Save You, Save Me

Zachary Tiedelbaum was not the best player on the Stringtown Stingers. He was not the worst either but pretty close. He was a good kid-just a little “different”.  Coach Evans stuck him in the outfield because it was the least dangerous position for him to play. It was a common occurrence for spectators to hear Coach Evans yelling, “Zachary! Zachary! Pay attention. Watch the ball! Watch the ball!” Zachary wasn’t paying attention usually. For him, standing still and waiting for something to happen was not his strong suit. His mind needed to find ways to entertain itself. He’d stand in the outfield and wonder ‘Where did this dandelion come from? There aren’t any other dandelions around… is that cloud a clown or a motorcycle or a elephant…. I hope we go to Mames for ice cream… Do I want cookie dough or chocolate peanut butter…cookie dough…NO- chocolate peanut butter….’

“C’mon, God Damn It! Hit the gas! Holy Christ!” Margaret Peterson was one of the nicest people in the world. That’s what her patients and most people who knew her would say about her. She was a recovery room nurse at PeaceHealth. Years ago she had aspirations of moving someplace else and living the life of her dreams. But whatever those dreams were, now she couldn’t tell you. When Peter came into her life and swept her off her feet and into his bed and she got pregnant after the fourth date, those dreams changed. She became a mother and a wife and a nurse and wanted to make it all work. She accomplished two of those goals. Now she was just trying to find ways to juggle her career and her sons life and her own. So when Celia the nurse manager asked if someone wanted to leave early, Margaret jumped at the chance. She wanted to get to the ball field to watch Connor pitch. The Wharton Huskies were a pretty good team this year, partly due to Connor. He had really come into his own over the past year. Turns out the two weeks at baseball camp last summer actually was worth the money.

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Maggie stood on the edge of the field near third base. She was waiting for the inning to end before making her way to the bleachers. Connor wasn’t expecting to see her there and she didn’t want to distract him.  Zachary was standing in the outfield not far from her. He was kicking at something on the ground causing puffs of dirt to rise into the air. Maggie wasn’t paying too much attention to Zachary and Zachary wasn’t paying too much attention to the game. That changed when Connor threw a ball and the batter swung and the ball cracked off the bat. The ball flew fast right toward Zachary. He looked up too late. The ball slammed into his chest.  Zachary made a ‘Whooof’ sound then fell backwards. He didn’t move.

A moment is created when the unexpected happens. Time and people freeze to make room for it. The data from the new event flitters around for a bit before the mind can figure out what to do with it. For example, people expect a little league game to go a certain way. Kids take the field and play ball. Coaches and parents yell and cheer at the kids. Parents yell at coaches. Coaches yell at parents. Someone wins and someone loses. No one dies. Being a nurse, and one of the closer people to Zachary, Maggie assessed and reacted to this turn of events a few seconds quicker than the rest of the crowd.

She ran on to the field to Zachary , “HEY, HEY, HEY, ARE YOU OK? CAN YOU HEAR ME? WE NEED HELP OVER HERE! ”

Zachary couldn’t hear her. He couldn’t breathe and his heart couldn’t beat either. Maggie found that out when she knelt down to check his pulse.

“Ah shit, Ah shit…GOD DAMN IT SOMEONE CALL 911!”

She tilted Zachary’s head back and breathed twice into his mouth and started pressing on his chest…1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and…Through the commotion and adrenaline haze flooding her body, Maggie heard people gasping and yelling, ‘Oh my God! Oh No! Please, please Father help him. That’s my son! That’s my son!’ Some people gathered round Zachary as Maggie continued giving CPR….and 21 and 22 and 23…Other people tried to help by keeping the space around them clear. Zachary’s dad stood there wringing his hands as people tried to console him. Coach Evans said, “Paramedics on the way”…12 and 13 and 14 and 15… The siren from the ambulance could be heard getting closer. The ambulance pulled into the parking lot then onto the field. Paramedics rushed out with a stretcher and equipment. Maggie was shaky and exhausted. She filled in one of the paramedics about what happened while the other two went to work. They cut off Zachary’s shirt and put defribrillator pads on his chest.

“Clear!” Everyone stood back while the defibrillator checked for a heart beat. One of the paramedics said, “He’s got a faint rhythm!”

Maggie made her way to the middle of the field and sat down. People patted her on the back and asked if she was OK and told her that she was a hero for saving Zachary’s life. Everyone watched as Zachary was put on a stretcher and carried to the ambulance as his dad followed close behind. The ambulance drove away and Maggie sipped from a bottle of water and cried.

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The waiter reached over Ashley’s shoulder to top off their glasses of water. Ashley picked up her glass and took a sip. “Zach just forget about it. OK? We can still have a nice dinner here.”

“But I know I made a reservation! They should have tried to find someplace for us to sit.”

“We can go to The Haven another night.”

“Yeah, well, it won’t be our anniversary then.”

“Aggggh! Alright! Can we just try to have a good time! Drink your beer. It will be worth it later.” Ashley started to rub her foot on Zach’s leg under the table.

Zach smirked and grabbed his beer. He wanted tonight to be special for their one year anniversary. He had never had much luck with women. He knew Ashley was the one after their first date because, well, he just knew.  They had other reasons to celebrate anyway. He had just been promoted to manager at Kline’s Auto Body and Ashley was getting ready to graduate from cosmotology school. He wasn’t ready to propose to her yet but if things kept going this good he could see it happening soon. He wondered how he would do it. Maybe he would do it the old fashioned way and knock on the door of her parents house. They would answer and he’d be nervous. He’d sit down on the couch and say “Mr. and Mrs. Haskins, you know Ashley and I have been seeing each other for a while now and… I know that maybe I’m not the most successful guy in the world but I love your daughter and I was hoping that maybe I could ask her to have her hand in marriage from you…..WAIT…NO that’s stupid….’Ask her to have her hand in marriage from you’…that doesn’t make any sense….”

“Zach. Zach. Zachary! God!”

Ashley’s face came into focus. “What. What. Sorry. So what are you going to order?”

The waiter walked past Zach and Ashley’s table with a tray of food and went to the table behind them. Zach picked up his menu and tried to make up his mind. He was relieved that the reservation fiasco happened. Now he’d have some money left over to help him pay for gas. The Haven was out of his price range. He was willing to splurge tonight since his dad gave him a hundred bucks for his promotion. He was half listening to Ashley as she was telling a story about coloring someone’s hair and how it wasn’t that big of a deal because it would wash out in a few days and not look so bad. Her story was interupted by a woman at the table behind them. The woman had begun coughing and choking loudly.

Ashley gave Zach look, “I wonder if that lady is OK.”

They heard the man sitting with her say, “Maggie, here try to drink something!”

The man had a deep voice but the pitch was high and strained. He was concerned. People sitting at the tables around them stopped eating and talking and drinking as they began to notice that something wasn’t right. But nobody did anything as Maggie’s became unable to breathe.

“Zach, oh my God! Someone should do something! You know how to do something!”

Zach was frozen- just watching like everyone else. The  Ashley’s words made him remember. That’s right! He did know what to do. He had first aid training as a volunteer fire fighter. His eyes grew wide and an inner force took hold of his body. He jumped out of his chair and turned around to Maggie.

“OK, ma’am! I’m going to try to help you! I’m sorry.” He put his arms around Maggie’s waist and lifted her from the chair pulling Maggie’s body into his. He put his fist under her rib cage and started thrusting it up and in. Maggie’s face was a reddish purple color and tears streamed from her eyes. She made a breathy whistling noise from her throat every time Zach pressed into her abdomen. He didn’t seem to notice though. He kept on squeezing her because he that’s what they said to do until the person passed out. So that’s what he did. Suddenly a piece of steak flew out of Maggie’s mouth and landed on the floor. Zach was sweating. He helped lower Maggie back down into the chair as she gulped deep breaths. Applause broke out in the restaurant around them. People leaned over saying “Good job, young man!” Zach sat down in his chair- tired and red faced and wishing the chair could absorb and protect him from all the attention.

“Babe, you just saved that ladies life!” Ashley’s voice cracked and her eyes filled with tears. She reached over and put her hand on top of Zachs as he took a few sips of his beer.

After things calmed down and Maggie felt a little better, Maggie’s husband walked over to the table. Maggie turned her chair around and put her hand on Zachs shoulder. Her husband reached out and shook Zachs hand.

“Thank you. We don’t know what to say. You really saved her li…”

“Oh well it’s Ok. It was nothing really. I’m a volunteer fire fighter and learned it before but I’ve never done it…before. I hope I don’t again. That was pretty scary…. But I’m just glad she’s doing OK. Are you doing OK?” Zach turned and looked at Maggie.

Maggie gave a little smile and said softly, “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

“Her throat is pretty sore. Before we go, we’d like to buy your dinner to thank you. It’s the least we can do.” He looked at Zach and Ashley.”

“Oh no! We couldn’t possibly accept that…”

“Right. My girlfriend and I appreci…”

Maggie’s husband stopped Zach in mid sentence, “We won’t take no for an answer. Besides I’ve already talked to the manager.”

“oh… well, you…you really didn’t need to do that.”

“I think we did. But thank you again.” Maggie patted Zachs shoulder. Her husband smiled and shook Zach’s hand and Ashley’s.  Then he went over and helped Maggie out of the chair and they walked out of the restaurant. Zach and Ashley ate their free dinner. They didn’t talk a lot both still trying to process the turn of events. Zach had no idea who Maggie was. And Maggie didn’t realize until some time later that the man who saved her life in the restaurant was the boy who’s life she saved on the ball field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Choose Suffering

The Secret Power That Can Change Your Life

Lemonade. When life hands you lemons, what do you do? You make lemonade of course! We all know that. And why not. It’s the great all American summertime drink to sip on while you are sitting on the back porch in your rocking chair watching the kids run through the sprinkler. I know a beer would be better but life rarely hands you a beer. Sometimes it does and isn’t it nice when that happen! But back to our example… lemons. Now to make lemonade you need a few other ingredients: water and sugar. To make good lemonade, you need to mix the water, sugar, and lemon juice in just the right proportions. But not everyone likes their lemonade the same way. Some people like it more watery. Some people like it with pulp (not me). Some people, like my sister God rest her soul, like sugar with a few drops of lemon juice and a little water. Since it’s your lemonade, you can make it the way you want. It may take some trial and error to get the recipe just right. If you keep working at it though, you’ll stumble upon your perfect lemonade recipe.

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Rectifier. How do you use a rectifier? You may have never used one but you have probably been on the receiving end of something that does. A rectifier is used in an x-ray machine to produce x-rays. When electricity flows into the x-ray tube, it is an alternating current. It looks like a wave that has peaks and valleys. This means it has a positive charge and a negative charge. It switches over and over again from a positive charge one millisecond to a negative charge the next. The problem is the x-ray machine can only function using the positive charge, or peak, of the cycle. What to do? What to do? Enter……THE RECTIFIER. The rectifier takes control and flips all the negative charges, the valleys, into positive charges. Isn’t that cool! Electricity flows into the rectifier, the rectifier converts all the negative charges into positive charges, and the x-ray machine produces x-rays. It gets more complicated but that’s about as far as my knowledge of electricity goes. But I think you are catching on.

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Death. Did you go somewhere today? How did you get there? Car? Bus? Train? Motorcycle? Or maybe you’re a farmer and you were out in the fields riding around on your tractor. I don’t know. I’m a city guy. That’s what I’ve seen farmers do on TV. To make any of those vehicles run, you need to fill their tanks with some form of diesel or gasoline. Do you know who you can thank for that? Death. (Sorry to put a damper on your day.) That’s right. Many, many, many, many, many, many years ago living things died and got buried by rocks and dirt and lava and water and sand, etc. The rocks and dirt and lava and water and sand kept piling up and piling up smashing the dead plants and creatures until they became a big pool of goo. The pool of goo got hot from all the pressure eventually creating what we know of as petroleum. Petroleum has been sucked out of the ground, refined and manufactured into all kinds of products creating an intricate web of vitality around the world…all orchestrated by the hands of death.

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So let’s review: Lemonade. Rectifiers. Death. Now you are ready to choose suffering. First, what is suffering?  Websters says it is to experience death, hardship, loss, pain, defeat, disability, damage, and distress. We’ve all been there. We will be there again.  Maybe you are right now.  If so, I’m sorry you are going through it. I would like to add another word to describe suffering that is not on this list: power. What is power? Websters says it is the ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. Has suffering ever influenced your behavior or the course of events in your life? Oh yea. You know it and I know it. Suffering has got power. The question is how can you tap into that power and use it. Let’s look a little closer at suffering so that we are all on the same page.

Intended and unintended suffering. You can research the topic of suffering and find all kinds of religious, psychological, and philosophical theories about it. Dissecting and defining suffering can get tedious.  I have used a classification system that works for my life. There are basically two types of suffering: intended suffering and unintended suffering. Intended suffering is suffering you bring on yourself so that you can “direct the course of events” in your life. I am not a morning person. My 6 a.m. alarm might as well be the voice of Jesus calling me to rise from the dead. I admit I hit the snooze button a few times. But eventually I get up and endure this pain because I have a job I need to go. I think it makes a difference in the world and I want to make money to live a certain kind of lifestyle. So I am willing to endure waking up early. You can look at your own life and find all sorts examples, big and small, of how you have brought suffering into your life to create a change and cause a desired outcome.

What about unintended suffering? Unintended suffering is suffering that just happens. Two recent examples: Harvey and Irma. An example from the past that we are getting ready to remember: September 11, 2001. If your life was turned upside down by these events, I am sorry. Suffering is not easy. Unintended suffering can be natural disasters, wars, illness, failure, accidents, death, injuries, break-ups, job loss, etc. The list can go on and on. These are situations and events that hit us out of the blue. Other times we can see it coming but there’s nothing you can do. It hits you anyway. (There’s a third kind of suffering. I’ll call it unintended/intended suffering. This is when we make choices based on unresolved issues at the sub-conscious level or low conscious level of the mind that bring suffering upon us. Addictions are good examples of this. If  you are experiencing suffering like this, for this practice anyway, treat it as unintended suffering.) So what happens when this power of unintended suffering hits us? The course of our life gets altered. A bomb explodes and we need to pick up the pieces. We get pushed along without much control over where we end up.  Think about the power it takes to do that! Wouldn’t it be great if you could tap into some of that and use it? Here’s the the thing: we already know how to do it!

Bring in the rectifier. The problem with unintended suffering is that we usually do not see it as ours. We did not invite it or choose for it to happen. It happened to us. And so we resist it the suffering the situation causes. Before we can tap into that power, we must claim it as our own. Whoa, whoa, whoa! What? You are telling me to take it on? Yes. That is what I mean to tell you. If you want to claim the power of suffering, you must make it yours. You must take the unintended suffering and convert it to intended suffering. There are three tips that can help you do this and to access its power. Absolve it, Accept it, and Aim it.

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Absolve it. Searching for the culprit or the cause of the suffering is a barrier to tapping into its power. Stop asking questions like what caused this? Who is responsible? Why me? Maybe your spouse caused it. Maybe it was a drunk driver. Maybe it was the Earth. Maybe it was the butler. Maybe it was you. For this practice, it doesn’t matter who, what, why or how. Eliminate blame.

Accept it. When suffering appears, do not call out the villagers and run it off with pitch forks and torches. It is doing something important. Suffering is the symptom of change. It is killing something in your life. I’m sorry but it’s true. The best thing you can do is allow it to do it’s thing. That’s how you absorb its power. By fighting it, you keep the power at bay and prevent what needs to die from dying. Enter Death. Here’s another way to look at it. Suffering is like the mythological Phoenix that comes to burn away the old world and from the ashes of that world something new arises. But there must be ashes for something new to rise.

(As a side note, I am speaking of your inner experience with suffering here, not the outer cause of it. I am not saying if you have cancer, not to seek treatment. Or if you are in an abusive relationship to stay there. Please do what you need to do to make your life safer, better, healthier, and happier. There will be plenty of opportunities to work with suffering-even as you seek the very best for you and the world.)

Aim it. You need to give the power of suffering a channel through which to flow, a direction, a purpose. Remember that scene in Avatar when Jake Sully decides to tame Tsu-Tey, the giant winged beast that no one dared to ride. He merged with the great power that everyone was afraid of and rode it into war giving the Na’vi people hope and protecting them. Giving your suffering purpose and direction may have more subtle results than Jake Sully experienced in Avatar. Consider Ernestine Shepherd.  After her sister and workout partner died suddenly, Ernestine was devastated. She was 56 years old and completely stopped going to the gym. After months of grieving, a friend suggested to Ernestine that her sister would have wanted her to continue working out. So Ernestine channeled her grief toward going back to the gym and accomplishing the goal her and her sister set which was to be physically fit senior citizens. In 2010, Ernestine was dubbed the world’s oldest female body builder by the Guinness Book of World Records.

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Choose Suffering. So what happens when you choose suffering? Will you always move in the direction you have set and achieve a certain goal? Not always. But something will change. A breeze will pick up. The current will begin to flow and move you.  A nice tall glass of lemonade will be made from the lemons that life has handed you. The recipe: turn unintended suffering into intended suffering. Absolve it, Accept it, and Aim it. Add a little sugar and ice. Stir it up and let the power of suffering flow through your life. Give it a great purpose. Set your course, grab the rudder, raise your sails high, and let the wind of suffering blow. Like all good quests, this adventure will take practice, time, and courage. It will be emotional but it probably is already anyway, isn’t it?

We are used to wishing suffering away and running from it. Choosing suffering changes that. I can’t say for sure what the outcome will be-something a little easier and lighter. Whatever it is, I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I have been in my life. Please leave a comment and fill me in on how it works for you.

The Brotherhood of the Screaming Eagles

Sean stared out the kitchen window into the backyard. Rain drops streaked down the glass. Clouds hung low making the world outside gray and heavy. Everything was dull and muted – not the way the world normally looked. He rested his hands on the counter top and leaned closer to the window to get a better look at something on the patio- a black figure about the size of a grown man. It looked like a shadow but it wasn’t. It shifted and quivered. What was it? Sean wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it wasn’t supposed to be there and it frightened him. He wanted to run away but his body froze. He was panicking. He needed to move closer to find out what it was. His feet were slow to respond to the signal from his brain telling them to move toward the back door. Reluctantly, they carried his body across the room. He turned the knob, opened the door, and stepped outside onto the patio.

The black figure stood a couple yards away from Sean. It’s back was to him. It’s head was hunched as if it was too heavy to hold up. It seemed to not be aware that Sean was there. He could see that it was covered in jet black feathers. The feathers were disheveled and drenched. They glistened as water droplets fell from their tips. The creature swayed slightly as it breathed in and out with soft raspy breaths. Sean took a few tentative steps forward to get a better look at the creatures face. It looked like he was seeing a bird but he couldn’t help thinking it was a man.  He could see the part of the face that was not covered by the feathers on the shoulder. It was human-like but where the nose, mouth, and chin should have been there was a beak. Its eye was closed. But then it wasn’t.  And it saw him. Huge black wings unfolded and spread across the yard. The bird man looked into the sky, opened its beak, and shrieked. Sean covered his ears as terror struck him in the chest like a sledge hammer. His feet did not wait for a command to move. They carried him across the patio and through the door. His hand slammed the door shut and locked it. He ran into the living room and collapsed on the couch. He was shaking and thirsty. He wanted a glass of water but he didn’t want to go back into the kitchen. Suddenly a woman wearing short shorts, an apron, and roller skates came skating down the hall. She was balancing a tray with her hand on her shoulder. On the tray was  a glass of water. “Here you go, Sugar.” She handed Sean the glass of water. He mindlessly reached up and took it. The woman turned around and skated back down the hall. How is she roller skating on the carpet? Sean wondered. He pondered this for a long time while sipping the water. Then remembered the creature on the patio. Sean was standing on the patio next to the bird man. It was laying half on the grass and half on the cement. It was dead. Sean got a closer look at it.  The bird man was an eagle and he felt a deep connection with it. All the terror and fear that had gripped Sean melted away into deep grief and horror that such a beautiful creature was dead.

Sean woke up. He pulled the covers close under his chin. He was a jittery and emotional. The darkness in the bedroom seemed alive as if the shadows on the walls were about to reach out and take him. ‘I’m awake. I’m awake. It was a nightmare. There’s nothing in the here that’s going to get me.’ Sean tried to calm himself down. He looked at the clock, 3:45 am. He fluffed the pillow flipping it to the cool side. He turned over hoping to fall back asleep before the alarm went off. But Sean was uneasy. The dream was eating at him. What that about? What is an eagle man? Why was it in my backyard? I live in an apartment. I don’t even have a backyard.

“C’mon, Mrs. Addison, just a couple more steps and we can call it a day.”

Mrs. Addison was a spry lady determined not to let a little stroke interfere with her golf game. “You know I’m dragging this out so I can hold a young mans hand a little bit more,” Mrs. Addison joked.

“I’m not THAT young you know.” Sean smiled at her.

“When you’re in your eighties, everyone is young.” Mrs. Addison plopped down in her wheelchair with Sean’s help.

Sean pushed her toward the waiting room. “Good job today. You’re getting stronger. I’ll see you in two days, OK?”

“Thank you, sweetie.” Mrs. Addison hollered as the aide pushed her down the hall.

Sean went into the bathroom and locked the door. He turned on the cold water and let it run. He stared at his face in the mirror. The dark circles look darker than usual he thought as he rubbed a finger under his eyes. More sleep would help. He leaned over the sink and splashed cold water on his face. He felt off today. He couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling the dream left him with but he didn’t know why. All he knew is he had one more patient to see today then he was going home to take a nap.

“Mr. Evans, I’m Sean. Rebecca is off today so I’ll be helping you with your exercises.”

“Alright. Well, let’s get on with it.” Jerry Evans  was a bit of gruff man and didn’t like needing more help than was necessary. He was the owner of Evans construction and was used to making things happen. This was his fifth week of therapy and was counting down the days until it was over.

“How has everything been going? Are you noticing improvement in your knee?” Sean was used to dealing with all kinds of people so tried to overlook Mr. Evans abruptness.

Mr. Evans sat down in the leg extension machine and started moving his leg back and forth. “Well yeah. Things are getting better. Slowly. Had a bit of a setback a few weeks ago. Wasn’t able to exercise at home that much.”

“Rebecca said you had a death in the family. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thanks. Wasn’t exactly family. Was a long time friend I knew from the service. Close enough to be family I suppose.”

Sean was a little surprised that Mr. Evans had become so talkative. “I’m so sorry. Had he been ill?”

“Boating accident. Took a few days until they found him. The waiting was a tough time. We got this same tattoo years ago.” Mr. Evans pointed to a black tattoo on his forearm.

Sean took a closer look at the tattoo on Mr. Evans arm. His eyes grew wide and a lump formed in his throat. The tattoo was a black double headed eagle with out stretched wings. Beneath the eagle was written ‘Screaming Eagles’.  Sean suddenly realized who the eagle man was in his dream. But what did it mean? And why did Mr. Evans friend come to him? Was there a message Sean was supposed to give to Mr. Evans?  If there was, He didn’t know it. Sean finished Mr. Evans treatment that day and never saw him again. Sean left work and went home to take a nap. He wondered about this strange connection he had had with Mr. Evans and his friend. And it frightened him a little knowing that someone he might meet tomorrow could show up in his dreams today.

Where The Tree Stood

There was a fir tree growin’ here once. I think it was a fir. It had pine needles. We cut it down for Christmas. Not quite sure we should of. The shade is less this summer in the yard behind the house. The grass grew brown late summer when the sun beat down on it. That tree barely fit through the door. It smelled the house real nice. I remember that. The pine smell hit you at the front door. It followed you room to room. I put that tree by the fire place. You could see it from the window. Lit the place up. Only Roy and Evelyn and Kid and Jackie could probably see it as they drove by. It made the house feel homey for the holidays. Ma made fresh egg nog and served it in those little Santa mugs we unpack each November. I don’t know why she unpacks Christmas so early. I’d wait if it were me. I sat in my rocker with the fire roarin’ sipping the egg nog. Didn’t really need a fire cause the winter wasn’t cold. It made the pictures of Christmas in my mind come to life.

It’s hotter here workin since I took that tree. Should I plant another? Maybe. Won’t live to see it grow tall though. That will be for someone else I suppose. Don’t think Carl will want this place. He’s more city folk than his ma and pa. No one will know that fir tree was here if they’re new to the place. Except for the stump. The stump will tell them. Stumps hang around a long time, longer than most memories. Sure was a nice Christmas with that tree. Someone should know a tree grew here.

Return From The Darkness

Based on actual events

Tuesday, 4:07 pm:

Lydia quickly walked out of the building toward her car fishing through her purse for the key fab. beep-beep Her white Audi confirmed the press of the unlock button and responded accordingly. She grabbed the handle to the back door, flung it open, and threw her computer bag inside. It bounced off the tan leather seat back landing on the seat causing papers to fly out and scatter everywhere. She didn’t really care. She sat down in the driver’s seat and clutched the wheel trying to keep it together until she got out of the parking lot. Dave the IT guy walked by her car. She gave him a half-ass smile and a little wave. “Have a good night, Lydia. See you bright and early.” Dave shouted through the window. Lydia had completely forgot about the morning meeting. ‘Fat chance on that happening, Dave.’ Lydia thought, ‘I won’t be there.’  She pressed the start button. The car came to life and she drove away.

Tuesday, 6:22 pm:

The after work crowd was meandering through the aisles at Target. Three people were waiting in line at the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions.  A little boy  in jeans and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jacket was sitting in the seat of the blood pressure machine swinging his legs and sliding his arm in and out of the blood pressure cuff. His mom, who was one of the people waiting in line, said, “Hey! what did I just say? Don’t press the buttons.” Lydia browsed the aisles of medications dressed in her sweats and sweatshirt. She thought a good workout at the gym would help improve her mood. It didn’t. Her eyes darted back and forth scoping out the situation like she was about to rob the place. Nobody noticed but she thought everyone was wondering why she was acting so strange. She was looking at the sleeping pills examining box after box reading the ingredients to see which one had the higher dosage. They were all about the same. She dropped two boxes of the generic brand into the basket and went to the self check out scanner so that a clerk would not get suspicious.

Tuesday 7:36 pm:

William had left a message saying he was working late and would not be able to meet for dinner. That only draped another covering over her heart deepening the darkness. Lydia and William were engaged to be married in six months. It was going to be a beautiful wedding. They were the perfect couple: late twenties, good-looking, successful. Their entire lives were ahead of them. The future could only lift them higher until they touched the stars, right? And why not. William was an entrepreneur starting his own accounting business. Lydia was a manager in the retail industry and going to school to get her masters in organizational behavior and development.  All of that didn’t matter now. None of it was going to happen. William would be devastated. She knew that. But he’d get over it and find someone else. He’d be happy. Lydia turned off all of the lights and laid down on the couch hoping sleep would help her escape the numbing senselessness of it all.

Tuesday 10:57 pm

Inside the kitchen cupboard underneath the sink, bottles of Jim Beam, Absolut, Beefeaters, and Jose Cuervo sat in various stages of being consumed. Lydia and William were not big drinkers but they would pull a bottle or two out when they entertained Williams clients or his brother Mike who drank too much and probably should be in AA. The cupboard door opened and Lydia inspected the bottles. The bottle of Absolut was the most full so she grabbed it. On her way out the door, she stuffed a bottle of water in her purse, pressed the garage door opener, and jumped in the car to drive somewhere. The night was warm, dark, and stormy which was unusual for March. Did the sky know what was going on inside her, Lydia wondered. The rhythmic beating of the windshield wipers had always been soothing to her. It helped her clear her mind. But not tonight. It was too late. She was tired. Tired of battling this demon that had stalked her for years weighing her down and smothering her. There would never be a total victory in this war, only brief reprieves from the battle. In those times, it seemed like life could be normal. But inevitably the demon would rise again to takes its place on the throne and make her grovel.

Wednesday 1:33 am

The parking lot was deserted. In the rear view mirror, the small Panera Bread sign was illuminated above the door of the loading dock. A few parking spaces sat directly across from the dock surrounded by trees. If it wasn’t for the dumpsters and the darkness and the rain, this could have been a serene place. Lydia felt fairly certain this spot was safe and secluded. She wouldn’t be bothered at least until morning. The back of her cupped hand rested on the bottom of the steering wheel. She took a bottle of pain killers out of her purse, popped the cap off, and dumped the pills into her hand.  Half the bottle had been used after her knee surgery nine months ago. The pills were a little old but she figured they should still be potent enough to do the job. The sleeping pills and alcohol would carry her the rest of the way. She reached into the passenger seat for the bottle of vodka, put it between her legs, and unscrewed the cap.

“You don’t know what you’re doing.” Lydia glanced over her right shoulder into the back seat. Someone had just spoken to her but no one was there. She turned back around. Tears started falling from her eyes. ‘I’m doing this. I’m doing this,’ she scolded herself. ‘I’m tired of dealing with this.’

The voice spoke again, this time louder, clearer. “What you are going through right now, you do not understand. Some day you will…… You have to make it through.” The voice spoke as if it were her thoughts. But it wasn’t her thoughts. It was more masculine. And it seemed like it was many people speaking in unison. How did she know this? She didn’t know. All she knew is there was no one in the back seat.

Now Lydia was pissed. “Do you know what it has been like struggling with this!” She screamed at the voice. “No you don’t! No one does. Wait? Wait for what? Wait for what! What the hell are you talking about!” There was no reply. She was alone. “GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!” She threw the pills in her hand as hard as she could at the passenger window. They ricocheted off the glass and flew all over the car. She took a swig of vodka and rested her head in her hand.  ‘Now I’m going to have to clean that shit up.’ After a few minutes, she pulled out of the parking lot, made her way back home, and went to bed.

Epilogue

After many years, Lydia has been able to walk down the path and now has a more peaceful, balanced life. It has not been easy. It has taken many changes, self revelations, and support from family, friends, and mental health professionals. She had to endure psychic and emotional pain along the way. Sometimes she still does. The demon is still with her. It’s a part of her. But she understands it more now. She knows what feeds it and makes it stronger. And what can calm it down. She must remain vigilant of her inner world because the shadow of depression can grow again. It is a dance she has learned to accept.

As for the voice, it is a mystery. It speaks when it wants to speak. Lydia tries not to label it as this or that. It has kept her on this road of life and pointed the way on occasion. It has convinced her that we all have a purpose here and that every life matters.

If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, do not suffer alone. Reach out for help. No one can wave a magic wand to make inner pain and outer problems disappear instantaneously. It will take time and work. But it can get better. The fullness and richness of life lie just outside of your field of vision. I promise.

The Human Race

I walked toward the river. It really was a stream but back then it seemed a like river. I’d go there when my older brother was playing baseball in the park by our house. When I got bored, I would walk along the edge of the field where the line of trees grew into the woods. I’d sneak into the woods and slide down a small embankment to the muddy rocky shore of the river. It wasn’t a big river. If I threw a stone hard enough, it would almost land on the other side but not quite. Despite the fact that the park was in the suburbs and there were plenty of people around watching the baseball game and doing other things that people do in a park, it was pretty deserted by the river. Every once in awhile people would pass by on the trails.  A shelter sat on the other side, up a hill, and down a path that was connected to an old stone bridge that went across the water. People would have cookouts and parties in the shelter I guess. I never actually saw anyone use it other than teenagers who would hang out or neck. It was off the beaten path. You could tell when someone had been there because fresh grease spots would be on the ground and the remains of ash from charcoal would be in the grill that was attached to an old rusty pole cemented to the floor. Every once in a while, I would get drawn back to civilization when I would hear the crack of the ball on the bat echo through the trees and hear people cheering . The noise of the baseball game would rise and fall like the noise of waves crashing on the shore. It had a rhythm to it but it was not predictable like the ocean. It was sporadic. I never knew when the energy of the game would wash into woods and make me wonder what was going on up there.

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I liked to cross the river, not by walking across the old stone bridge, but by following the rocks that jutted out of the water. The rocks were all shapes and sizes and had no particular pattern. It was a challenge to see if I could make it across without falling in. I’d step or hop or leap onto the rocks like the mountain goats you see on nature documentaries. You never really knew what the next rock would be like until you landed on it. The rocks could be unstable so you had to be careful. You had to find a balance, be strategic. Moss and algae would accumulate on some rocks making them slippery. So I tried to avoid the greenish slimy looking ones if I could. It was easier the closer you were to the shore because you could grab on to the branches that hung down from the trees. But out in the middle of the water, you were on your own.

One day, there was a boy standing on the other side watching me. I don’t know where he came from. I never saw him before. His skin was darker than mine and his hair was  short , black, and curly. I didn’t notice him until I was half way across. Suddenly, I became self conscious because I had an audience. I felt some animosity towards this kid for intruding. It wasn’t just me and the rocks and the river anymore. Now I had something to prove. I had to show this kid that I could make it across! But I wasn’t sure that I could. The choices were troublesome. The rocks just weren’t laid out in my favor.

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You can get lost in your head sometimes. Stuck in your own situation. The world around you can fade away because the choices you face in a moment become most important. You ponder what the next move should be. But you don’t really know. Try as you might, you can’t see what’s coming. You have to make the move first. Only then do you find out whether or not it was the right one.  That’s where I was – plotting and planning the rest of the course across the river. It wasn’t until I looked up and out that I saw that the boy was also in the middle of the river. He was trying to make it to the side I had disembarked from. He was down a ways from me but we could see each other. And I could tell that he was being challenged too.

The one thing you need to know about a river is that it is one entity from its source to its mouth. It can seem different depending on where you are standing. It’s characteristics can become more prominent in some areas and more subtle in others. There can be a shoreline or not. The rocks can present themselves in dramatic fashion stirring things up or hide underneath allowing the water to run smoothly. Water can flow fast or slow. It can bubble and bend and curve and leap and fall. It can carry rocks away or flow over or around them. It can look clear or blue-ish green or muddy brown or foamy white. It is like a mirror reflecting back the landscape that it flows through. Many think everyone experiences the river the same way. But they do not.

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Something changed inside me when I realized the boy was walking the river too. The water and rocks were no longer a barrier between us. He had transformed from an observer watching on the sidelines to a participant.  Now, we were part of the same flow. We were struggling together yet alone simultaneously. It wasn’t life or death. (Maybe a little bit for me because my dad would kill me if I rode home in the car sopping wet.) The water was probably only up to our knees. But this was a game. This was about adventure. It was an exercise to test our mettle- our wits and limitations. It was us against nature. The river made us rivals and comrades. I still wanted to make it to the other side before he did! But if I didn’t, it was OK. He had faced the river too.

It’s amazing how we can see situations differently as we get older. One moment, one event, can keep transforming. It can change, showing itself to us in a myriad of ways. Often, we want to cement it’s significance as this or that. But we shouldn’t do that. We should let moments breathe and grow with us. I experience the hour at the river different now than I did when I was a kid. Now, I see the river as a stream. I see the boy as a messenger. I see the rocks as friends. I see the water as life. In another twenty years, I may see it differently. Maybe the story means something else to you.

So who made it to the other side first? It doesn’t matter. Didn’t your parents tell you, ‘It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.’  This is so true. However, I prefer the version that says, “It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. It’s that the game was played.”

 

The Beautiful Life: 5 Ways To Experience It

Liza was walking in the park when something changed. Really, it was nothing. Everything seemed the same. The bikers, joggers and fellow strollers were her anonymous companions on the trail. The birds darted back and forth across the sky and from the tree branches to the ground and back again. The wind creaked the trees and rustled the pine needles and leaves.  Sunlight broke through clouds intermittently and dappled the canvas of dirt and grass and asphalt with shadows and light. The shadows formed patterns that blinked in and out, dancing and waving and morphing until they disappeared. This is the way it was in the park.

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But Liza stopped walking. Suddenly,  her senses became more acute. Light became alive and shone within and around everything. It sparkled. Life was vibrant. A grand orchestrated event was going on around her and for her - the wind blowing, the sun shining, the people moving, the birds flying.  This was the way things were meant to be!  Something overwhelming was opening deep inside Liza's chest and sweeping her away. Invisible tendrils were reaching out to caress and play with life. Had this part of her been buried deep inside all these years waiting for an opportunity to move and make itself known? She wasn't sure. She knew she was Liza standing there experiencing all of this. But she wasn't. She was bigger. In that moment, she knew that she was everything and everything was her. It didn't make sense.  She was filled with and saw beauty everywhere she looked. She felt enormous gratitude. She didn't know whether to laugh or cry or pray.  The moment hung bobbing and spinning waiting for the next moment to come crashing into it. Time seemed to slow down but the experience lasted only a few minutes. Then, just like that, it blinked out and the park returned to normal.

Social media is an interesting phenomenon. It gives us glimpses, for better or worse, into the inner life of family, friends, and strangers that we never had before. Thoughts that would have remained trapped in our heads, now have a vehicle through which they can ooze onto Facebook, into our extremely busy optic nerves, and make a home in our brain. Thoughts and ideas really are like viruses. In the internet age, they can spread quickly around the globe. A while back, a flurry of posts appeared on my Facebook feed. People were sharing deep feelings of love they had for their children and/or significant other. Their descriptions were very moving and poetic. The descriptions reminded me of Liza's experience in the park.

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It got me thinking. How can we experience this connection to beauty more often? I had a few ideas about it so I made it into an acronym. Who doesn't love an acronym! Everyone loves an acronym. Here's mine: TAILS. TAILS stands for

  1. Toss The Agenda
  2. Accept The Illogical
  3. It's All A Dream
  4. Let It Be
  5. Slow Down

Toss The Agenda- You're alarm goes off at 6 am and you hit the ground running. When the sun goes down and most of the things are checked off the list, then you set your alarm, go to bed and do it all over again the next day. To experience the deeper rhythm and flow of life, you need to allow yourself to be sucked in and swept away.  You need to be prepared, like Alice, to follow the white rabbit when it presents itself and see where it leads. New paths and realms will open up to you and, along with them, new inspirations. Only when you give the unexpected permission to carry you will barriers break down so you can see the world in a new light. Rigid schedules can be like walls preventing us from experiencing the heart beat of life around us.

Accept The Illogical A friend of mine went on vacation once and stepped into an art gallery. He saw an abstract painting of a woman dancing in the rain. The painting moved him so much that he bought it. He had the feeling that the painting had been made just for him.  The artist did not even know him. Logically that didn't make sense. But that didn't matter. In that moment in that art gallery, the painting was made for him. Finding meaning and value in what is going on around you will open you up to noticing beauty. Maybe there really is a deeper meaning to a leaf falling from a tree and hitting you on the head or getting in the wrong line at the checkout or a co-worker surprising everyone with a dozen donuts. Like Liza in the park experiencing a grand orchestration of nature, it wasn't logical. Give yourself permission to allow illogical thoughts to be and see what opens up in that moment.

It's All A Dream- Indigenous cultures and shamans believe the world we experience every day is more like a dream than the dream worlds we travel when we go to sleep. Maybe they are right. When people move into these profound experiences of beauty, they say that in those moments the world seems more real than the everyday world. As Shakespeare said "All the worlds a stage. And all the men and women merely players…." Consider as you move through your day, that you are moving through scenes of a play or a dream scape. The people and events you encounter are powerful symbols that hold deep meaning for you and you for them. Is it real? Of course it is…but maybe not quite.

Let It Be- When Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics to the famous Beatles song "Let It Be", he was going through a difficult time. He was drinking and partying because afraid the Beatles were going to break up. He went to sleep one night and had a dream that his mother, who died when he was fourteen, appeared to him and said "Let it be." Paul knew that the message he had received was telling him to be gentle, don't fight things, go with the flow, and everything will work out.  

Slow Down- I took a mindfulness course once. Mindfulness is a way of focusing your attention and becoming aware of what is present right now. One of the exercises I had to do was eat a raisin. Big deal, right? But I couldn't just pop the raisin in my mouth and eat it. I had to hold the raisin in my hand and put it to my lips. I had to come to know every raisin wrinkle, bump, and color variation. When I put the raisin in my mouth, I had to feel it on my tongue and explore the textures and tastes and sensations. It was very sensual. Go ahead and try it. It's quite eye opening. If you don't like raisins, use something else. I can barely remember what I had to eat a few days ago but I vividly remember eating one raisin ten years ago!

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The routine side of life is a necessity. It is special in its own way enabling us to accomplish much. But we need to dive in to the heart of it all every once in a while. Allow yourself to become more primitive, simple, and uncivilized for a bit. Swim in the mysterious. Take a break from the daily grind. Sages and mystics  are able to walk the boundary between the routine and the mystical. Most of us cannot do that. The TAILS model is a recipe to help discover this. But it's not like making a batch of cookies. It's creating an atmosphere where something can happen. Take the weather for example. To make precipitation, you need water and evaporation and warm and cold air. Depending on how you mix it, you may get clouds. You may get rain or snow. Or you may get a thunderstorm. You never quite know what is going to happen. You just need to know that it can happen. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. In our world today, we could use more people who seek out and behold the beautiful side of life.