Monday, February 28, 2005

Nervous Twitch

I guess I must need a lesson in change. It seems like what used to be doesn’t matter so much anymore. Why else would everything be on it’s way to the scrap heap? All this demolition and upheaval is giving me a nervous twitch.

The Howell L. Watkins Jr. High School demolition is a done deal. A few backhoes and bulldozers was all it took to tear it down and now they’ve swept it up like bread crumbs off a dirty floor. But that’s not all. I drove down Park Avenue today to find that all the homes on one side of an entire block have been leveled. I didn’t even scream. I know, big surprise since I always scream. I screamed twice at Howell Watkins if that makes up for it. Actually it was more like four times from the time I discovered it’s plight to the end result that looked like combed dirt. Casey was in the car with me the day we saw the demolition in progress. The wreckage was about midway from being complete. I screamed really good then. Yesterday, Cally and I happened to cut through that way, and since she hadn’t witnessed my previous scream, I got away with screaming one more time. Kind of like getting a wild card. Even she was a bit taken aback by it (the destruction, not my scream.) The scream comes standard with a mom who lives in a childhood playground disrupted by “progress.” But the drama wasn’t there for Cally. It wasn't her memory. She just thought it looked odd.

Funny, but like Cally with the Watkins wreckage, I don’t feel anguished by the Park Avenue demolition. Maybe it’s because they just trashed nondescript houses and left all the trees... so far. I wonder what they are doing, but I don’t exhaust myself over it as with other nostalgic demolition. The city seems to be revitalizing and I’ve found them to be considerate and protective of historical buildings. Seeing as one of the buildings being torn down was a form of purple, and another was similarly “wrong” in color, I’m not screaming. Nothing against purple, but I find it lessens my attachment to a place when it’s smothered in it. I just watch in amazement as a cloud of white dust kicks up and emptiness takes over a place once crowded with concrete.

What’s really got my neck in a kink is what’s happening in my own backyard. Literally. I hesitate to mention it because, well, it’s for the common good and all. But even the common good can make a mess and threaten my pursuit of happiness and it’s sort of freakin’ me out. I just have to say it or I’ll go nuts.

The demolition crew is making way their way toward my yard now at an aggressive pace, trashing fences, uprooting trees and knocking down and tearing up whatever they meet in their path. The utility workers have machetes and a bobcat with this monstrous claw thing attached to the front of it and it’s jawing it’s way through the neighborhood hacking like Freddy Krueger at whatever doesn’t keel over in submission. I’m getting worried. They’ve already jumped ahead into my yard and taken down the fence that borders mine and my neighbors yard. Then they laid all the sections of his fence on my grass and put a tacky bright orange mesh barrier up in it’s place about 5 feet back from where the real fence was. That was when the twitch probably started. Today they spent most of their time digging up a palm tree in a neighboring yard that made the mistake of growing in their path. They took their hatchets and other tools of destruction and taunted me by ripping up the pleasantly dark and shady, “Sleepy Hollow” cove in the back corner of my yard that I had carefully trimmed for effect. I loved that part of my yard. It was like a cool hideout or something. I came home to find it gone. An ugly, open space was in its place screaming, “Be afraid, be very afraid.” So I have been.

I’ve had work to do at the computer and they are so noisy out there. Every time I hear a hacking sound or the growl of the bobcat, I jump up and run around first one corner, then another, literally flinging myself into the kitchen, face smashed up against the screen of the window to check on my tree. I try to imagine living without the view of my avocado tree with the swing and the ladder leaning up against it. Months ago when they first told us they were going to be coming through to repair the sewer line, they said they would remove any plantings within the 5 foot median area back there. You bet I ran and got my tape measurer and then felt a little overzealous when I found my tree was about 6 feet in from the telephone pole. Not to worry.

But, the Bobcat is heartless. It rammed a cement thing for about an hour straight trying to clear things out. I’m getting a little worried. No, make that scared. Plain scared. Since the day I measured my tree’s distance from what I hope is even the right place from which to measure, the hurricanes hit and my tree took to leaning quite a bit... yes, right into what appears to be “the zone.” What to do but watch and wait and run to the window a lot until they get really close and then fling open the door, run across the yard waving my arms and become one of those ranting loonies who tries to stand in the way of the inevitable. Oyvay! What to do? I won’t be working at home tomorrow. Who will watch and fret while I’m away? Not my neighbor behind me. He has mellowed with the years and figures what they take they take, and he will replant. Sure, he doesn’t have a tree with a swing and a ladder and shade. Ugh! How can I freak out with a right mind when my neighbor isn’t even flustered enough to go out and look a little worried. I can’t complain if he’s not. Dang. He just goes out and sits by the pool, takes a dip, calmly ignoring the sights and sounds that harangue me.

My only hope is that Casey seems to be getting the flu or something. Now, don’t think evil of me, she got it on her own without my help or encouragement. I promise I am a loving mother. I even read her a few chapters of a Hardy Boys book tonight and rubbed her feet and did all kinds of really great mom things to ease her illness. But I’m just thinking that maybe I might have to stay home tomorrow if she isn’t well enough to go to school. Yeah, if the wrecking crew makes it as far as my tree and my swing and my ladder, then she’ll be here to duct tape me to it in hopes they will show some sort of civil or humanitarian concern and at least take a second to consider my view and sympathize with me and most importantly let me get my video camera out before they hack my Avocado tree into splinters. My luck, the claw will obstruct the operator’s vision and the sound of the engine roar will mask the sounds of my screams and I’ll be ripped up into little toothpicks along with my tree.

Well, you get the drift. I am in need of someone with a tranquilizer gun and good aim to put me out of my misery until they make it past my yard and onto the next one where a whole length of 6 foot high hedge has been cultivated by it’s owners to block their view of my next door neighbor’s property. I wonder how they are handling the impending doom.

I have another whole story about the joy of properly running sewers, but if I share that at this time, not only will you have aged considerably by the time you finish reading, but then it won’t make sense at all that I would dream of standing in the way of the common good. That story is called, “Go flush a toilet” and it’s the story of how to cure a faulty perspective. Since my perspective is whacked right now and I have absolutely no intention of fixing it until the sewers run clean and the sod and the neighbor’s fence have been replaced and I find out the plight of my backyard vista, I will refrain from sharing that tidbit of insight with you. Especially since in that story I freely encourage anyone who finds my perspective out of whack to use my theory on me. When I have my act together and I’ve recovered from all that may or may not happen in my own backyard, and once the nervous tick subsides, then and only then will we see about the other story.

For now, I’m going to see what kind of anti-anxiety or antacid medications we have in the cupboard. And where the heck is the snake oil vendor when you need ‘em.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Let's Just Congratulate Me

Don't everybody clap at once, but I have the G4 set up next to the imac now. "Big deal" you might think. Big deal indeed. The G4 has Final Cut Pro 4 and Live Type. If I could only figure out exactly how to use the Live Type I might have something cool on my hands. I'm still finding things out about Final Cut Pro 3; I learn something new everytime I use it, but I definitely have the system down for what I do with it. Now I must begin as a novice with this Live Type deal. And so I sigh a little sigh.

The sad news, and you may bow your head and sniffle with me, is that the whole reason I finally got my dualing computers set up is that I came in to scan another couple hours worth of photos for Cael's video and, waalaa... the scanner had ceased to function. I thought it odd that it just turned itself off the other day after I was finished using it. I know, you might say, "Duh." But it's been doing odd things a lot lately. So, how special... I get to make another expensive purchase so I can do my freebie work. Does anyone realize how much it costs to love making videos? Let me enlighten anyone who cares to listen... technical life is for the rich, or the insane, I guess (and I don't fit into the first catagory). Then, if you ever do make say, a buck, you spend that much or more replacing a piece of equipment or even just buying ink to print things. I wish it wasn't a curse to love my images so.

I guess I'll be scanner shopping tomorrow... on borrowed funds at a humongous interest rate no doubt. Ugh! But shop and scan I must. I have six, count them six videos on my possibility list with deadlines in May. No time to whine, better start comparing prices and see if I can find the deal of my dreams and some cash to go with it.

For now, let's just congratulate me on the fact that I hooked everything up and rerouted all my cords. And so what if I didn't get to the speaker system part yet or figure out what to do with all the junk I had to displace to fit a new computer system into my desk/armoire. And nevermind that even if I find a new scanner and the money to hand over in trade for it, I won't have anywhere to put it because I had to put the new computer in the spot the scanner usually sits. Ha... so that'll teach me. I'm not sure what, but no doubt it'll teach me. I guess I must have an awful lot to learn.

Monday, February 21, 2005

When Old Friends Call

I’ll admit, I'm particularly lacking in long distance friendship skills. But when a person is impaired by the particular strain of phone-a-phobia which afflicts me, keeping close ties becomes difficult as friends move away. I also admit that the drive to the middle of the state is a lame excuse for staying away so long. It's just two and a half hours, and yet it holds us years apart.

I send a christmas card every year (with pictures, of course) but somehow the gap remains without the sounds of the friendship to fill it. So I think, I wonder, and I imagine who my friend has become and where her heart has landed through all the ups and downs that come with the years. She’s been on my mind every day since I sent my card this year, and I wondered if she was still even there to get my note. It was one of those persistent thoughts that wouldn’t let go, and I began to get the feeling it was there for a reason.

Crazy, but that’s when the phone rang. All it took was that ever familiar sound of her voice in my ear, and the distance between here and forever-ago was erased in an instant. When old friends call it's like stepping into a comfy place in your past that you’d thought might stay bound as a photo album memory for the rest of time. The woman on the other end of the line might still be a 17 year old girl, even though many years have elapsed since we played out our teenage years, carefree and having fun. It's as if only the ages of our children have changed since we last spoke. The even pace of her voice and that familiar catch when she laughs takes me back to fake perms and dressing up the dog, dressing up ourselves and riding around in cowboy hats, loving life and playing pranks at church camp, jokes about “Sidebuckler”, and managing to get past the Ridgeways and the cops (well, thank goodness I did anyway) and standing beside each other as we took turns wearing wedding gowns just months apart.

It's good to hear the sound of the past that sparks the memories of a life that is a part of who you are, and that's exactly what happens when old friends call. A familiar voice becomes that comfy place it once was. We exist again where maybe we weren't so sure we did any more.

I’d had the feeling my persistent thoughts were there for a reason... and they were. Two friends each needed to know that we were more than just a memory to someone we cared about. Last night the past was just a way to get to where we needed to be today.

Someone needs to know they are more than just a memory.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

To Those Who Ride White Horses

We found ourselves at a familiar destination this week, it’s called the state of car repair. It’s the hot spot to which we drive back and forth with seeming regularity. While some fly by plane to beautiful vacation destinations, we often arrive at Park’s Auto by tow truck. This time we were actually driven there by way of Cally’s teal Saturn, aka “Veronica”, dressed in her finest red and white Hawaiian print seat covers, seeming to long for a road trip to fun and freedom, but getting the car lift instead.

When I was a teenager, car problems were as numerous as all teen crises. That darn green, convertible Fiat began the curse of all car curses, and I drove with fear and a quickened heartbeat, never knowing when I’d be making the dreaded call to my dad to tell him I’d broken down. On top of that, I’d have to make the even more dreaded call to that creepy Fiat repair guy, Tom, and then I had to take the car there myself and withstand his leering gaze. I found that difficult to bear, but, I did not have to bear the financial responsibility for this trauma and I didn’t have to fork over money for my own car insurance either. I just had to come up with $5.00 for gas here and there, which of course was a feat in itself back in the day. Despite the fear factor that came with driving that car, I had it good. If the green monster broke down, there was always that lumbering white station wagon, circa 1971 that I could borrow if mom and dad weren't using it. I was covered.

In my daughter’s world things are different. She lives in a home with a mom on the "daily bread" plan. At 16 she is responsible for her car, insurance, gas, repairs and maintenance. I sure wish it were different, but the money for teen cars and their costs didn't come with my financial “portfolio”. If she works a bit, and the car keeps running, she can usually manage without feeling like a slave to her vehicle.

But then it happens. A tow truck approaches from a distance, we hear those heavy tow chains clank together, and watch as a beloved vehicle is hauled away. Then the worst sound of all, the ching, ching of the car repair cash register, a sound that literally brings tears to our eyes.

The tears came again this week. There was my young daughter, the really responsible one who works on weekends at a tea shop, baby-sits sometimes 2 or 3 times a weekend and cleans a friend’s house to keep “Veronica” on the road; now she was hearing the ching, ching, feeling the pang in her heart and watching as her remaining savings disappeared into the black hole of vehicle upkeep. A sad day, especially with insurance due in three months - the kind with a teen premium attached.

Disheartened, she faced her fate. But wait... behold, from a distance... could it be? Was it true? Yes! The sound of horse hooves could be heard beating the ground, loud enough to drown out the noise of even a tow truck. A team of white horses came riding in to save the day and whisk her out of the dismal state of car repair depression.

Come to find out, those who ride white horses are very sensitive to sniffles, sobs and other agonizing sounds produced by trauma. Their hearts beat into their wallets and purses and bank accounts and they do without so we can do with. And they come as stealth riders, masked like Zorro, doing their good without recognition or commendation.

How exciting to see my daughter’s expression light up, to see returned to her some of the good and giving she so often does for others. To see her experience God at work, providing her daily bread, reinforcing her trust and assuring her someone shares her burdens... and mostly finding out that she is loved. What a gift! What a wonderful world.

So to all those who ride white horses and pass this way, may your now empty pockets be refilled, may you find yourself in a blissful state of joy as we find ourselves kicking back, freed from that greasy state of car repair. We blow you one of those big dating game kisses and wish you joy multiplied, and we thank you profusely for blotting our tears and plugging our ears to the sound of the ching, ching that taunted us. May all your road trips be vistas of beauty, and as you ride your white horses may the path be smoother than butter, and not that bouncy trot that hurts like heck. You are loved.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Things I Don't Have To Do

“Have to’s” are downright draining. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I can’t take all the obligation and responsibility anymore. I would like a little time with some things I don’t have to do.

I mention this because I was making myself a grilled Swiss cheese on Publix homemade Italian bread when this thought sprang to mind: “Ahhh, the things I don’t have to do.” (yes, the “ahhh” came with it.)

Aren’t the finest things in life the things you don’t have to do? Think about how many things unshackled from their “have to” become, in and of themselves, perfectly desirable. I was gonna name a few, but you think of your own. OK, one in particular strikes me; washing dishes, especially on a cold day. Have you ever noticed what a fine thing this is to do, if like at our house, it’s somebody else’s job at the moment? Sometimes I just do it because I want to - the warm, soapy water with a scent reminiscent of bath gel creates a bubble bath for my hands. Why can’t we think of doing dishes as a bubble bath for our hands? It just seems like a good number of things would make perfectly fine pastimes if they didn’t sit on a “to do” list. And what about this stellar “chore”, washing a window, but I mean just doing it because you want to add sparkle to your view of a beautiful backyard?

Maybe we should abolish “to-do” lists and begin enjoying the work of our hands for the sheer pleasure of making a moment ours in some way, even if it is mundane at the core. Life is mundane in so many ways, yet it is so incredible. Why do we pass it with our noses in the air as if we deserve better, more extravagant things? What a waste of this short life.

I’ll tell you this: Kicking the butt of ritual and schedule will transform your thoughts, your direction, or your notion as to how things “have to” be done and the attitude you carry while you do them. I think this is so difficult for 9 to 5er’s, the compulsive and those consumed with thoughts of debt, obligation and deadline. I know because I have been and/or still am all of the above. Distractions like these have deceived me for the better part of my life, causing me to miss out on some of the purest, most wonderful pleasures there are.

So I’ve been trying to shake free of the “have to’s”. Though, to do it, I’ve had to want to. I’ve had to want it enough to be willing to make a deal (after deal, after deal) - trade-offs, and some days the trade offs have been bigger than others. I used to think I had to exchange a day’s pay in order to spend an afternoon on the back porch or on the steps at the beach. Frankly, that used to be out of the question for me, but the really good things eventually require this. No getting around it. Some good things require even more from us. And I’ve done that too.

I ended up handing over a reliable paycheck for a “daily bread” kind of trust in God. And on many occasions, when asked what I’m doing these days, I’ve struggled and searched the air above my head for an apropos job description. I’ve found my voice faltering when info that hints at my financial status is revealed, and you know what... I‘m learning that it’s all part of the deal. But I’m living; I’m creating a mission for my life and slowly figuring out a few things along the way. I’m seeing how God provides through people who love Him and through some pretty surprising situations too. Can’t say there isn’t a good measure of whining and insecurity that has come along with my “deal”, but I wouldn’t trade what I’ve been through for anything.

You see I wasn’t satisfied with just an afternoon off, and when you go all out and jump off a cliff, there is a certain amount of “effect” that comes with the “cause.” What goes up comes down. What comes down, lands with a thud. Stuff like that. But once I spit out the biggest chunks of dirt and got my arms and legs back in place, I was able to, well, live again, but differently. It’s taken 2 1/2 years into my trade-off for me to just sit on the back porch without reacting in a hyper-panic to my list tapping me on the shoulder. I finally did it though, last Friday. I sat there on the patio and looked at the blue saturated sky and breathed the more than the perfect air, and I didn’t think of “have to’s”. When I came in later, I found myself really wanting to do something simple, cook something, wash a dish, put in a load of laundry, something entirely unpretentious. Exactly the kind of thing I would find... on a list of all things.

The things you don’t have to do - how enchanting.

Not everyone has to quit their job and live with my “daily bread” mindset in order to get an hour on the back porch with things they don’t have to do. But if they find their way out there, it is quite possible that they will find a place inside themselves they didn’t even know was lost.

We all know that no matter how many items we check off, the list self-perpetuates and always remains about the same length. So I am brazenly turning my back on it more often, like I did Friday. Rudely, I’m ignoring it when I can. I find I’m getting better with practice, and once the list backs off, the life in the list lights up and looks more inviting. The items there in a row become “the things I don’t have to do”, and then they gain a whole new appeal. Yes, a little like reverse psychology.

It’s just plain good to let your heart coast sometimes. It’s tired of working like a dog. Despite how much you’re compelled to keep moving, always moving, what your heart really wants is to work together with your hands and feet and body and live a moment fully - listening, thinking, looking, resting, sensing what this is we’re doing everyday for 16 waking hours and why.

So today I’m doing what Napoleon Dynamite said he was going to do, “ Whatever I want! Gosh!”

Of course, Mr. Rogers, in stark contrast to Napoleon, reminded us... “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” It is pretty cool what happens when you check one out for an hour or two and tune out the list for a day. Forget the extravagant pleasures of life and notice the humble ones at your feet.

We figure we’ve got a lifetime to get it right, but “a lifetime” gets a little shorter everyday. And I have yet to see what all those lists are adding up to anyway.

So what’s your deal?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My Magically Smooth Complexion

(Sorry, Photo Unavailable)

So I plop down at my computer after one of my daughters has exchanged huffy tones with me in place of a lilting "good night". I sigh and say to the one falling asleep nearby on my bed, "Look at this face... I'm getting older by the minute." Her reply, "You look pretty good in this light; it makes your skin look smooth." "Yeah," I respond, "here in the pitch dark." She says, "No, the way the computer light shines on your face."

Gotta love that girl. And so you have it. Here in the dark, the glow of the monitor strikes my cheekbones with some apparently magical haze, and I look pretty good. I'd have thought the blue/grey light would only paint a "Friday the 13th" palor around my eyes and into the hollows of my cheeks. I guess the eyes of a child see differently. I'd like to think they see more clearly. Yes, I'll go with that. The question is how to maintain this magically smooth complexion beyond the darkness where adults roam free. Well, that will be another matter altogether, now won't it. But, no matter, after all, I've had my moment. And it is all about the moments.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Patio Moments

Please note that I quit journalism in college due to the fact that I couldn't obey one of the basic rules: Be concise. This journal entry and most that I post are not for the faint of heart or the dim of eye. This rambling is actually part one of something I wanted to title, "Things I Don't Have To Do."

But for now, I give you, "Patio Moments."

I can’t keep my hair out of my eyes and it’s hard to stare at the bright afternoon sun reflecting off of the paper as I write sitting here on the back patio. The afternoon sky is a perfect robin’s egg blue consistent across the horizon and beyond. Cool air rushes through the palm trees just to the left of me and over my head in my neighbor’s yard. The trees sing their rustling tune and accent the afternoon sky with their musical score and then go silent as if to keep me listening for more.

This is the patio from where I speak, but on a pre-hurricane, summer evening, not this sunny, cool February day.

I love that the cool air was not to be outdone by the strong-willed Florida sun for a change. So many winter breezes give up and cower to its persistent beating. Today is one to be savored. It’s 2:15 p.m. and I’m in jeans and a sweater, and when the wind clangs its cymbals, goose bumps can’t help but rise in response to the chill.

This is a day that makes a Floridian proud, a day the natives and snowbirds alike take a thrill in. Perfect. Crisp. Sunny. Cool. Gently breezy. The grass is green; not the deep blue-green it could be if I had fertilized when I should have, but green when you think about the gray/white monotone sky-to-ground palate in the North right about now. Two red hibiscus flowers have fully opened to decorate my scenery like a bow on a package of green. Fresh leaves have sprung out on my newest hibiscus tree, hinting at the beautiful flowers to come, the ones that make me happy when I look out the windows of my back french door. These I’ll have to wait for patiently. But it won’t be long now. Kids are walking home from school one street south of me and squeals of laughter mix with the swooshing sound of cars going by on their way to places of importance, no doubt. This is my important place right now - the cool air in my backyard blowing kisses at my cheeks while green grass affords a landscape I wasn’t always so fortunate to look out upon. The landscape is always changing. Some days for the better and hopefully in more ways than one. That makes my heart beat hopeful. While the crisp breeze with its pick-me-up attitude doesn’t have much of a chance of lasting 'til tomorrow, at least a hopeful heart set on a loving Father does.

The deep blue sky is a fairly predictable friend where I live. I should sit and let it cover me with its happy atmosphere more often. The pigeons have taken to my scraggly orange tree branches and one just flapped his way in there, announcing himself with a big coo and faintly squeaking sounds like my washer makes when the wash cycle is on. There are two of them now - love birds, alternately kissing and snuggling and then, just like that, one pushes the other away with an “un uh” sung in a sing song tune. How quickly moods change, even for the birds. As I listen I hear chirps of another bird coming from behind me; it is more a whistle that repeats incessantly like a nagging spouse. Another one somewhere in front of me and to my right resembles a baby chirping for food, and apparently it’s not gonna stop 'til someone pays attention. There are more noisy children now, sounds like about 25, rising upwards in volume to more like 50, moving unseen down the street blocked from my view by the homes behind my house. Wow! They are loud, but they don’t care - they don’t think about tomorrows and lists, and they are oblivious to onlookers. They are having a moment and they go through life inattentive to the effect their presence has, just like I did as a kid. It sounds like someone, the crossing guard, I presume, is reprimanding and directing them now. Slowly, they quiet down. How quickly they’ve come and are gone from within earshot, and so will be their carefree days of walking home from school with friends at their sides while they enjoy the feel of the sidewalk under their feet, the packs on their backs and the breeze in their face. Maybe one day this moment will come back to them and they will remember something of this day from where they‘ve come.

Casey just came out; I responded with a “no” to her request to go to the mall this instant. Why do I feel like such a creep? It’s not like I never take her. It’s something about the look on a 12 year old’s face that puts a kink in a mother’s patio moment. It’s a half day today where she goes to school, and I guess she’d hoped it would be more of a party than the house arrest she feels it has become. Hopefully she’ll look back one afternoon in her 40’s as she sits on the back patio under a February sky, and she will see something good here back in this moment, and maybe she’ll wonder why she didn’t appreciate the freedom in her hand and see more than a mean mom trying to ruin her life. I suppose I could help wipe that look off of her face too if I would just abandon my vantage point and take her. So goodbye beautiful sunny, cool Florida day. May another pass this way again very soon when I can take a minute to sit and soak it in.

For now I think I’ll go and enjoy a mall moment. There can be something to those too, especially with my 12 year old at my side, arm hanging on my shoulder, candy gift certificate in hand; the little girl who will soon have aged into a teen who will go off to the mall without need of an arm rest, a driver or a clothing advisor. These days are fewer than those rare and sunny, cool Florida days. I have to keep my time/childhood perspective in check. Rev up the engine - Abercrombie and Hollister, Claires and The Sweet Factory, here we come!

Addendum: Not only did my daughter’s countenance change enroute to her beloved mall. While there, we ran into someone who owed me money for a video project and she paid me right there in front of Sephora. Then we ran into another friend at the candy store who insisted upon buying Casey’s candy along with the sweets she was buying her son and his friend. Then because the boys overstuffed their bags, she gave Casey some of their candy plus the bonus candy necklace she received for buying a pound. I tell ya, even the mall has wonders to behold, and I find there is life to be savored beyond the "patio moments" I would cling to in moments of self-indulgence. All kinds of gifts come in all kinds of ordinary places. I love that.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Answering to the name of Scarlett

I didn’t go to Cael’s soccer game in Orlando today. Oh, I’m sure he’ll be understanding and tell me that it’s OK. But I’m also pretty sure he’ll proceed to tell me how he had “the best game ever.” This is the way my world works. Under a cloud of self-imposed guilt I’ll take in the tales of sweet slide tackles, perfectly timed passes and some other soccer stuff I can’t think of the lingo for. I’ll love listening to the stories of his prowess on the field but I’ll be kicking myself under the table for having missed it.

I have that gut-wrenching feeling like I’ve besmirched my title of “mother”, although, just so you know, I hold a significant list of reasons why it wasn’t going to work for Casey and I to go... but I won’t list them. Have you ever noticed that if you recite a list like that out loud, the reasons reverberate into a hollow sounding echo and resonate a tone that resembles excuse rather than legitimate explanation? I hate that. I hate not being able to win with myself. And I hate days like today where the cute little angel sits on one shoulder yapping at me to do one thing while the little pitchfork demon guy sits on the other listing all the opposing arguments. What’s worse is that I didn’t know for sure which was the angel and which was the demon. Both made sense; both held joy and pain. If I had known which was which, the decision would have been made without a day long tug of war. But I couldn’t decipher a perfect solution and I was pretty sure that if I chose the one I thought was the angel, he would suddenly emanate this guttural sound, give a sinister laugh, rip off his little angel mask revealing his true nature and lurch at me yelling, “gotcha!”

No matter really. This was going to be a “gotcha” situation whichever way I chose. I was gonna have to face recrimination from one party or another at the end of the day; some days are like that. Winning isn’t always an option. Today, the responsibility of being me was just too much for myself, and judging from the looks of it, tomorrow isn’t gonna be any easier. Some days I just wish I had a stronger more capable me to take over for myself.

Thankfully there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that despite the discouragement of today and the expected turmoil to come, I can be sure that these days will eventually be replaced at some point by more encouraging and hopefully more decisive and satisfying ones.

For now, I’m gonna go bury my head in my feather pillow and try not to think about it. I'll be answering to the name of Scarlett.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Driving Thoughts & Ordinary Miracles

I was driving to Publix, my Publix, the one I can get to the back way through my neighborhood. I like having that Publix there especially in the evening because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to run over and pick something up if an emergency cooking need should arise. There’s no traffic to fight or anything. Normally, running out for extra groceries isn’t something I do. I’m a firm believer in once-a-week shopping so that I’m not galavanting to the store all the time wasting money and having to stop what I’m in the middle of or leave my precious home sweet home right when I get cozy with the idea of putting on slippers and sweat pants. But this week has been a radical break from my norm. I’ve already been twice since real grocery day which was only three days ago.

Now, sometimes that would just bug the crud out of me, but today I’m feeling mellow and I’m taking a certain enjoyment in the fact that I can run out real quick and all. Sort of like realizing one day that putting clothes in a washer and transferring it to a dryer later is hardly some big chore to complain about. In actuality it’s a pretty cool privilege when you think about it, especially if you also think about people beating their clothes on a rock in a dirty river without detergent trying to get them clean. Or worse yet if you think about going to a Laundromat. But I digress.

So I am trying to counter the irritable culture around me that feels the need to complain about every little inconvenience or delay or whatever gets our goat on an average day. I’m even trying not to complain about something like having to stop what I’m doing to get something at the store. In reality it’s a luxury to have a grocery store within 2 minutes and a car to take me there, not to mention finding the $2.98 that I need for my purchase right in my pocket in the form of cash.

So, I’m driving to the store and as I pass the house that used to be a gaudy, unnaturally bright pink, I’m confused because it is now a monotone beige color. I was curious about how and when that had happened and other thoughts related to the surprise of seeing it a foreign, normal color, but more importantly, at that particular moment I had also been consciously evaluating whether I had taken notice of anything around me lately, you know like seeing the profound in the ordinary. So I pursued that thought and remembered that there had been a few such observations in the last couple of days. But I nodded in agreement with myself that certain insights require more writing than the time span of regular life allows.

Naturally by now I was turning into Publix’s parking lot, so driving thoughts had to cease and parking lot thoughts kicked in. One shouldn’t be caught with driving thoughts while trying to maneuver a grocery store parking lot at around 5:00 p.m. (just a little something I picked up along the way).

I parked way out so as to avoid holding up traffic while waiting for the good spot and went straight to the spaghetti aisle and picked up two packets of the herb garlic sauce mix I needed, having discarded my thought process altogether. I got in the only open express lane behind two other shoppers; the same aisle I found myself in last night when I made the first extra shopping run of the week. I was handing my money to the smiling female cashier and that’s when I saw it. Something profound right there in the ordinary. A message just for me at the express lane.

I’ll tell you what I saw but first let me ask you this: have you ever noticed how seemingly unrelated events sometimes connect in such a way as to mean something to you even though in reality you’re pretty sure they were meant for someone else in a completely different situation? Call it co-ink-ee-dink if you like, but I figure if something speaks to me from my life, I should at least listen to what it has to say. I find if I listen to my life no matter how quirky the sound, I am often pleasantly surprised at what I hear and see.

So there I am in the express lane at my Publix and for the second day in a row, there tacked up next to the cashier is a message for me. Yes, I know, it’s really meant to be a sign for someone else. Someone needed a reminder too, but in my world the sign was placed just for me. The computer printed sign read simply: REMEMBER BOB. Simple, but for the second day in a row, I was taken aback.

Why REMEMBER BOB? Why would that be there, except for me? For all I know, REMEMBER BOB could be some secret code for the store’s employees. Maybe the cashier has a loan shark she’s keeping an eye out for and put the sign up as a reminder to get her payments in on time. It doesn’t really matter does it? For me the sign brought my thoughts to my brother, right there, with the rest of the world buying ice cream and burger buns around me. Remember Bob. My Bob. A personal message brought to me through something altogether impersonal, and I stared at it with a sort of wonder. The cashier’s hand was out now so I took my two cents change, my receipt, her smile and “have a wonderful evening” and along with it I took up a smile of my own and I remembered my big brother. I pictured his reaction to having his own grocery store sign and a cashier he never knew keeping his memory alive. I think he’d have smiled his smirky grin at that too.

This is the grin I'm thinking of exactly.

And on my way home, as I passed the newly beige house where I had been thinking my driving thoughts about ordinary miracles just minutes earlier, I had to appreciate how this one had made it’s way to me even here on an evening run to the express lane.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The Un-Wished-For Gift

My brother, Bobby in 2003, at home in the Everglades

Here are some photos taken from video (thus the poor quality), from our trip to the Everglades.

The day began with a family gathering at the boat ramp, everyone bundled up to face the cold.

The narrow waterways of the East/West Trail would never have been a path I would have traveled. But today was a different sort of day. The sort where you follow a reedy trail through shallow water to the place where your brother invited you while he still clutched breath and heartbeat to his chest. A place he invited you knowing he would be gone when you arrived but that you would come and know what he knew, love what he loved. Today was Bobby’s gift to us. Like so many beautiful surprises, this one came to me as an un-wished-for gift.

Swamp smells, alligators, misquitoes and sticky humid heat are the images that prompt the feelings I’ve had about the Everglades all my life. Yet whether it was because of the crisp February chill or the stark beauty of this place at the vast and open heart of it, Bobby’s gift came to stand in the face of my suppositions...

“Gliding in turn over water and land, swaying into the tall grasses as we pass, I am tossed side to side as if on an amusement ride, splatterings of swamp water playfully splashing my face. The roar of the airplane engine grabs every muscle with it’s power, the cold, hard wind taking my hair wherever it pleases, sneaking its icy chill down my neck and up my sleeves. The wonder of what is to come has my eyes wide as we round each curve, as if they are trying to get big enough to take it all in and hold the moment and the scenery close, just so I’ll remember it always.

Then as we enter a clearing, a community of white feathers rises to salute us as we pass, and a crudely built house of dull dusty red sits on stilts looking rather forlorn as it awaits its campers’ return. Brown trodden grasses lay flattened on some of the narrow trails, and blue water dotted with green growth makes a home for stray sticks trying their best to become something more while air boats force pathways where the glades want to grow. Walls in shades of green rise above our heads on either side and close in tightly like a big hug while colorful leaves decorate miles of pathway that welcomes us to the place Bobby loved. It all passes so quickly and then we come to another clearing and stop a moment to take it all in. The quiet and the diversity within the seemingly vast expanse of grass is incredible. But we move on again. We are here for Bobby.

As we come around the bend, the campsite stands nestled in a thick of trees in the distance, resting on higher, drier ground. Old Glory waves us in as Bobby might have had we been here for other less tearful reasons and yet the welcome is as eager as his would have been. The front porch has become a colorful perch, home to people he loved and laughed with. They offer smiling faces and the comfort of outstretched arms to greet us.

An interesting array of feelings seems etched in the faces as we settle in for lunch together; we don’t really feel like having a good time, but we don’t want to cry, so we take it all in and think our thoughts about our brother, uncle, son and friend and how out of place that he’s gone while we are here in his stead.

In the distance the kids watch from the roof, a backdrop for the moment.

Julie and Gerald pass Old Glory on their way out to meet us.

Some of the family and friends await Julie and Gerald.

The birds join the kids to watch from the distance.

Just west of Old Glory sits a clearing that affords little islands a place to stand out in this land of endless grasses. One such spot, which happens to be visible from the bunkhouse roof, was where Bobby wanted us to scatter his ashes. The kids were offered the opportunity to stay behind and climb a tall, narrow ladder leaning precariously against the tin roof where they would have a bird’s view of the memorial. And the birds joined them there, taking part in the scene, rising and falling, suspended in the moment with a graceful presence.

Then like a scene from a movie, the quiet in our hearts was carried by the roar of 5 air boat engines to a place where the wind could take Bobby’s ashes wherever it would. Ashes that once formed a body that held him to this earth would now fly and swim and go back to that earth they came from. With only a single engine running, Julie began to let them go in the breeze. In the distance silhouettes stood or sat or knelt on the bunkhouse roof as a backdrop to the moment and one by one each boat in turn took a spin around the open water and headed back to camp. The tears came now. There had been cheers and applause and a “We love you Bobby!” from Joe and there was once again that hollow feeling that comes from knowing Bobby isn’t here anymore. But I still see his face. I can still hear his voice and the sound of his laugh, and see that look in his eyes, the one that resembles the one I see in the mirror there around my own eyes and up around my forehead. And even though he won’t be back to put an arm around me or call me “little sis” or kiss me hello or remind me I’m someone he loved by the sound in his voice... and even though we’re here to let his body go, I won’t say goodbye. Not only was he loved, but he loved us too and he wanted to share this beautiful place with us even though he knew that it would mean he was gone. He wanted us to love it and love him and understand him more than we ever may have. And so I received the un-wished-for gift because of Bobby. The un-wished-for gift is a love for his place, and I love that he gave me such a gift to hold while I’m still holding my memories and images and the sound of his voice in my heart. So I’m not saying goodbye just now, I’m hanging on to all that I still hold of Bobby and it seems that even now his memory is holding fast to me."