far and few in between this time of year, the sun more prevalent beyond the clouds on a regular basis and the ground normally wet and sometimes dusted with an early frost. Usually the winter coats have been donned and gloves worn against the impending winter chill.

But on this day as I sit and enjoy my lunch at Parker’s Lake from the bed of my truck I absorb the fresh air and smell of fallen leaves. This is the time of transition when we set our clocks back and we plunge into five and possibly six months of winter. But today I watch the waterfowl and the muskrats and I enjoy the afternoon, eat my fresh, cool radishes and daydream as I stare into the brilliant shine from the sun cascading across the water, reflecting a blue clear sky.

Can’t See the Happiness through the Pain

It rained today as I walked along the shoreline of a pond; I stopped to watch the drops sink below the surface of the water strewn with dark red leaves, and studied the shallow ripples as they rolled together, slowly dying out.

The air was quiet, dull, thick and moist and as I walked the fallen leaves made no sound below my feet.

I didn’t mind the rain, it was light and the drops seemed to float to the ground in no big hurry.

I wasn’t really cold nor was I warm, and the rain on my neck didn’t bother me much.

I didn’t care that I had to go back to work soon and I didn’t care that the trees were bare and the sun was away.

In fact the only thing that seemed to matter was the lack of everything; I felt no connection to the Earth, the trees or the sky.

But pain is always there to welcome me, there is a sense of sadness, a feeling hidden somewhere beyond the colors of the fall and the reflections of me in the raindrops.

It’s there always, rising from the ground like humidity in the desert brilliantly reflecting everything back at me, making everything appear real, but I know it’s just a vision, a transparent image that hides the hurt until I need it again.

Sometimes though, the reflection hides even the good, the happiness, and then I can’t see it through the pain.

Acceptance

I rarely just post a quote or a statement or what have you, but sometimes I have fleeting moments where I feel things I cannot seem to pen into a certain place, sometimes it is just a word, often times a sentence or a reflection of a belief or refracted emotions streaming through my mind from the world around me.

In a time when there is so much diversity to be witnessed, so much beautiful variance to be seen, the world is full of people whom practice intolerance towards those who are dissimilar in their practices, or religions of appearances’ or political views.

And to fix things, to be better we are told we ought to apply tolerance, but I disagree, I can tolerate a certain level of pain, I can tolerate those whom badger or treat others with disrespect, I can even tolerate bad smells.

But I don’t think we should simply be tolerating each other, I believe we ought to accept each other, for our differences, for our varying beliefs and colors and our talents.

It is my belief that we should practice acceptance for those who’ve chosen a different path, and admiration for the strength it takes to do so and maintain their course.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe there is room in this world for those whom purposely hurt others, for those whom make it their purpose to eliminate and cause pain rather than love and honor and respect.

I will protect those less vulnerable, those who are victims of such behavior with whatever breath and strength I have, it’s an oath I took as a friend, a parent, as a soldier and as a member of society. We in America have lost much of our way, I don’t believe that those whom erected Lady Liberty at our shores thought, “We shall tolerate those damned, those lost…” I think they believed in a world where we could accept those from abroad whom are being persecuted for their differing beliefs and so on.

Love is not tolerance, love is acceptance, honor, admiration and celebration for who those around us, in all of their selves, strengths, weaknesses, mistakes, differences and all.

Are we capable, can we evolve beyond tolerance to acceptance?

An Open Letter to another Father

From one father to another, shame on you Sir. You have abandoned your daughter during a time when she has made what may be one her greatest decisions, one based on love, unencumbered, selfless and undeterred love.

Don’t you know she dreams of you; she thinks of you and wishes she could be held by you.

Her days are spent sharing a life with someone she has fallen deeply in love with, someone whom offers her irrefutable devotion.

She loves this man because he works hard, seeks to be a better person each day than he was the day before and not because he has been bad but because she deserves the best he can offer.

Don’t you know she sought this man out as all little girls do, seeking someone she can trust, someone she respects, someone whom treats her to a world she dreamt of, one where she is greeted each morning with kisses, each night with satisfaction that she has found the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with?

Are you so wrapped up in your own sense of sadness that your little girl has not followed the path you thought she ought to but instead, has taken her path in her own hands and has become a healthy, successful, woman whose got her sights set on a man whom you have much in common with Sir?

Don’t you know, that some days when he looks into her eyes, that he sees the yearning of a daughter to be called upon by her father to witness her happiness, to celebrate with her what makes her most happy and he sees her heart breaking, everyday that her father refuses to speak to her.

I say again, Sir, shame on you. Is it not our jobs as fathers to see that our little girls grow up happy, that when the day comes she meets that guy, that you are there to hear that she loves him, that he adores her and that she knows, we as their fathers shall always be there for them, that we will always have a spot not just in our hearts but in our homes as well where they can come back to. That we must not abandon them because they didn’t fulfill some ideal we had set in our minds for them, that as women, they have stood up for themselves and taken charge of their lives to become grown, successful, healthy and loved?

Do not let her pass by without reaching out, she needs your love too, she also has fears, questions and apprehensions as we all do. And it’s your job as her father, as her daddy, to send her out with confidence that you will be ok, that you will stand behind her and support her, that you will not close your eyes and punish her for what makes her happy, or shun her because her heart has chosen a different path, but instead celebrate with her before she is gone for good.

Cool, October Fog

I crawled out from the small tent, my partner still fast asleep. It was already after 8am and I loved sleeping in among the deciduous forest, the fresh air, the smells, the sounds at night of the insects singing, and small woodland critters dashing through the tall prairie grass under gently whooshing trees in the moonlight. But it was time to rise and greet the morning.

As I stood tall and stretched, the cool October air surrounded me, so I pulled on my fleece and looked around. The sun was still below the tree line and barely visible through the thick morning fog that covered the bluffs high above the Mississippi River. I needed to gather water for breakfast and wood for a fire, so I walked the path out from the trees and over hills among the bluff top prairie. Just beyond the fog at the edge of the forest were Birch trees, Maple and Oak, the knee high grass was wet, the dark maroon Sumac leaves dripped, laden with condensation.

There is a place for spiritual awakening in moments like these; I stand there on the dirt path, still, listening to my surroundings. Something moves inside the tree line, possibly a deer, one from the family whom visited our camp during dinner the night before. I can hear droplets of water out in the mist perhaps hitting a rock or a broad leaf. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply, filling my lungs with rich, river valley air and when I exhale my breath almost instantly falls to the ground.

When I return to camp my partner has awaken and has waiting for me a hot, steaming, mug of coffee, I drop the wood and begin building a fire to the hissing sound of our camp stove as it begins to boil water for oatmeal. I look over at her with her long, dark hair, sipping from her mug of cocoa, her eyes still a little sleepy, she is so beautiful, raw, and real and seems to belong here among nature’s finest gifts. We share a love of Mother Nature, exploring the hills, forests, the bluffs and river bottoms, mountains and valleys. It is here we find our spirituality at its purest, it’s here we find the love we share for each other, in its truest, most honest form.

Failure

Failure:

The omission of expected or required action. example, “a failure to comply with the basic rules”. negligence, dereliction, omission.

As a father I have spent many years attempting to be the type of father that my children would look up to, someone they would be proud of and maybe even someone they may model their own moral center after. In being a good person, someone with integrity and patience and fortitude to forge through difficult times so that they, my children may be well taken care of and live healthy, productive and successful lives in their own ways. And in the end being people whom they themselves can be proud of.

Then one day you wake up and realize that you failed them, that at some point and why didn’t you recognize the need earlier, you botched an opportunity to make certain that they have every advantage afforded them, and that includes being looked after physically as well as emotionally and mentally, that somewhere along the road you parried responsibility and let someone else make decisions that you yourself ought to have considered.

We have all had that Adam’s Forward Bend Test to see if we might have Scoliosis, probably at some point during elementary school. The doctor stands behind you, asks you to bend over and visually checks your spine. If nothing appears abnormal than we all go about our business. I relied on the doctor to tell me that my children were fine, that they were healthy and normal. Is that where my responsibility ends as a parent? Too often I think we rely on others because they have a certain degree or they hold the position in society we have been told to respect and rely on for the truth, and by allowing that message to be delivered to my children I have failed them. After all I am the first and last line of defense for my children is that not right? Am I not the one person that they ought to trust to take care of them above all others?

I found out recently at the age of 12 that my youngest daughter has Scoliosis, and generally speaking by age 13 our skeletal systems are fully matured, and if you have Scoliosis and nothing has been done to attempt to affect a change by then it’s too late, and the possibility that they will have to live with the pain and the frustration of having this for the rest of their lives. My daughter is ahead of her age growth mile stones, I have researched the braces; there are hard ones, soft ones and semi-soft body strap systems and each one of them have their own claims but absolutely none of them can nor claim to affect and actual fix for their intended purpose. But if it is bad enough after 13 years old then the only option is surgery and even that is not a sure thing.

So how is it that my daughter’s Scoliosis escaped me, was I so flagrantly absent minded as to never notice the symptoms’? Was I wrong in assuming that her complaints of back pain were the sheer result of her involvement in sports, I say yes. I say I should have known something; I should have seen it or heard her more clearly and why had I not. I assumed that her passion and continued intense participation in sports was an indication of her being completely and physically healthy and I was dead wrong.

How does a father stand there as the doctors’ tell his little girl that this will be a life long struggle and watch her little eyes well up with tears and her lips quiver as she thinks about how it will affect her playing sports? How does a father tell her that we will do everything we can to work through this, knowing that I could have done something more, that I should have done something more.

Last weekend I watched her play softball for her team at the state tournaments, she played hard, she won games and she celebrated some great plays. But by the time she couldn’t throw the ball straight any longer because her back hurt so bad, it was too late and she couldn’t push through it any more. She blamed herself for losing the game, she hated that she couldn’t do anything about the pain, about her spine twisting and pulling against her own muscular structure, fighting within her young body, contorting her in unnatural directions sending intense, shooting aches throughout her back. She walked off the field and broke down, tears streaming from her beautiful eyes and rolling over her soft adolescent cheeks. I am sorry Georgia Rose, I am sorry that I cannot take that pain from you.

The Sidewalk Never Really Ends

It’s not too often these days that I find myself unable to sleep; last week though was a different story. I found myself walking along a boulevard, great big Elm trees lined one side of the walk and cars, oddly silent, drove by on the street on my other side. It seemed to be a nice afternoon with the sun high above the trees and a slight breeze meandering its way through the neighborhood. I could hear birds in the background and there seemed to be no one else around except me, and that’s when I noticed a small, frail hand with delicate little fingers wrapped around mine as I walked. I looked down and saw one of my daughters; she smiled a big crooked smile up at me. Her fat little cheeks glistened in the sun and her long brown hair flowed down around her face and fell over her shoulders like smooth, rich chocolate.

I don’t know where we were going, but I could hear her voice, it was sweet and velvety like pure whole milk. I couldn’t understand what she was saying but I could hear her tone and it was pleasant. As we strolled along she would periodically adjust her grip within mine, nothing feels as safe and warm and wonderful as the delicate grip of a daughter’ hand, when I looked down at her hand again it was a little bit different, her nails were painted, messily and her fingers stuck out from my big hands now. I looked at her again and she’d gotten slightly taller.

In fact the further we walked the taller and older she became, her face changed from a look of wonder and unabated excitement to investigative and yearning. Her voice grew a little deeper and more experienced, her grip a little more relaxed. So I tightened mine just a bit.

We walked on, we laughed, then the sun disappeared and the wind swirled around us and the air grew colder and she looked at me and she was scared, I held her hands and then held her, she cried and I wiped her tears away with my aging fingers. The darkness faded and so we began walking once more, the wind died down and the sun seemed to be closer to the horizon, the light around us was more amber than before and my daughters hand slipped in mine so I held on a little tighter. We talked some more, laughed some more and she grew taller yet, the look on her face now experienced and aware.

I began to get tired suddenly, her pace was now quicker than mine and I had to lengthen mine to keep up with her, she turned and walked backwards for a moment as she looked deep into my eyes and then flipped back around and I grabbed her hand again and held on. There was an air of sadness now in spite of our smiles. There was also a feeling of impending change, I didn’t enjoy the feeling, it scared me and I worried. When I fell behind she stopped an waited for me to catch up and took my hand this time, I tried to hold on even tighter but my grip was failing, suddenly as I tried desperately to move my feet I found myself sort of stuck, she stopped and looked over her shoulder at me, she smiled a huge crooked smile at me and then her brow relaxed and her bottom lip became pursed.

She stepped back to me and took my hands once again, in both of hers, they were soft, and no longer disappeared inside mine. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but she looked a little sad, I felt desperate to understand what was happening as she pulled away. I gripped tightly around her hands, I tried to hold on but she kept pulling, I didn’t get it, why was she still pulling, I tried to tell her that I just can’t hold on and she smiled and her fingers slipped away. She stood for a moment a few feet in front of me and blew me a kiss. Then she turned and waved as she walked on.

I yelled at my feet to move, I struggled like a fish against the current and fought against my own failure to keep her in sight but she turned the corner and I lost her. When I turned to she was gone, I could smell her fragrance but I couldn’t see her. I cried and felt completely lost, I looked behind me but all I could see were places we had been together and it took my breath away. I turned in circles and looked inside my hands but they were empty.

I think Shel Silverstein was wrong, the sidewalk never really ends, and it doesn’t continue for all of us, it just changes. I found myself on an unfamiliar sidewalk now, alone, trying to catch my breath and then suddenly I found myself lying on my back watching the ceiling fan above me. I stumbled out of bed and rinsed my face off and sat on the couch in the dark. I knew when she left for college that I would be sad. She is a grown woman now and she will have many sidewalks to discover on her own, and she needs my hand no longer. There was a time when I thought that walk may never end, and now I wish it hadn’t.