Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Forgotten Highway

Chapter Three

"Life's like a road that you travel on
When there's one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
There's a world outside every darkened door
Where blues won't haunt you anymore
Where the brave are free and lovers soar
Come ride with me to the distant shore"
(Life is a Highway, Tom Cochrane 1991)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Kitchen Sink

"Just ordinary miracles
Ordinary miracles
But all the same they're miracles to me
The days that I'll remember well
Have a simple kind of wonderful
Of ordinary miracles"
(Ordinary Miracles, Amy Sky 1999)

              Life can be a beautiful thing if we let it be. This possibility lies in the way each person lives, not in the interpretation of their existence. How did you find your truth? Tossing away all this commentary, all the opinion, versus that truth, reveals there is more to this life than we can ever know. The truth lies in the simple things around us, those ordinary and artificially mundane things we take for granted. The truth lies within the experiences we have faced and the consequence we fear. It survives in the moments we cling to and the awareness we gain through focusing. When we pay attention, we realize life itself is a simple thing. We complicate it, not the other way around. We believe we can know everything, but in truth, we know little at all. Guesswork is a bitch, so we search and search for some other knowledge, a secret form, that will get us through. In the end, we are all without it, agnostic if you will. The secret to this life is that there is no secret; the truth is plain and simple. We don't even need to think about it. It is right in front of our faces, but we just don't take the time to notice.
            There are so many reasons why we stop looking for answers in our life. Some of us never start. Whether we realize there is little fruition found at the end of each day, or the chances involved seem not worth taking, we withdraw and play it safe. We close ourselves off and only let in those things which offer guarantees or fit our version of the truth. Who can blame someone for not trusting in anything? Even memories can betray you. Everything is mired down in the bullshit of humanity, so much so that we close our eyes, believing we will see. Each one of us has every reason in the world to turn and walk away. We should be scared to death. At least we are here to begin with. Life itself should be enough to make anyone more willing to listen, and to learn, rather than shutting down and falling into the safety and security of ignorance.   

"I'm poor, black; I may even be ugly. But dear God! I'm here! I'm here!"
(The Color Purple, Alice Walker 1982)

            We are all stuck here, knee-deep in the middle of everything, including the kitchen sink. Life is clearly not all rainbows and butterflies. Most lessons hurt to learn. There is never a moment's rest from all the suffering, questioning and pain. All this misery reveals the true mess we really are. When we fail to survey this cost we pay the price. Unless we take the world slow and easy, the world will simply pass us by.
            We stand in the midst of what we have come to know. Each day offers its own ordinary miracles, but we take them for granted. We allow them to speed past us, not taking them one moment at a time. Granted, all this is temporary, but you  have to search in order to find. You have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Every road leads home. You may end up discovering that the very things you are looking for are already yours. Life may be hard, but the travelling can be easier when you appreciate every moment, making the best of every single day. You can't give up. There is no need to worry and no need to hurry. Have faith and trust, that is what they are for.
            In every moment, there is a reason to carry on. There is beauty in a new day. Hope thrives only when we let it.  People may be miserable, but this realm can offer us a glimpse of heaven. Creating even one memory makes up for everything else. You have to lay down your burden if you want life to carry you. Unless you do, those burdens will be your life. The past is past. We can spend all our time, and energy, trying to fix it, to repair the damage we have done, but what's done is already done. You don't get what you had now that it's gone. When you concentrate on now, demonstrating things are different, you leave the past behind. You can even shape your own future. Change is an action, not a phrase or some promise. You have to apply it for it to mean anything. Instead of talking all the talk, we should be walking the walk. You may have to take the long way, but eventually you will end up in a better place.
            Life will come to you when you least expect it. This world may not always be a friendly place, but be better for it. That which has not killed you, made for scars that healed you strong. Time flies by and all we end up wanting is to be happy. I wonder if that isn't what all of us really need? Happiness is not something we can wish into being, it is something we must make happen. When we stop and smell the roses, and the lilac, and even the weeds, only then can we appreciate this moment for what it is. It is the simple things that make life worth living.
            The world can be a very cold place. At times, I am not immune to this big chill. My nipples get so hard they could cut right through glass. A little frost makes for sweeter wine. Come the spring, the seed becomes the flower, the flower grows for as long as it possibly can. It does not consume itself with questions regarding the amount of time it has left or when the snow will return. It thrives in the moment, blooming for all to see. It has awoken. It is unafraid. It does not wonder if it is dreaming it all.
            There is reason in a morning sky, in the sunshine and the night time. The wind's caress and the rain's nourishment are simply tools. There is purpose in a friend or the touch of a mother's hand. There is peace in music, a song that lasts forever in your mind. When you seek, you will surely find, but you have to see things differently to understand. Notice the simple things and make them your own. Take the time and the fog will clear. The only thing we have are moments like these. The rest is unknown.
            We are born, then we die. This is the most we will ever truly know. Life, after all, is about guess work. There are no grand answers. There are only simple things and the few revelations they bring. They are our only ray of light.

"I dream of simple things
I can believe in
Like the feeling this day brings
True love and the miracle of forgiving
I believe in simple things
Through all the days
The blues, the greys
A ray of light keeps shining."
(Simple Things, Amy Grant 2003)

             There are many who shut this world out. They stay clear of any opening, any window or door, believing if they ignore what's on the other side, it will go away. They are called by life to join in, but they pray the sound passes them by. It is safer for them to be alone, to block out this world and live in their stupor. They thrive in error and their mistakes haunt them. They think that, in hiding, they won't be hurt again. They trust nothing, and no one, believing they will change their world through their refuge. They cling to miracles which never come and songs which never play. They choose to be by themselves. They choose to hate rather than love. They deny beauty and ignore the world around them so they do not have to care. They figure they cannot win so they refuse to play the game. For them, yesterday is regret and tomorrow set in doom. They do not even venture to find safety in the here and now.
            The simple things in life will never hurt you. You can't hide from them, they are all around you. They may be ignored, put aside for either abandon or the complexities of a material life, but in the end, they are really all we have. The rest are just complications and ideas we can never prove. They are intangible and ambiguous, without real substance. They bear chaos. We need to keep it simple. We have to eliminate the unnecessary elements from our lives. Without the foundation of simplicity, we cannot discern between our rewards and our punishments. We believe we have everything, but end up with nothing. You can build all the walls you like, but without a firm foundation, you will fall for anything.
             We love, then we break, so we hide. We are empty, so we search thinking we find. Life is not about finding, it's about feeling. It's not about watching from the parterre, it's about singing right out on center stage. This life is sometimes a long song, reflecting both heartfelt pleasures and damning pain. Like a love song, it can move us closer or push us away. It can hurt us or it can heal us. Sometimes life just is. Sometimes life just does. There is absolutely nothing we can do about it; shit happens.
            Helping yourself can be the hardest of things to do. The stagnant life goes nowhere. Only a fool convinces himself that there is no other option but to suffer. The simple things in life bring comfort, even in the storm. They are the storm. When we allow ourselves to become comfortably numb, believing this will ease our pain, the essence of this reality hides, always waiting to return. You become an empty vessel. When we cannot be filled by one thing, we will hunt for another. It is our nature. All the good, and all the bad, have their own measure, but we must discern which we will give life to. So many people forget that, in fighting a monster, you may become one yourself. 
            The simple things may be the rewards for living, but some are also required for us to live (rest - food - water). The Spirit within thrives, but we must feed it too. When you are spiritually compromised, you seek the wrong nourishment. We actually believe that others have the answers, so we follow them, hoping to be fed. Empty words make for an empty soul. We need to let these things go. Be content with what you have, this does not mean denying anything. Mindfulness may be an active form of joy, but one must claim it through action. It is not something that we have, it is something that we do.

"I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go."
(Watching the Wheels, John Lennon 1980)

            Children do not hold on to care. Life teaches them to. Those who remain in their innocence see everything without judgment. This world has not yet corrupted their purity or ingenuousness. Their dewy-eyes have not been dried. Life for this child is all about the simple things. They know that God hides within them. 
            When I was a boy growing up in Toronto, there was a steep hill that rested beside the highway near our home. Come summer, it was covered in dandelions and grasshoppers would fly from place to place whenever one walked by. It was warm and tender on those summer days and I frequently found myself there, alone. I didn't think about the chores yet to do at home. I didn't fret if someone would discover that broken vase I hid away from prying eyes. I simply sat and absorbed the sunlight, letting the heat pull shivers on my face. I was silent and I was happy.

"I don’t know what the future is holdin’ in store
I don’t know where I’m goin’, I’m not sure where I’ve been
There’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me
My life is worth the livin’, I don’t need to see the end
Sweet, sweet surrender
Live, live without care
Like a fish in the water
Like a bird in the air"
(Sweet Surrender, John Denver 1974)


Winter 1996

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Best Medicine

"A cheerful heart is good medicine,
 but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."
(Proverbs 17:22, NIV)

            The most powerful, yet elementary, weapon I yield against the agonies found throughout living is laughter. It is a resourceful tool to help me cope. We all use it. Humour, and the response, are an important part of everyday existence. It is an effective therapy for stress release or a fatigued mind. It can perk you up when you're feeling down. It soothes the soul and distracts the senses. It is a form of the purest balm, mortal joy. We know that joy breeds mercy, elevating us above the emptiness of this unbearable life. When we laugh we smile, when we smile we exude the very best part of being human. Laughter is an art form many take for granted, but in which everyone engages.

 Laughter is the best medicine.

            Humour and laughter are essential to the human condition. Both have great physiological benefits. At its biological roots, laughter is associated with the release of endorphins. Endorphins are a neurochemical occurring naturally in the brain and having analgesic properties; the state of laughing can ease pain and relieve anxiety. Laughter "increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T cells," charging the immune system and assisting in the body's healing. It is cathartic, purging emotions like an act of psychotherapeutic casting out. For some, laughter has developed as a protective shield. For others, it is an instinctive coping mechanism. Just as with pharmaceuticals, different people react to different forms of humour. Each person also expresses humour differently. When we laugh, however, we all feel the same.
            Just as everyone needs a good cry, we all need a good laugh. It has a survival value. It allows us to relate to others, maintain social coherence and produces stability during social interaction. It functions as a tool for bonding, a method of pacification and we can use laughter to develop interpersonal relationships. Laughter promotes general well-being. It can protect you from the damaging effects of tension, create a genial state of mind, and act as a productive social skill. Laughter functions to benefit physical health, mental health and social health. People throughout history have used laughter to escape suffering and sadness. Laughter has always been strong medicine.   
            Like religious rituals, music, and dancing, laughter can create a euphoric state which has physiological benefit. It helps to release latent hostility and "dissolves distressing emotions." It is hard to be angry or sad when one is laughing. Laughter acts to relax us. It acts to restore our energy levels. It creates "psychological distance," enabling perspective and focus. It connects us to others, contributing to the establishment, and often, restoration of our personal relationships. It feeds human interactions and unifies individuals to one another. It creates "a positive emotional climate and a sense of connection between two people, who literally take pleasure in the company of each other."  Laughter represents "the basic rhythm of all healthy relationships." Laughter is not only about emotions. It is a primary element in social relationships.
            Laughter acts as distraction. It redirects our focus away from things such as anger, guilt and depression. Laughter is a clear-cut sign that things are getting better. No matter the situation, or its severity, laughter brings hope. If you can laugh, you can get through anything. Laughter is contagious. It spreads, its transmission inescapable. A laugh track for our lives; the central point or focus for a happy soul. Laughter heals. Laughter helps. Without laughter, we would never smile. Without a smile, the world would be a darker place, not that it needs any assistance with that. Laughter, humour, and related joy, are  effective instruments for a well mind, a good body and a whole spirit. 

"Your sense of humour is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.”
(The Laughter Remedy, Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D.)

            I have always relied on humour. Since I was a young child, it has always been my best artillery against the war known as being. It protects me and allows me to endure. It has always been a natural part of my makeup, an instinct rather than a conscious choice. I have always been sardonic, sarcastic, and more often than not, inappropriate. This incongruity tends to disarm the power of situations, turning negatives into less threatening perspectives. I find it easy to use "wit with words", like a form of tactile engagement. I am a funny guy, expressing my sense of humour in order to reach out to others. It has always been able to brighten the day, even when there is little to laugh about. Laughter brings me comfort. I will laugh just for the sake of laughing; I will laugh for no reason at all. It is its own reward.
            Some people don't appreciate this talent. Many seem unable to grasp that I am poking at something, intending to be funny, so they condemn what I am saying. Laughter conveys mood and humour can reveal my intentions. Any shock value is lost on their heavy hearts, any reason to laugh tossed away because they just don't get it. I suppose, at times, art just flows over us. This does little to silence the comic nature of my social interactions. Sorry, but I am very much, and always will be, a smart ass. It is who I am and a character trait which has permitted me to survive, regardless of the trials and tribulations in my life.
            People who don't laugh scare me. When someone is rigid and stoic, I always approach them with caution. If you cannot find something, deep within, to laugh at, then you are in desperate need. I've never been sure what they need, but perhaps time will reveal all. I myself am not easily amused by others. I find it difficult to comprehend trivial and ambiguous attempts to make me jovial. Laughter comes on it own terms, it cannot be forced or commanded. If you want me to laugh out loud, you are going to have to work for it. Some people laugh at everything, abandoning intelligence for the cheap thrill. Other people laugh only when it is appropriate and miss all the fun. People don't realize that this simple action comes with few boundaries. Its function is always the same, even when the presentation is outside of the box or beyond the grasp of mere mortal men. Humour is more than a punch line, it is a mirror.   

 (Garrett Breedlove) "You're just going to have to trust me about this one thing.
You need a lot of drinks."
(Aurora Greenway) "To break the ice?"
(Garrett Breedlove) "To kill the bug that you have up your ass."
(Terms of Endearment, 1983)

            Whether I was shooting snot balls at my new friends' faces while recovering in hospital, or being jolted awake by Homer Simpson cascading down the side of the Springfield gorge, the tool known as humour, and the response known as laughter, have always acted as foot soldiers on the frontline of my battles with despair. I realized very early on in my history the power that both grant me, when I need them the most. They silence my anger and relieve my burdens. Without them, I would be lost in gloom.
            They come so naturally to me now that I am fully adult. They are my character and my duty. People truly know when to stay away from me, any lack of jest a road sign to my difficult day. Everything about me, on a good day, reeks of my best temperament. I am approachable in a way I would not be if I did not lead with a joke or bitchy comment. I captivate a room with my sense of timing and punctuate my points with levity. I mock as a term of endearment and I am ironic when in the process of feeling someone out. I often find myself rather clever. As a confirmed smart ass, I realize that it doesn't always take intelligence for someone to be funny. Consider Conan O'Brien. A strong intellect does seem to enable a much more adaptable sense of humour and definitely makes a joke more interesting. Sometimes, when I am very quiet and to myself, I wonder if perhaps all mankind is missing out on some prank. Life can be just plain funny.
            I think God sits up in Heaven and laughs and laughs and laughs, at us. In a sense, perhaps we are his most favoured sitcom. I would assume a sense of humour would be required in any all-powerful deity or we surely would all be in an awful lot of trouble. Could you imagine what a divine being would do to humanity if it didn't see things through laughter, in spite of the tears? Maybe the joke is on us. When it really comes down to it, most of what it means to be human is nothing but a clear indication of some sick warped sense of humour. Maybe God is a smart ass as well.

 "God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”
 (Fran├žois-Marie Arouet de Voltaire, French Philosopher)

             I was once interviewing a 93-year-old man about how his religious convictions had changed throughout his life. He was weary, tired from the life he knew. His body was crumbling from the ravages of time. We talked intently about Christianity, Christians and, in his opinion, the lack of commitment that people have to something greater than ourselves. He talked about how he maintained a relationship with God despite the ups and downs of his journey.
"It's all about keeping a sense of humour," he revealed.
When the interview ended, he placed his hand upon my knee and asked,
"What were Jesus' last words?"
I replied like any good disciple would, "Into your arms I commit my spirit."
He smiled, rather pleased with himself.
Then I asked him, "What do you think Jesus' last words were?"
He giggled, then said, "You guys slay me."

            I sat on my mouth for what seemed like eternity, shocked, no, stunned at this blasphemous and highly inappropriate lack of respect. I didn't have an issue with the joke. It was something I would have said. I just couldn't believe it came from that old mouth on that old man. He just chuckled to himself and rose to see me out.
"You need to lighten up, " he grumbled.  
"If we didn't amuse God, don't you think we'd all be dust already?"



Thursday, June 14, 2012

Moments Like This

            People do not notice the now. We are inclined to overlook it. We do not pay attention to the things around us. Our minds seem elsewhere, diffused and outside the present and the immediate. We do not seize the moment; we let it pass unnoticed. Granted, one cannot live in the moment all the time. I doubt it is possible. The future and the past can overwhelm us, and so we fail to recognize the here and now. We are not mindful of the world that surrounds us or the unique expression of each instance from our lives. We do not realize what we are missing out on because we do not see. Most of us don't even try to see. Some believe there is nothing to see.
            This mindfulness, in Zen Buddhism, is an awareness, a discipline although not necessarily meditation. It is about being cognizant of our thoughts and actions and what our senses reveal then and there. It is being aware of the things we know and the things we experience. It is directing our minds to this moment rather than what happened or what may come. Mindfulness, this awareness, is considered a "spiritual faculty", and one of the seven factors of enlightenment taught by Buddha. 
            Buddha advocated that one should establish satipatthana (mindfulness) in one's day-to-day life.  Maintaining, as much as possible, a "calm awareness of one's bodily functions, sensations (feelings), objects of consciousness (thoughts and perceptions), and consciousness itself."  Through this practice, focus will develop. In fact, almost every religion, from Islam to Hinduism to Judaism, relates the importance of focusing on the now as a primary tool in developing both a spiritual calmness and union with the Divine.

 "This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it."
(Psalm 118:24, NKJV)

            I don't know how Buddha did it. I find it a very difficult thing to exist within each moment, to live each moment. The discipline itself is not the challenge for me. It's the external and internal noise that comes with living. I suppose I have as much trouble shutting my inner dialogue as I do silencing my outer voice. Being a long-winded Alpha male, with a strong opinion and little tolerance for stupidity, may be the reason. It's the focus that always throws me off.
            I feel the moment all the time. Almost instantly, I am possessed by the awareness that so many strive to achieve but do not. It comes, not in waves, but like a song, remembered instantly and completely, even if the last time it was heard was 30 years ago. It overtakes you with a sense of fondness and familiarity. Still, I cannot help but to dwell on invasive memories of the past or worry about what may or may not happen in the future. Both are distracting. I have to stop and remind myself that I am not my thoughts. I have to redirect myself to the now, focusing on those things around me at the time.
            It seems we live in an age of beguilement. Simplicity and awareness are supposed to teach us how to live in the daily, to fill each moment with meaning and purpose. We know our future hinges on our ability to pay attention to now. It's a difficult thing to do so when the world around us dictates so much of how we feel and what we think. Most people do not even try to center their focus on being aware. We allow our thoughts to control us and not the other way around. Stopping, stepping out of ourselves, as if to pause, can create a sense of balance. This stability seems to be one thing that eludes many of us in our modern times. We have to learn to hear the silence and to stop our inner dialogue. We need to focus on being and let go of doing.
            People who claim to be aware, in a place of this not that, seem happier to me. They are more exuberant towards the simple things of life and more secure in their place in this life. They strike me as well rounded and more grounded in their capacity to empathize. The impulsivity most people thrive on, when aware, is less reactive; they are open to criticism and do not become threatened or defensive when confronted with the negatives people bring into each other's lives. They appear to like themselves, and others, more, and seem accommodating in a genuine manner. They even seem to manifest, generally speaking, a more satisfying and enjoyable life.
            It's hard to become attentive to the now without expectation. Herein lies the paradox. If we expect something from our awareness, then we are in a future state of thinking. This condition acts to usurp any sense of the moment as we are focused on what is to come, not what is now. I suppose one must learn that the only way to get what you want is to let it go. For me, this is so much easier said than done. Mindfulness may come, but it tends to be rather fleeting.
            We let time rush past us. It goes unobserved, for the most part, and we rarely try to seize the day. We squander now for when and was.. We ruminate on the things that have been and fret about the things that are to be. We take little time to absorb the still of the moment, so we allow chaos and confusion to rule our lives. We need to observe rather than partake. We need to experience rather than merely setting ourselves in motion. As if to fully live rather than trying to live fully. Life should be an act of "Here I am," not "There I was," or "Where am I going?"
"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34, NIV)

            It was very clear that I should have paid attention to the warning signs. As I stood waiting for Enrico in front of the Vancouver Convention Centre, I knew things were about to get messy. At 8:54 a.m., I arrived and sat down on a bench, constantly looking from side to side for my "friend". I didn't understand why, considering what the year 1995 had been for me, Enrico would fly me all the way out to Vancouver, then abandon me entirely for a casual sexual encounter. I didn't think we had come all this way just to cum. At 10:16 a.m., I caught him sauntering towards me. You could tell he was hung-over and he walked kinda funny too, if you know what I mean. Pleasantries were exchanged and we started walking towards Stanley Park.
            We entered at the southeast end of the park via West Georgia Street, eventually heading due east on Stanley Park Drive, which circles the entire reserve. Not a word was exchanged as we headed around the Stanley Park Seawall. Rock face after rock face reached out to the sun, which shone surprisingly bright and warm for an early March day. The scenery was beyond description. I suppose that was a blessing in disguise. As Vancouver  Harbour met the Burrard Inlet, we stopped to look at a few majestic rock formations, then silently walked on towards Third Beach.
            At the round, Siwash Rock jutted from the deep, almost 60 feet (approximately 18 metres) straight into the air. It was a magnificent thing to behold.  Also known as Nine Pin Rock, for resembling a bowling pin, it seemed to act as the final point for carrying on this sham. It had come far enough. I sat down on one of the benches scattered along the walkway, and snapped a few pictures. Enrico slowly walked over and sat down beside me. When all was said and done, he walked away from me for good.
            With Enrico gone, I sat gazing into the water. I raised my face to the sun and closed my eyes. The brightness of the day layered my skin with a glow only I could feel. I fell into silence, trying to push what had happened from my mind. The wind merely whispered, it was not enough to give me pause. Siwash Rock stood fearless against a growing tide and I wondered about how many people, from so many points in history, had sat where I was, thinking the very same things. I analyzed, scrutinized and tried to find some purpose in all this needless chaos, but any lasting effect brought with my ex-friend really did seem to leave with him. I guess Enrico really served nothing. He might as well have never been. If only I had paid attention and heeded all the warning signals that there was something just not right with him. I no longer mattered. It was too late. Everything had changed between him and I.
            I may have never seen the seven wonders of the world, but I feel like I have. I just sat there. It was so beautiful, so breathtaking, that it stole my breath away. I was lost in the moment, aware of everything around me. Every sound, every flicker of the sun off the water made me almost weep in reply. It all sang to me, over and over. My mind became clear, no longer trapped by the events, or the feelings, or even the overwhelming sense of wasted time and energy. I took a deep breath and decided to make the best of the day.
            I continued on the sea path, heading west, until it joined Sunset Beach along English Bay. I made my own sweet way, trying to notice everything, taking the time to really look at my surroundings. I journeyed back to the East Hastings Hotel, grabbed my things, then checked out by the grace of God and Mr. Clean. I walked down the street, approaching the park once again, and checked into the Coast Plaza (at Stanley Park), on Comox Street. The  location was central enough and was pleasing to the eye. I threw caution to the wind, and my bank account to the front clerk, then checked into a lovely room facing the park. The first thing I did was hunt for roaches.
            I spent the next few days alone, searching through the city for historical sites and relics of a time gone by. I rented a car and went up to Whistler; not to ski, just to see. I did everything I could possibly do to take what could have been a nightmare for me and turn it into a dream come true. I let it begin with me. I made it my now, with every step that I took. It was like a solemn vow to take the moment and live the moment. I relished every second I got to explore such a grand place and all that came with it. I did not, even once, let the moment go by without clutching it, holding it for dear life. What may have turned out to be a disaster ended up being its own reward. I only had to seize the day. After all, that is what life is about, the simple moments like this. Damn the chaos and all its messengers.

“Carpe diem.”

[Seize the day.]
(Odes - Book 1, Quintas Horatius Flaccus [Horace], 35 BCE)




Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Foo Foo

"When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools."
(King Lear, William Shakespeare 1603-1606)

            Sometimes while I'm driving down a country road, I will explore the tree line, hunting in the distance, all the while looking for ghosts that no longer haunt me. I search for the dead with my senses. Grief, like with all things in time, first reaches, but then it fades away. It is not gone, but it no longer brings such fury. The further away from the event and the more chance that one must constantly seek the part that was once left empty. Our lives refill us, turning a gaping hole of sorrow into a field of pretty flowers. Heartache for the one we have lost lessens, no more great hurting, and the memories we have of them start the healing. The things that once brought such pain can now produce such growth. At least that's how it's supposed to happen.
            No matter what does happen to a person in this life, there is always hope that things will get better. Ironically, it doesn't always work this way and people become trapped in gloom and constipated by sadness. Human beings have such a capacity to embrace tomorrow, but some of us hold on to the past, believing we can, literally, keep with us those who have gone on before us. Really, all they cling to is a notion of yesterday. Life will get better if we let it. It always does. So many people don't see this because they are holding on to what was instead of living in what is. 
            As time passes, so inevitable, memory reminds us. It takes us back, but we must live in the now. We can use memory to re-enact, if you will, but we cannot exist in what is no longer. From the time we are born, we are bombarded with death and suffering and loss, but we also have the simple things to help us through.  Memory may not seem so simple, but it really is.  It is a touchstone, a place where we can go to feel better. It is the sunshine that grows the field of flowers after all the rain.
            Perhaps great men of the past are correct and we are nothing at all but fools, clutching to hope and trusting in much of nothing. Perhaps we are shipwrecked, clinging to the shoreline, praying for a sign. Life offers no guarantees. Neither does God. All we do have is here and now and those pieces of our lives conveyed in dreams, and delusions, and memory. All we can hold to is the idea that while we cannot touch them, they are like music, lifting us up against the tide and setting us back down at a better place.

"Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are.  When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you." (Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher)

            Everything happens for a reason. We may not see it now, but someday we will have answers to our questions. Until this end, we have to find a way to get through. We have to learn to laugh through the confusion and smile through our tears. It's the only way to move on and find a place of safety. Part of this life is about learning to continue without those who have gone before us. We may not like it, but we really have no choice. The choice we do have is to surrender to finality or begin all over again. We can either get on with living or toss ourselves into the inevitability of dying. Going on is about one or the other, you can't have both. Learn to live again or get ready for the grave.
            Grief never truly stops, it simply finds its place. In one form or another, we just have to get used to it. Some people tuck the dead away in the hope they will not have to feel such anguish. Others act as if nothing has happened at all, then cry themselves to sleep at night. Some people embrace the death, given time and enough room to move to a stable place. The truth is that the dead don't leave, we make them go away. It does not have to be this way. You only think they are gone.
            Today is the day that God has made. Yes, be glad in it. Having a fruitful and happy life does not automatically mean you have forgotten. Survivor's guilt is a normal part of grieving. Memory is the cure. When the night comes, must we turn on the moon? Do we need to call the sun into day? Are children taught to laugh and the wind taught to sing? Do we require permission to love? Can we escape our memories?
            Life can be brutal. When we focus on the pain and sorrow it brings, we forget about the beauty it manifests. This world is not fallible. The very things we know tell of this imperfection. God doesn't expect us to embrace horror, He supplies the world around us to remind us of splendour. Each moment is flawless. Each day pristine. When a person dies, we should appreciate their memory, not deny it. We cannot bring them back again, but we can celebrate them and their life so lived.
            We can turn to glimpses of them throughout our life, as if somehow they are near. Every time you think of them, they are. If you let sorrow weigh you down, if you try to forget, they die to you, even in memory. You are not alone in your longing, but once away from the pain, you can venture into the good things that can come from freedom found. After all, almost every religion on the planet tells us all is well. Any grieving person can make things sadder, chaotic or even destructive. It takes time and healing, and a good dose of courage, to move in a different direction.
  "Little Bunny Foo Foo,
Hopping thru the forest,
Scooping up the field mice
And boppin' 'em on the head."
(Little Bunny Foo Foo, Traditional Folk Song)

             I first met Foo Foo when I was almost 5 years old. I was recovering from a relentless bout of scarlet fever, condemned to bed rest and the world within my room. I do not remember much of my days in recuperation, but I very well remember the time just before I was compelled, come night, to find sleep. Each evening, my Mother, so attentive, would come to tuck me in, sitting on my bed beside me, soothing me with her ways. She would tell me stories of adventure or tall tales from the Bible, releasing me from the captivity which, during the day, was my prison. Each time, just before good night, she would sing to me of Foo Foo, that vicious rabbit which hunted down rodents and smashed them about the face and head. She worked in lyric and pantomime.
            As she sang the melody of Down at the Station, she inserted the words to the aforementioned rhyme, smiling all the while. She would cup her hand under the other, raising two fingers and turning them into ears. Her hand would motion, hopping all about, depicting the seizure and unmerited murder of innocent mice everywhere. I loved it and hated it, always at the same time.
            I have always been fond of rodents. My very first pet, my very own, was a little white mouse named Charlotte. I currently have two large rats living in the spare room. When I first learned of this "Fufu" beast, hurting all my little friends in the tale, I held great condemnation towards him and a childish fear of him. Over the years, I eventually learned to love him. This fear did not infuse itself, as eventually the rhyme became a family tradition. Then the tradition became an adult pleasure. As with all things, time changes everything. The years passed quickly and Foo Foo would hunt no more. The last time he visited was in the late-spring of 1978. Just back home from 3 months in hospital, I was restricted in health by my left leg and foot, crushed by the weight from 450 pounds of sheer metal. I was trapped in a world without walking for weeks and weeks.
            Each evening, during this time, my Mother would lay me down to bed in my parents' room. Located on the ground level of the house, with the lights all out, and no whisper to tell of, she would rest beside me as comfort until sleep eventually found me.  When my Dad got home from work, he would carry me upstairs to my bed. One night, the pain was intense and no remedy seemed to be able to take it all away. As I tossed and turned in agony, Mom leaned over and sang Little Bunny Foo Foo to me. It was silly and we giggled in spite of ourselves. She brought laughter through my tears and cemented that silly rabbit's place in my history. I do not recall her ever singing his story again.  
            After Mom died, I didn't think of Foo Foo. I didn't go anywhere in my memory but to the moments surrounding this numbing event. I wanted to hold on to her, not just  her memory. I had great difficulty seeing beyond our last goodbye and the image of her laying still on some hospital bed, already gone but right before me. With her passing, all the good memories disappeared. They seemed hazy and muddled, in a web of sorrow and hurt. As much as I tried to think of the good things, the simple things we did together and shared as friends, they just brought too much ache. I could not get past the pain.

It seemed that Foo Foo had died with her.   

            The human being is resilient. It seems that we all heal, given enough time. Slowly, surely, as weeks turned to months and months approached years, the memories stopped hurting. One day, I found myself smiling for no reason. I realized that I was thinking of her. Yes, the grief still comes, usually hitting me like a Mac truck, but it no longer confines me or her. Every memory returned, and through them she lived again. I do not mean in a literal sense. I do not even mean in a figurative sense. When the pain faded away and I finally remembered, it was as if she never left. She lingers in my mind and throughout my life. She has become a part of me and she lives through me.

 I remember. I remember it all.

            The other day, I was flipping around YouTube and came across my old friend. As I watched his demonstration, I felt tears flowing on my face. I had the strangest sensation. It was an odd reflection. I could feel her within my spirit. It was familiar and sweet and made me cry even more.  My mind was flooded with memories. I thought of her tender ways. I saw her smiling face and felt her warm hand. It was so pure and so simple. She was with me. As sure as little rabbit Foo Foo was running through the forest.

Little Rabbit Foo Foo