16 June 2013

In the Name of The Father? (Sunday Meditation #30)

I arrived home yesterday evening to be shocked by the sight at the end of my street. A ferocious thunderstorm felled an old tree in my neighbor's yard, two doors up the road. I say "in" the yard but it was really out of the yard and completely into the street. The tree was so tall it actually hit the adjacent house across the pavement. The sight made me blurt out "Wow!" with wide eyes. It really isn't something you see every day.

What it sparked me to thinking was about deep change, about how the confounding circus that is life can uproot your expectations and imaginings before you think to reach for the battens. This is how I felt about this Sunday, Father's Day in June 2013. The notion that I am a dad still knocks me flat now and then. Just like the fallen tree that now occupies a big chunk of my imagination.

I guess I cannot entirely escape that "Imawhat?" feeling, even now when my daughter is on her way to her ninth birthday. If we are trees, she is a sapling, I am mature growth, my own father old growth (and impressive).

A father? Me? It is a miracle and a puzzle. I often wonder what it is I did to deserve such a lovely, good child, and what I can impart to her that someday she will look back and say "He did have wisdom."

Mostly, I worry and pray that I will not totally screw up this fatherhood thing.

I keep that from her. She has no need to know how scared I am, how much I worry that I will fall from grace in her eyes. This seems to be part and parcel of the Fatherhood Gig, to my mind. A constant drumbeat in my heart and soul that is hammered out by this desire for my child to understand the good parts of me, and improve upon them in her own life. I think of her and the life before her, and the specter of failure on my part sends a bolus of ice water through my veins.

It is true, I am my own worst enemy and critic. I judge myself by standards I do not apply to others, because I know how unfair and unforgiving they can be. Thus I generate most of the pressure on myself to get this right, but it puts everything I think and do in a blinding, actinic light shining in my head. Nothing escapes scrutiny, nothing is to small to analyze...or criticize.

Harsh, but true. I am learning to overcome myself. This I believe is necessary if I wish to be the good father I want for her. Others have pointed this out to me, and I know they speak the truth.

Ah, enough self-mortification. It is Father's Day, after all. Looking past the commercialization and cheap sentiment that too often seems to cloy such occasions, I know there is something of note for us to acknowledge. The terrors and ecstasies of being a dad are things I would not willingly trade for anything on this mortal coil.

In the indigo haze of deep twilight, I look down the street at the fallen tree. All things must pass, I reckon, but the tree reminds me that we are all possessed of strengths we may not know we have. I think of my own father, who I am lucky enough to still have on this planet, and the things he taught me. His life was not perfect, we both know this, but through him I learned many things about being a man and father.

Seeing myself through my father's eyes, I know I am blessed by my daughter. She is student, she is teacher. I have much to give and to learn. It is to know and understand, on Father's Day.

15 June 2013

The Dish Eaten Banishes the Eater

8:31 PM. Twilight deepens, the air tinged that shade of nickel-silver so lovely I wish I was a metalsmith. But I am not. I am many things, I do not know what I am right here, right now, except sated.

It is curious to me, this tightrope tension cable that is my core. It has returned after a longish hiatus. It is back with purpose, a wild beast that has tunneled into my spine and wrapped itself around by brain stem. The claws I can feel digging into my belly. It breathes on my neck while I sleep. It sits beside me in the car as I drive about running errands and pursuing the elusive dollar. Its eyes, I fancy, are a deep green-gold. I must kill it.

Failing that, I must at least put it back in the wilds from whence it sprung. This will be a difficult but necessary undertaking. Both the beast and the need to banish it are unavoidable facts of my existence.

I can imagine this notion may disturb some folks. It disturbs me, too. But before anyone gets too worried I can say this: I have ideas. Notions. Things what give me reasons to be cheerful and know that there is a big difference between what I worry is in the dark and what is actually in the dark.

You see, I have my own personal beast-killer. Night-banisher. The heart's fire to the mind's Shere Khan. I call it...dinner.

Tonight's dinner, anyway. It was an impromptu affair, which many of my solitary dinners at home tend to be. I surprised myself by taking on the beast at the root of its lair. I say surprised because it had been a long, busy day. That cable was wound up. I had works to do and my companions had departed for a weekend road trip that I was unable to join.

I sat in front of the computer, tending the machine and marking off tasks. The prospect of eating alone underwhelmed me, especially in light of contemplating yet another sandwich grabbed on the run. The resignation welled up inside, and I told myself to accept things, to stop thinking.

I stepped into the kitchen for a small snack. The machine hummed softly, files spilling in, folders filling up. I nibbled a tortilla chip. Pouring a cup of tea, I absentmindedly opened the fridge, expecting nothing but cold air and dashed hopes.

What I discovered was promise. Antidotes. Balm for the belly. I found peppers and onion and salmon. My mind perked up. Opening the pantry I found a can of whole tomatoes, and some dried pepper flakes. Behind me on the counter, a jar of rice. Saffron in the cupboard. Garlic. And down low, a small jar of saffron-laced curry powder. I had ideas, and a small smile.

Clicks and clanks, a turning of cogs, the cable began to slacken. The beast began to back away. I left the machine to its own infernal devices and gave my obeisances to the cutting board and the stove. I had no clear idea of what I was making, only that I believed it would be good. I believed it would force the beast to let go.

I chopped. I stirred. I cooked rice, simmered tomatoes and other good things. The beast moved to the edge of the clearing, growling in a way I found comical rather than frightening. When I took the lids off the pans, the beast stood and turned as if to leave. When I plated my creation, inhaling the aroma and eying the colors with delight, the beast slowly walked away.

I took my plate outside to the table on the patio. The sun was going down in a warm breeze. I sat down, fork and spoon in hand. I watched the beast slowly padding away into the bushes behind the corner shed. It did not turn to see me salute its retreat with raised utensils, but its tail twitched wickedly. I think it knew it was whipped, this time. It may have been the wind, but I swore I heard the leaves rustle as the beast cleared the fence.

I chewed my creation slowly. The tension in my spine and belly drained away, leaving me in a state of soft grace. The plate opened up, the red and gold disappearing spoonful by forkful. The beast will probably be back, I reckon. But tonight, here and now, it is outside the fence and I am inside, where it is peaceful.

07 June 2013

Seventh Wave

She's not coming back, Marley. You know that, don't you?

Finn's words clove the air in the manner of a rusty jail door opening on greaseless hinges. Marley's fingers tightened on the chilly granite of the window sill. For the moment he ignored the remark, keeping his back to the man who was his best friend. He stared out the window, flaking steel mullions framing the iron-green ocean a short distance away. To his red and grit-ridden eyes the rectangle of glass appeared to be a small painting come to life, with miniature gulls swooping into tiny bursts of spray. A minute or two of silence, then Marley cleared his throat to speak.

I know that, Finn. You don't need to remind me. But it is my head what knows it, not my heart.

Marley had not turned to face Finn. His words bounced off the misty glass, shattering into needles that sped across the width of the small cottage to spike Finn where he stood. The Irishman winced, took off his cap and ran a scarred hand across his head. He briefly kneaded the nape of his neck, his hand dropping slack to his side. He leaned back against the whitewashed stone of the cottage wall, and waited. Marley spoke.

The ocean gave me much, my friend. Life. Blood. Ways to make a living. But it took a lot, too. Just before she came to me, I was thinking...

Marley's voice dropped off. His mouth hung open, working slowly. Fish out of water, Finn thought.

...I was thinking, that I didn't want to die but simply not living anymore would be just fine. Days like  that, a man is likely to believe in anything what makes him better. Even witches. Selkies. Them that you swear you see in the mist, those nights where sleep is a fraud and the sea is the only voice louder than the ones in your head.

She was there, Finn. I know it. She in this room, she shared my hearth, my bed. I...

Marley's throat tightened around the grief and longing welling up from the spring of his heart. Finn's eyes softened, and he made to speak, but thought of nothing he could say to fill the void in his friend. Marley's shoulders shook, his hands clawing at the sill in a death grip. Finn could see from across the room the knuckles going white. Marley's head dropped, and stains bloomed on the stone of the sill. A croaking whisper rising to a near shout skirled out from his throat, causing Finn to flinch

I know she's gone, Finn! The sea took her back, and left me here. Why, Finn? Can ya tell me that?

Marley turned to look at his friend. His eyes were wide and wet, reflecting the nacreous light seeping through the windows. Behind him, the surf walloped the rocks and sand, and Finn swore he could see waves deep in the pupils of the haggard man who swayed slightly across from him. Finn hesitated, then walked over to Marley. His steps rasped the silence, tearing it apart with a duet of sand and hobnails on the burnished planks of the floor. He put his hands gently on Marley's shoulders and slowly spun him to face the sea.

I don't know why, Marley. You said yourself the ocean gave you much, even if it did take much. Manannán has a wicked sense of humor, you'll agree. But take this to heart, friend. The sea did give her to you, and she gave you to yourself. Remember that and rejoice.

Marley turned his head, staring at Finn with watering eyes. He said nothing, only nodding, then turned his face back to stare at the waves. He thought he saw a face, but it smiled and closed it eyes, disappearing amongst the foam.

05 June 2013

A Brief Word on Words Not Yet Spoken

9:44 PM. It was a good day, in that I experienced some contentment. I have decided I will read, later.

A brief word, ladies and gentlemen, if I may scrawl a bit. I confess to you that I just spent the previous ten minutes or so standing in my living room with a book in my hand and another in my head. I was reading the one and thinking about the other. The decision on which one to read kept me still.

I say book in my head, but there is a physical specimen on my shelf. Each of them is a tome of natural history, written by two different authors, each of whom I greatly admire. Different styles, the two of them, one austerely spiritual---is this possible? I think it is---the other poignant, sharp and comedic. One book is about the ends of the earth and the other a travelogue on the deep Congo. I was inspired to read at least one of them by words in my head and the silences between them.

What Antarctica and Africa have to do with the things I find myself wanting to say to the people in my life, including one who may not yet be of an age to receive these freighted words, I cannot tell. I simply don't know. I will do my best to find out.

Of late I am often possessed of the urge to write of the things I hear inside. I feel the pressure, I hear the shouts and whispers, the sighs and curses that my mouth-heart want to spill. There are many things to say. Yet I have not found the courage to speak. This is a dam I have not yet determined how to break.

In heartbeats the voice seeks itself. Mine pounds inside, seeking fulfillment on the outside. But I am not ready. The stories are not ready. The blood in my veins flows like water seeking its own level while my heart rehearses the words in silence. They will find the surface, when they are ready.

I place one book on the shelf, gripping another by the spine. It fits in my hand like a the nudge of a long-lost pet, finally arriving home. I will read of the silences at the bottom of the earth, and in them, perhaps break my own.