Tunnel vision

tunnel-vision

The whistle from the steam locomotive was followed by an imperceptible tug on the couplers connecting the cars. The slow, but steady acceleration out of the station left the platform in the past, along with their worries.

She had convinced him that this was exactly what they needed, a relaxing ride across the countryside. Between the lost luggage, botched hotel reservations, and steady diet of inclement weather, this was not the ideal way to celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

He reached over to wrap his hand around hers, the wrinkles showing battle scars each had endured over the years. The memories of a child that was never conceived, despite their persistent attempts, was never fully purged from their weary hearts. A resilient couple, each took a turn to help support the other. It was her turn, after his perfectly planned getaway turned out to be anything but.

The gentle sway of the open car along with the cool autumn breeze assuaged his anxieties. With elevated pulse finally beginning to subside, he leaned over and planted a kiss on her cheek. She gazed into his eyes and smiled. No words were exchanged, but the message was clear.

The grating sound of metal on metal along with an abrupt deceleration pulled their attention from the silent conversation. The unrest exuded by other passengers was not unfounded. This unplanned stop found the train in enveloping darkness. The damp and musty smell of whatever was growing on these tunnel walls permeated the senses.

The murmur of voices in the black void escalated, along with the distressing cries from children and their vivid imaginations. Just to the right, he discerned a pinpoint of light that shouldn’t have been there.

Taking her hand, still intertwined with his, he led her confidently through the dark aisle towards the light. As the distance dwindled, the source grew more luminous, appearing like a portal to another world. Together, they stepped over the threshold, darkness transforming into radiant brightness reminiscent of a fairy tale.

tunnel-of-loveThe dirt pathway stretching out before them went on for as far as the eye could see. Framed by the arch of trees, limbs reached to connect overhead, creating a canopy of protection from adversity. With each step, the stale scent of stone walls was replaced with the intoxicating scent of blooming gardenias. In this world, there was no pain, no burden, only love.

Feeling the ground shuffle beneath her, she wrapped her free hand around his waist. She was dancing with him, swaying to and fro in the most glorious ballroom at the turn of the century. It was then that she heard the misplaced sound of a whistle, and sensed the emergence of natural light in the train car.

As the train continued forward, his baby blues locked on her hazel eyes, he tossed a smile in her direction. She returned one, as if bobbing a curtsy to thank him for the dance. The darkest tunnel would never dampen the light shining inside them.

Author’s Note: I composed this story through a weekly prompt provided by a new online writing community that I have subscribed to on Amazon. WriteOn is a great way for writers to expand their comfort zone by experimenting in different genres, incrementally releasing stories, and soliciting feedback on what is working/not working from other members. I highly encourage aspiring writers to check it out. I am presently pushing my own envelope by working on development of a short story in the thriller genre. Stay tuned, and as always, best wishes for an inspired day!

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Wanderlust

Wanderlust Adventure
An enticing choice
We often dream about
But seldom resolve to engage

Hampered by the fog of uncertainty
The venturesome road
Leads nowhere
And everywhere

Cocoons give birth
Fluttering in our stomach
A barely audible whisper carried on wings
Nudges us forward

Encouraging us
Throw caution to the wind
Do something bold and daring
Unexpected

Into the darkness we plunge
Unaware and nescient
The initial fear dissipates
As the spark within intensifies

A seed is planted
We watch it grow
Ample sunshine and water
In the form of faith and love

Step by step
We trek forward
Hoping to discover
Meaning and truth

Wandering aimlessly
We stumble upon
The key to happiness
And contentedness

The decision to wander
Away from the comfort of familiarity
Carries us along a path
With many twists and turns

Accosted by fear, despair, and misery
We are rescued by faith, hope, and love
On an enduring journey
Back home

Author’s Note:
This poem is inspired by the short story with the same name. Wanderlust is now available in the Amazon Kindle Store. And for three days (Wednesday, May 27, 2015 through Friday, May 29, 2015), it is free to download. Experience the wonder of self-discovery as you follow the trail of adventure with Damon, Gryffin, and Jo. Included is a short passage from the author detailing the inspiration and thoughts behind the composition of this story.

Many thanks to my beautiful and talented wife for providing the stunning cover art for this story. Her photographic prowess has added depth to my words that I could not possibly have accomplished on my own.

If you found this short e-book enjoyable, I would sincerely appreciate any feedback in the form of a review at the book’s site on Amazon. To download the e-book, please visit the Shop link at the top of this page to see all books available by me, or visit Wanderlust. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, and best wishes for an inspired day!

Abandoned

abandoned

A black space
Where the door
Is supposed to be

A cloudy film
Layered on the windows
Obscuring the view inside

The splintered planks
From the facade
Evidence of neglect

Used to be filled
With effervescence and love
Now but an empty shell

Memories encrusted
In the weathered roof
And soot lining the chimney walls

Stationary
Unable to move
Begging to be noticed

She has no audible voice
To speak for herself
Not one that can be heard

Too many travel this road
Never giving
Even a passing glance

With time slipping by
She settles into
The depression in the ground

If only
Someone would shine a light
Inside that dark hollow

A hidden space
Would be revealed
Like a treasure

First
Just a glint
A tiny sparkle

Growing into
A luminous beam
Of warmth and fulfillment

The worn and tattered exterior
Dissolving in the radiance
Overflowing from within

Spilling through the crevices
Sealing the cracks
Irreparable damage reversed

Rescuing
A beautiful world
From abandonment

Ebb and flow

ebb-and-flow

Limitless
To the human eye
Stretching out
To eternity

A glimmer of light
Just beneath the whitecaps
Engulfing darkness
At its deepest depths

A tale of two worlds
Smooth and level on the surface
Craggy and jagged
Miles below

Pressure building
As one descends
The weight of the world
Resting on weary shoulders

Toes sinking
Into the grains of sand
On the threshold
Of this mysterious realm

Foamy tendrils
Outstretched, enveloping
Wrap themselves
Around my ankles

Luring me
With its captivating rhythm
First fear, then curiosity
Awakens me

The ebb and flow of salty waves
Cresting over my feet
Receding back from whence they came
Reminds me, I am alive

Encourages me
To feel
To love
To live

Chance encounter

wall-street-federal-hallAuthor’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit Hot Dog.

Lloyd appeared homeless with his ratty brown hoodie, rickety bike, and unkempt facial hair. His actions were characteristic of someone short on luck – keeping to himself, and not making direct eye contact with any passersby. He may have even smelled a bit foul, or perhaps that was a piece of produce in his bike basket beginning to ripen beyond its consumable age.

The infamous proverb states that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck. With that rationale, it was evident that Lloyd was homeless. There is another proverb, however, that beckons us to not judge a book by its cover. The push and pull of conflicting proverbs can often lead the mind into murky waters, awash with doubts of what is right and what is wrong – what is illusory, and what is real.

While casually eavesdropping on Derek’s conversation with his girlfriend, Lloyd proceeded to scribble several notes furiously on a page of his pocket sized notebook. Whatever it was he was writing, Lloyd was hyper-focused on transcribing what was in his head on to the tiny page posthaste.

After the phone call ended, Lloyd used his peripheral vision to catch a glimpse of Derek taking a bite of his hot dog. The aging gentleman quickly snatched a red delicious apple from his basket and took a big juicy bite, loud enough to invite Derek’s attention. Peering over towards Lloyd somewhat involuntarily, Derek quickly returned focus to his own personal space. That was all Lloyd needed though – a crack in the door – and now he was poised to kick it wide open.

“First New York hot dog?” asked Lloyd in a gruffly voice.

Derek pretended not to hear, but glancing to his left, he couldn’t ignore the sapphire blue eyes staring back at him. Without any recourse, other than getting up to leave, Derek responded curtly, “Yeah.”

“You know, it’s funny,” continued Lloyd, “the great American hot dog was invented by some German guy and you used to be able to get one for three cents apiece back in the day.”

Derek wasn’t sure where this line of dialogue was going. The commentary sounded like the ramblings of some old man running short on his sanity. He was getting ever closer to simply rising and retreating to the safety of the building lobby just a few short steps away. He could catch the next bus. His flight wasn’t scheduled to depart for a few more hours.

Lloyd continued on, not waiting for a response from Derek, “Money ain’t everything you know. Don’t matter whether a hot dog cost three cents or three bucks, if you ain’t enjoyin’ it, what’s the point?”

Derek was now gathering up his belongings. It was becoming evident that he had reached his threshold of patience with this babbling lunatic. He knew that he would eventually have to build up a callousness to these type of shenanigans as a New Yorker, just not now. Lloyd pressed further, “Name is Lloyd, how about you?” He took another accentuated bite from his apple, awaiting a reply.

Rising from the bench, Derek turned to leave. “Might not want to leave yet – Derek.”

Derek stopped in his tracks and turned around to face Lloyd, now with a smile on his face. “How do you know my name?” He was quite certain that his name had not arisen in his conversation with Missy.

“That’s what your driver’s license says.”

Patting his pockets, Derek looked to be performing a cheap knock-off version of the Macarena. With a confused look of disbelief spreading across his face, he turned his head, and narrowed his eyes uttering, “You have my wallet.” It was part question, part statement.

Lloyd withdrew the black leather wallet from his jacket pocket and handed it to Derek who was taken aback. This elderly man who had obviously come across difficult times could have disappeared with his cash, credit cards, and identity. He wasn’t sure how to react. Derek presumed that Lloyd was waiting for some remuneration for his honest nature. Opening up his billfold, Lloyd stopped him, “Not necessary, just promise you’ll think about what I said.”

dont-judge-a-book-by-its-coverIt was just a bunch of random gibberish as far as Derek was concerned. What was there to think about? Genuinely grateful now for the honesty of this fellow New Yorker, Derek offered a sheepish thank you as he began to climb aboard the bus now parked at the curb. Lloyd simply provided a smile in return, one that Derek could tell conveyed much more than a message of you’re welcome.

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. The final installment will be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!

Unspoken voice

its-all-make-believeI am nothing but a figment of your imagination. I am nonexistent in the physical sense. But even imaginary entities deserve a name. Mine is George. I know, it’s a rather plain name. Maybe that explains why it has been such a struggle to have my story told. You see, there are so many other imaginary creatures inside my author’s mind – he is real, by the way – I think. Anyway, these other voices have much more interesting names like Francesca, Isadora, and Anastasia – or Broderick, Ignatius, and Nicodemus. Forget for a few minutes that these voices come in male and female counterparts. That’s another story for another day, if I am able to be heard again. It was difficult enough edging my way into the conscious corner of my writer’s mind this time around.

All those other voices? They have elegant and pretentious sounding names. And the stories they beg to tell prey on the ego of its readers. They weave plot twists together to compose the most daring adventures. They hide magical talismans in the most unlikely but fortuitous locations that lead to wonderful tales of discovery. This is not one of those stories. So, if you are looking to travel around the world, discover hidden treasure, and be surprised by unexpected plot twists, you may as well stop reading now. Well, on second thought, maybe you do want to continue reading. Take a chance, why don’t you?

This is a story about a man. The entire story takes place on a park bench. Pretty interesting, huh? This man has a name, but nobody knows it. It’s Fred, by the way – his name that is. Another one of those plain names. Maybe that’s why his story has remained untold for so long. I can relate, but I digress. I must stay focused lest my creator banish me from existence. I have seen him do it before.

Seated on this park bench, Fred stares at the sidewalk in front of him. He wears a brown hooded jacket and tattered blue jeans that look as if they have been worn for the past week and a half. Truth is, they have probably been worn for much longer than that. He holds a can of peach slices in his one hand, picking out the pieces of fruit from the syrup inside with great care. He doesn’t want to waste the juice. It is sustenance that he needs to help him get through the day.

Fred tilts his head to the side as a mom walks by with her young son. He must be ashamed of his primitive existence here on the bench. He looks away to avoid eye contact. No one has seen his eyes, it seems. People waltz by talking on their cell phone, listening to their music, absorbed in their own world. They are oblivious to the existence of this other human being – one who deserves to have their story heard as much as anyone else. But no one stops to ask what that story is.

He snorts long and hard through his nostrils. The cold fall weather, his clothes that inadequately cover his extremities, and the evident malnutrition has probably led to some medical condition that will never be diagnosed, never treated, and will only cause his health to deteriorate further over time.

It seems like a sad life, doesn’t it? To our materialistic and egocentric selves, yes. But, you see, I think that is why I exist. If only for a fleeting moment, I am that unspoken voice that finally edges his way into the conversation to shed some light on reality – and the truth.

Remember when I said no one knew Fred’s name? No one cared enough to ask? I suppose that’s why I did ask. Well, I can’t ask of course. I don’t exist, remember? But, I somehow coerced my inventor to carry out this request on my behalf. It’s not something he usually does so I was quite surprised by his obliging manner. I was even more surprised – and I think he was too – by what happened next.

“Good morning, what’s your name?”

“Fred.”

Just one word was spoken, and yet the message conveyed through those steel blue eyes spoke a seemingly infinite number of words painted in the most charismatic hues. Time seemed to stand still. Yeah, I know, it’s one of the clichés you find in those other stories. This was no cliché, however – this was real. It was as if the rewind button had been pressed, the movie just witnessed was replayed frame by frame in the space between our collective eyes, momentarily locked upon each other.

Fred stared at the ground – he wasn’t mired in feelings of self-pity and depression. He was watching the line of ants navigating around the twig at his feet. Undeterred, the tiny insects always seemed to find a way to persevere and survive despite their lacking physical endowments. Inspiration from an ant – the same ants that are considered pesky and annoying to the rest of us.

house-wrenFred tilted his head – he wasn’t ashamed of his disheveled appearance or poverty stricken lifestyle. He was simply directing his good ear towards the chirping bird in the tree above him. The house wren was plain and simple in appearance. And yet, he was still able to create beautiful and exquisite music. No one could ever convince him that he should not sing his song to the world. Everyone else misses out on these simple pleasures. We have a cell phone to our ear. We have our latest mile time to beat. We have more important things to worry about. Not Fred. No, not Fred.

Fred snorts through his nostrils – he isn’t sick, not yet at least. No, he is grabbing hold of that crisp fall air as it blows by him. Pulling it back through his nostrils, he inhales it deeply into his lungs. The air, filled with the scent of fall leaves, sends a message to his subconscious mind. He is catapulted back to his childhood, recalling fond memories of jumping into the leaves that his dad had just raked into a tall pile under the giant oak tree in his backyard. He is struck with a sense of humility – and gratitude. Things can change in the blink of an eye. He appreciated what he had now, even if it was only a can of peaches and a second or third hand brown hooded jacket. It could be much worse. Of course, the rest of us look upon this situation and feel a mix of pity, remorse, maybe even anger – surely, it couldn’t get any worse than this – and geez, all you have to do is get off your butt and do something. You have control over your own life, after all.

listen-to-the-quietest-whispersHard to believe, isn’t it? All this from a glance into someone’s eyes. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Things are rarely as they appear on the surface. Maybe that’s the whole point though. We don’t really know how a story is going to unfold before our eyes. We can’t appreciate the seemingly insignificant or misconstrued details until we decide to listen to a story – deeply – whether it’s through our eyes, our ears, or those unspoken voices inside our head that we seem to neglect far too often.

Home again

Author’s Note: This is the final installment of a six part story. If you would like to read the previous chapters before the finale, please visit: Chapter 1 – The keyChapter 2 – Plus oneChapter 3 – The seedChapter 4 – Step by step, and Chapter 5 – Hope.

lighthouse-portland-maineDamon had a suspicion the numbers he found scribbled in the margin of that book by T.S. Eliot would be the last ones he’d encounter on this memorable journey – because he recognized them. There were no other clues to be deciphered, just the coordinates that would lead him back to his home in a seaside town just outside of Portland, Maine.

As he exited the public library, the two facial expressions staring back at Damon from the base of the marble steps held a look teetering back and forth between enthusiasm and anxiety. One was human, the other canine. Jo, the co-owner of a restaurant in rural Virginia had her eyes locked on the exit door in anticipation. Gryffin, Damon’s loyal golden retriever, began to tug on the leash when he caught a glimpse of his owner. Jo allowed Gryffin to lead the way, although not entirely by choice. She began to stumble as Gryffin pulled her along towards Damon, the distance closing quickly.

As they reached audible range, Jo not wanting to wait any longer, called out to Damon, “Did you find it? What did it say?” Gryffin followed suit with an imploring bark. The semi-confused look on Damon’s face left her with a feeling of apprehension. Damon was still attempting to process what he was supposed to do next, other than return home. “Was there nothing there?” asked Jo hesitantly.

“No, no. There was definitely something there. I’m just not sure what to do next,” responded Damon.

“Well, lay it on me. We’ll all figure it out together,” urged Jo.

“There was another quote – in the book, that is. It was highlighted and in the margin were a set of coordinates that lead back to my new house,” offered Damon.

“What was the quote?” asked Jo.

“It was by T.S. Eliot – We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Damon recited the quote from memory. It had already been catalogued in his mental library.

“Well, am I missing something?” asked Jo. “It seems pretty obvious that you’re supposed to return home.”

“Yeah, I get that part,” responded Damon, “I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do when I get there.”

faith-take-the-first-step“Hey, remember that parchment that came with the acorn?” asked Jo. Damon reached into his pocket to grab hold of the acorn, making sure that it was still there. Jo continued, “There was an important word in that quote. Remember it? Faith. Let’s just have faith that we’ll figure it out once we get there.”

“So, you still want to continue on with us?” inquired Damon. “I wasn’t sure if you would just want to return to the restaurant. It’s only a couple hours away.” Damon couldn’t believe that he was even proposing something so far against what he actually desired, to have Jo accompany him on the final leg of this journey back to his hometown. He chided himself internally for allowing something so foolish to escape his lips.

“No way, compadre, you’re stuck with me now,” smiled Jo. “I was serious about new beginnings back on that mountaintop. My sister can take care of the restaurant. It was always her special project anyway. This is my new beginning. I’m not sure where it’s going to end up, but I do know the next stop on the journey.”

With the sun beginning to set on another day filled with fortuitous discoveries, the driving duties were transferred back to Jo. With a desire to close the gap slightly between their present position and final destination, the truck and its three occupants began to head north on the interstate. The conversation was quiet as the speakers streamed uninterrupted tunes from the satellite radio. After about three hours, somewhere near the New York border, Damon shook his head slightly as if to keep his eyelids from involuntarily shutting. Looking over at Jo, he could tell that she was beginning to show signs of exhaustion too. It had been a long day.

Damon reached over, turned down the volume, and proposed one final layover on their journey. “How about we find a place to get some rest? We can get on the road first thing in the morning and be back in Maine before noon.”

“Sure, that sounds good,” said Jo as she allowed a yawn to escape mid-sentence. As if the offer of rest had provided her second wind, Jo felt compelled to share something. “You know, these last couple days, they have been a lot of fun.”

“Yeah, same goes for me,” replied Damon. “I’m just not quite used to so much spontaneity in my life.”

“Funny,” chuckled Jo, “I think that’s one of the things that made it so enjoyable for me.”

“Maybe you’re right,” smirked Damon, “I never thought about it that way.” Finding a pet friendly hotel just off the interstate, the last thoughts Damon entertained before succumbing to sleep left him with a smile in his heart.

The following morning brought with it an intense feeling of anticipation – the three travelers just weren’t sure what they were anticipating yet. The remaining few hours of their journey passed quickly. Damon had beaten his estimate by a good hour as he rolled into his hometown a little before eleven o’clock.

As he coasted into the driveway and turned off the engine, Damon stared ahead at the front door in front of him, “Okay, now what?”

“Well, you could give me a tour, you know,” said Jo smiling.

“Sure, right, where are my manners?” replied Damon. Gryffin was at the front door waiting to enter with his tail wagging excitedly. Damon guided Jo through a brief tour of the old house, boxes still strewn around each of the rooms they walked through. “It’s not much yet, but it has a lot of potential,” offered Damon somewhat defensively.

As they entered the bathroom attached to his bedroom, a thought occurred to Damon. The coordinates led him to his house. That was obvious. There was another clue in that library, one that he didn’t consider too closely until now. He recalled the quote once again, whispering it to himself – We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Where we started – that phrase stuck with him. This was the exact location beneath the sink where everything began. This is where the brass key still hanging around his neck was found wrapped in twine.

wooden-floorboardHe stood there, motionless, for a few moments before he recalled the dull thud that sounded when the ball of wet twine made contact with the wooden floorboard beneath the pipe. Damon returned to that floorboard, got down on his hands and knees, and looked at it a bit more closely.

Jo, sensing that Damon was on to something but not wanting to disrupt the flow, bent over to look but remained silent. The nails securing this particular floorboard were missing. Reaching his fingers into the tiny gap between the wall and floorboard, he noticed that he was able to pry back the piece of wood quite easily. There was a sealed container built into the space beneath the floor. Placed inside it was another piece of parchment rolled up and tied with a red ribbon.

Rising back to his feet, Damon untied the ribbon and unrolled the sheet with Jo standing next to him. Together, they silently read the quote etched in the same perfect penmanship that they had come to know so well.

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. ~ Joseph Campbell

Damon just smiled. Of course. Had he known that the final piece of his journey was right under his nose when he discovered the brass key, he would have most likely jumped to the conclusion straightaway. And look what he would have missed out on – adventure, friendship, lessons in giving, receiving, and perhaps most importantly – love. Love of others and love of self.

“Wow,” offered Damon to Jo, “this certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.” And then he smiled and continued on, “But, you know what, I think that’s what makes it all that more special.”

“I guess I’m rubbing off on you,” smiled Jo as she bumped shoulders with Damon. “Hey, you know what,” said Jo with an intriguing twist in her voice, “I just thought of something. How do you spell your name?”

Damon wasn’t catching on quite yet, but he played along, “D-A-M-O-N,” replied Damon. “Why, what does that have to do with anything?” he continued.

“I was just thinking. Reverse the letters of your name, and what do they spell?” offered Jo.

“N-O-M-A-D. You’re a nomad, a wanderer. And what you have chosen to do over the past week has been exactly that – you have wandered from place to place for the sake of wandering, to explore, to be alive.”

Damon was beginning to appreciate this woman more and more with every passing minute. Maybe he was living life up until this point as his name – backwards. But he had more than a fleeting clue now. He had a revelation, and he certainly felt alive, more alive and vibrant than he had in his entire life.

flowers-of-tomorrowReaching into his pocket, he retrieved the acorn and placed it on his bathroom sink – a constant reminder to embrace new beginnings. “How about some lunch? I know this great seafood place just down the road. It sits right on the water.” Winking at Jo, Damon continued on, “I did promise, and I always do my best to keep promises.” An endearing grin spread across Jo’s face as she replied, “I’ll have to remember that.” As Damon took Jo’s hand in his own, another seed was planted in this wanderer’s life – one that he knew would flourish given time – and faith.

Author’s Note: This has been a wonderful adventure filled with discovery not only for Damon, Jo, and Gryffin – but also for the author. I hope that it has been as much fun and rewarding for you to read it as it has been for me to write it. I sincerely thank everyone who took the time to follow along on this journey over the past month and share their thoughts – it means more than you can possibly know. May the coming days, weeks, and years bring each of you wandering journeys filled with unbounded love and inspiration – a little faith goes a long way. ~Dave Cenker

Take flight

bahamas

Author’s Note: This is the final chapter of a story previously published. If you would like to read the first part, please visit Sizzle.

It was the jarring memory from eleven years in the past that put Bryan on edge. It involved his sister and her disappearance in a single engine plane while en route to the Bahamas. The wreckage was never located, if there was any in the first place. There was no closure to a tormenting time in Bryan’s life. He was left with unanswered questions and a debilitating apprehension that required any separation of his feet from the earth below him.

“I appreciate the offer, but no thanks,” replied Bryan. He felt guilty turning down the opportunity to extend their relationship beyond the final fifteen minutes of his last cooking class, but this was too far out of his comfort zone. Way too far. Bryan didn’t know, however, that Ted was not only outgoing and personable, he was also quite persuasive.

“C’mon dude, it’d be a blast. Listen, you come with me and I’ll dress up to the nines to attend one of your fancy jazz concerts,” retorted Ted.

Bryan, feeling fidgety even allowing himself to consider the offer, attempted to voice his concern, “It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just …”

Ted sensed the body language being communicated by Bryan. He didn’t allow the silence to hang in the air for too long, “You scared?” he asked. Although it wasn’t part of his normal character, Ted didn’t look at Bryan as he said it so as not to appear too condescending.

“Yes … and no, I don’t know,” replied Bryan, who was confused himself by the response.

“Flip the shrimp, man, they’re gonna burn,” admonished Ted. Bryan had gotten so caught up in his emotions and repressed memories that he lost track of the prawns beginning to char in the skillet for the second time.

Returning to the methodical routine of stirring, listening to the sizzling oscillate in volume as the shrimp were moved from one side of the skillet to the other, Bryan suddenly felt an inviting calmness wash over him. He shared exactly why he rejected Ted’s offer, right down to the very last painful detail. It wasn’t something that Bryan ever felt comfortable doing, spilling his guts, but it felt good, and therapeutic.

Who knows whether it was Ted’s decision to be a sounding board in what he would usually consider an uncomfortable baring of the soul, or if it was a few teaspoons of compassion that he had intuitively added to the recipe of his own soul. Whatever it was, Ted’s compelling argument aimed at Bryan kicked into high gear.

“Hey, it’s safer than driving. There are less planes in the air than there are cars on a highway. And you can be sure as hell that there are plenty of drivers on the road that shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car. Every pilot has to go through a flight review every two years.”

Sensing that Bryan was getting closer to favorable reception of his argument, but not quite there yet, he continued on, playing to the intellectual mind of his cooking partner, “These planes are awesome gliders. They have a five to one glide ratio. That means if we’re five thousand feet in the air and we lose the engine – highly unlikely mind you – we have a twenty five mile radius to find a place to put her down safely – in a field, on the beach, even on a back road. Hey, I’m that good, you know it,” he said with a devilish grin.

tux-with-bow-tieBryan was still quiet, but Ted could see he was on the cusp of winning over his friend’s allegiance. So, he went for the knockout punch. “Hey, you do this, and I’ll even wear a bow tie to the jazz concert.”

The smile that spread across Bryan’s face sealed the deal. It didn’t mean it was going to be easy, but Bryan could not pass up the opportunity to see Ted in a bow tie. He’d have his camera at the ready to preserve that moment, for sure.

It was a crisp, fall Saturday morning, uncharacteristic for this time of year in Florida. Ted was going through his pre-flight calculations when Bryan came through the hangar door. The look on Bryan’s face was as if he had just come face to face with a banshee preying on his soul to strip him of his very existence. He knew it was unreasonable, but he couldn’t help how he felt.

As Ted completed the walk-around of his aircraft, he explained everything that he was doing to assuage the fear radiating from Bryan’s skin – checking the oil and fuel level, confirming the operation of flaps, ailerons, and elevators, insuring proper inflation in the landing gear tires. Ted was extra vigilant to be sure that he was following every protocol, and to give Bryan time to warm up to what was coming next.

As Ted pushed the window open and yelled, “Clear prop!”, he started the engine and contacted the tower for clearance. He glanced over at Bryan and spoke to him through the headsets on their heads, “Hey, lighten up bro. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.” Bryan feigned a smile.

As they sat perched at the end of a runway, like a bird resting on a twig, they awaited clearance for takeoff. “November four-niner-one foxtrot tango, you are cleared for takeoff, departure to the south approved,” came the announcement from the tower controller.

“Here we go,” said Ted as he advanced the throttle slowly to full power. Everything began to escalate in intensity – the noise, the vibration, the heartbeat. Bryan’s entire body was tensing up in protest, holding on to the door handle, half thinking he could still open it and jump out without too much injury.

And then … his feet were no longer connected to the earth below him. The noise level diminished, the vibration levels receded, and it felt as if he was being carried gently into the heavens above him, ever so closer to his sister. Despite the reduced levels of noise and vibration, Bryan’s heartbeat did not follow suit.

It didn’t remain elevated out of fear. Rather, the feelings tugging at his heart transformed from ones of fear to ones of awe and inspiration. The landscape unfolding before him left Bryan breathless. The Atlantic Ocean looked like a sheet of glass, the rising sun just peeking over the tips of the cumulus clouds sitting on the horizon.

Inexplicably and uncontrollably, one word came from Bryan’s lips through the headset, “Wow.”

Ted peeked over and saw the more relaxed look on his passenger’s face, “Yeah, I think that’s what everyone says the first time they experience this. Let me tell you, it’s rather addictive, in a good way of course.”

sunrise-atlantic-oceanWe’re born alone, we live alone, and we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone. ~ Orson Welles

This was no illusion. Bryan was sure of it. And even if it was some deceptive imagery from an alternate universe, even if none of this was really real, he couldn’t possibly deny the presence of the emotions coursing through his veins. Yep, this was good enough for him. Well, almost good enough. He still couldn’t wait to see Ted in a bow tie. There was no way he was going to let him wriggle out of that one. It was another memory – in what appeared to be an unlikely friendship – that would make his life one worth remembering, alone or not.

Blind date

model-red-dressOne step after another, Sara strutted down the stone street, red dress accentuating the curves that secured the modeling position she had held for the past six years. At twenty-five years old, the desire for more than monetary success and fame was beginning to stir inside her. She was on four different billboards across the greater metropolitan area. Her face had graced the cover of three major magazines, twice each. Sara had it all to anyone looking from the outside. From the inside, however, the situation looked much different.

Her days were consumed with constant focus on what she ate, what she did, what she wore, all for the sake of career advancement. If she were to gain five pounds or lose the silky smooth complexion of her skin, she was at risk of being replaced by another young woman who had a winning ticket in the genetic lottery. In the name of job security, Sara sacrificed her own feelings of personal security and identity. It was beginning to weigh on her in a way that had nothing to do with pounds read on a scale. She desperately ached for a connection with another human being in a meaningful and non-superficial way.

At the conclusion of this premiere fashion show situated on the shores of Miami Beach, she had two weeks of undisturbed vacation time to do as she pleased. Consumed with the focus on her aspiring career, Sara’s plan for the ensuing fortnight remained latent. The possibilities were unlimited but unexplored. She lacked the energy to plan the rejuvenation and reflection she needed so desperately in her life. Driving north towards her home in Fort Lauderdale, Sara decided to let chance decide the location for her personal holiday. Passing a billboard on the interstate, an image of her eyes stared back at her. She remembered that photo shoot, designed to advertise the city marathon being conducted the following month. “Marathon,” she thought aloud. As if through some subliminal connection, Sara decided in that moment to spend her two weeks in the Florida Keys. Marathon, located in the middle keys, was midway between the hustle and bustle of Miami and Key West, a perfect location for both physical and mental repose.

florida-keys-bridgeCruising over the span of highway that connected the mainland and Key Largo, this was Sara’s first expedition to Monroe County. Forget about entering a new county, she felt as though she was entering a new country, a different universe. The turquoise waters on either side of the narrow road caressed her disheartened spirit. She could certainly buy into the adage that it was more about the journey than the destination. Sara could just keep driving all day, each mile melting away the anxiety and tension that had recently taken control of her life.

The ninety minute drive passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye. As she rolled into the gravel parking lot, the cardboard sign hanging in the office window was short and sweet, “Be back in ten minutes.” Everything seemed to move slower in the Keys, or so she had heard. The soothing breeze and the hammock draped between two palm trees on the adjacent beach transformed that ten minute wait into a half hour respite as she closed her eyes and listened to the gentle lapping of water along the shoreline.

After a cordial exchange with the manager of the hotel, Sara checked into her kitschy room that was characteristic of the Florida Keys. The lavender exterior, tile floors, teal paint on the interior walls, and bedspreads adorned with large depictions of Florida native birds was overshadowed by the stunning view out Sara’s sliding door. With palm fronds dipping just into her view off the back awning, they framed a scenic panorama of the Atlantic Ocean that left her breathless.

Sara traveled light. After the hordes of outfits and accessories that accompanied her on various professional engagements, it was refreshing to have a single suitcase, the most recent mystery novel published by her favorite author, and her laptop. Relying upon the intermittent Wi-Fi signal provided by the hotel, Sara searched for dinner options. As if the signal had some control over the search results, the most highly recommended location was less than fifty paces away. Viewed as a small dive from the front of the establishment, the magnificent over-water deck view from the back was only surpassed by a promise for the most succulent conch fritters in the Keys. Easy decision, thought Sara. She was slipping right into the flavorful ambiance of this simpler life.

Requesting a table near the edge of the deck, the hostess happily obliged. Peering over the edge, Sara could see the fish swimming about, eagerly awaiting the scraps that were sure to fall into the water over these dinner hours. Even though she fancied a hankering for the proverbial cheeseburger in paradise, she opted instead for the grouper sandwich, and the conch fritters of course.

key-largo-sunsetAs Sara waited for her meal to arrive, she sipped at her iced tea and watched as the dusk sky transformed before her eyes, different hues of blue, violet, and orange painted across the horizon. The guitarist in the corner was playing a live rendition of Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes. The relatively minor change in latitude was not commensurate with this unexpected change in attitude. Everything was just, well, right and in tune at this very moment. The flames flickering atop the tiki torches danced in beat with the syncopated strums on the guitar while Sara tumbled farther into a state of complete relaxation and tranquility.

It was only the repeated voice, each request becoming louder than the last that brought Sara out of her pleasant daze. “Excuse me, miss?” She finally looked away from the horizon and towards the two men towering over her at the moment. Both of them wore sunglasses, which seemed unnecessary given the location of the setting sun just beginning to dip below the horizon. One gentleman, the one speaking, was much bulkier than the other, dressed in the formal wear reminiscent of a bodyguard. The other man, dressed much more casually in a pair of jeans and a white button down shirt smiled. He could smell the pleasant aroma of the perfume emanating from Sara’s pores.

The larger gentleman, once he realized that Sara had finally acknowledged their presence, spoke up, “Would you mind terribly if my client shares this table with you?” Looking around, Sara realized two things. First, she must have been away for quite some time because the entire deck was now filled with patrons. Second, those conch fritters must be the best in the Keys. Initially, Sara was hesitant. Was this some agent looking to exploit her talents? Was she recognized despite this relatively secluded destination, from a modeling perspective at least? But, looking at the younger man, the less formally dressed one, she sensed something different. Even though she couldn’t see his eyes, she could read his body language. There was nothing about his appearance that suggested manipulation. “Sure,” she said, “have a seat.” Whether it was the sweet and sultry tone of her voice or simply the invitation to join her, the young man’s smile widened.

Sitting down, he looked across at her from behind his shades and introduced himself, “How are you doing? My name is Jack. Thanks for allowing me to join you. I appreciate it.”

“No problem, what brings you to these parts?” replied Sara.

“Just a little R&R, you know, reading and riting,” he joked.

“Heh, I’m here for the more traditional definition of R&R. Where are you from?” asked Sara.

“Upstate New York. I’m an author. Well, I’m working on becoming an author. I haven’t really published anything yet, but I’m fervently working on it.”

“Ah, now that whole reading and riting reference makes a bit more sense,” replied Sara. “What do you write?”

Jack was used to this question. It seemed to be one of two replies that came after the admission that he was a writer. Half of the time it was what do you write? The other half of the time it was, Oh, I’m sorry in a rather sarcastic tone. Jack was happy to hear the less sarcastic response on this particular occasion.

“I’ve always been fascinated with Doyle’s work, specifically Sherlock Holmes. He’s been one of my biggest inspirations. So, I’m trying to break into the mystery genre.”

“Funny,” smirked Sara. “That happens to be my genre of choice too. Well, mystery/thriller, I guess. I haven’t read a lot of the classic stuff, but I really enjoy the contemporary writers like Patterson, Connelly, Deaver, and Koontz.”

For the next thirty minutes, in between bites of food and sips from her drink, Jack and Sara exchanged book reviews, favorite characters, and what each perceived as the most interesting plot ideas without realizing how quickly time had passed. For the first time in as long as she could remember, her stressful and high profile life in South Florida was the last thing on her mind.

sunglasses-on-tableDespite the wonderful time that she was enjoying with this complete stranger, there was something that kept popping into Sara’s consciousness, poking her in the side as if to say hey, something’s not quite right. She kept shoving it away, this nagging thought, not wanting to disturb the delight of the moment. Then she realized what it was, his glasses. Why was he still wearing them when it was clearly unnecessary? Hers were on the table in front of them. Maybe he was just one of those insecure individuals who preferred to hide behind a mask. Sara could certainly relate. Curiosity, however, got the better of her.

The inquisitive and distracted look on her face was communicated through the inflection and intonation in her words. Jack immediately picked up on it. He was an astute individual when it came to recognizing these subtleties. He beat her to the chase, “So, you’re wondering why I’m still wearing my glasses, huh?”

“Um, yeah, how did you know that? Are you a mind reader too,” joked Sara, easing up a bit once he admitted the oddity of the situation himself.

“No, but I do get that question a lot. I guess I’m just used to it. I wear these glasses, pretty much 24/7 because I’m blind,” replied Jack.

The silence that filled the gap between them might as well have been a chasm. It wasn’t that she was put off by his comment, just surprised. The thoughts racing through her mind were escaping faster than she could process them. She didn’t want to apologize for his blindness. That was too pitying and something that Jack had probably heard way too often. A blind writer, how does that work? She felt embarrassed at such shallow thoughts. Without thinking, Sara let similar words slip out of her mouth to fill the void, “That must make being a writer pretty challenging.”

helen-keller-quoteAs soon as the words left her mouth, Sara felt the awkwardness that they created, if not for Jack, at least for her. Jack seemed to take it in stride, used to fielding this common question among his new acquaintances. “It used to be,” said Jack, “but I came across a quote from Helen Keller shortly after my eyesight failed me. The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to write. But, I never had the courage to take a leap into the unknown. I was blinded by what society said I should have done instead of what my heart was telling me. I was the epitome of that quote. I had my sight without any vision of what could or should be.”

Sara was left with a smile on her face that Jack could sense even though he couldn’t see it. Sara had always had a strong penchant for inspirational and motivational quotes. She had a notebook full of them in her apartment. She recalled one of them that seemed to fit perfectly well into this exact situation. “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see – Mark Twain,” Sara replied with the smile still impressed upon her face.

It started as an awkward gaffe concerning blind writers, and morphed into an engaging heart-to-heart exchange of beloved quotes by these two strangers sitting across from each other at the table. Like a dueling piano bar, the words were tossed back and forth, each one feeding off the last.

Jack: “A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. – William Arthur Ward”

Sara: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. – Dr. Seuss”

Jack: “It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper; so cry away. – Charles Dickens”

Sara: “The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray. – Oscar Wilde”

Jack: “The process of going from confusion to understanding is a precious, even emotional, experience that can be the foundation of self-confidence. – Brian Greene”

Jack was victorious, for with that last offering, Sara was left speechless. A quote from a theoretical physicist, someone completely outside her domain, shook something inside her loose and she began to feel a tear forming in the corner of her eye. It was not a tear of sadness, nor a tear of happiness. It was a tear of revelation. The chaos of her life situation awash with confusion suddenly became one of understanding.

Sara had craved a relationship with another human being. In that moment, however, she realized that what she really needed; at first at least, was a connection to her true self, without the distractions of what she was supposed to be. All the stress she felt prior to this temporary escape from her life back home came flooding back through the tears she shed. As quickly as they arrived, however, they disappeared, carrying all the superficial expectations with them, forever.

Sensing a change of venue might serve both of them well, Jack inquired, “How about a stroll along the water?”

“That sounds like a great idea,” sobbed Sara as she wiped the tears away.

couple-on-beachAs the unlikely couple stepped on to the beach, a natural affinity brought one hand into the other. And if as by some intangible connection, both had the same quote streaming through their consciousness.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. – Lao Tzu

Sara felt blessed. She had finally found the courage to love herself. She was no longer blinded. The sun may have been setting over the horizon, but it was just beginning to rise on the possibilities for her future.

Uncharted

sara-bareillesThere are points in our life that we find ourselves on a precipice, teetering back and forth. A battle ensues between the rational mind and the impassioned heart. Step back toward solid ground, implores the sensible intellect. Take the leap, begs the courageous soul. Back and forth the maelstrom intensifies, leaving our physical presence stagnant. Disarray, chaos, and confusion suffocate what seems like the last breath of fresh air waiting to be exhaled from our lungs. Until the tiniest of nudges sends us over the edge, tumbling into uncharted territory. And suddenly it feels beautiful.

I pen these words in a moment of faith and hope. It has been less than forty-eight hours since I was coaxed into the dark abyss of the unknown. I want to give these emotions time to evolve, to come of age in my soul. I feel them intensifying. I don’t want to bring them into this world before their time. And yet, neither do I want to lose the rawness of those same emotions. I have decided that now is the time, the perfect time.

Traveling north on the interstate, my destination is St. Augustine Amphitheater for the second time in as many months. I have a peculiar habit of listening to the music I am going to hear live while driving, a concert before the concert, if you will. Streaming from the speakers in shuffle mode is a combination of perfectly produced studio recordings alongside the imperfections and subtle nuances that can only be captured in a live recording. The anticipation of a concert experience I had been looking forward to for months had me wanting to press down on the accelerator of my Mustang with a little more enthusiasm. This was one of those times where I am pleased that my rational mind prevailed.

As the ambient lights faded, an energy surged through the crowd as evidenced by the deafening pleas for the featured artist, Sara Bareilles, to appear. The electric blue lights illuminating the stage lit a fire inside that began what turned out to be a magical and breathtaking evening. The two hours from my seat in section 202 passed in the blink of an eye, the infusion of inspiration closely guarded and carried with me as I take a leap of my own.

There are singers. There are performers. And there are artists. Sara Bareilles is an artist. She takes the words, lyrics, and melodies of a song, one that you have heard a hundred times before, and transforms them into something new, like a song that you are hearing for the very first time. It’s a brush with genius that words cannot convey. It must be experienced to fully appreciate the significance of its impression. I heard many of my favorite offerings by Sara: Gravity, Chasing The Sun, Brave, King Of Anything. There were two songs, however, that moved me into an unexpected state of enchantment.

she-used-to-be-mineFor the past eighteen months, Sara has been working on the musical score for a Broadway show set to premiere next year, Waitress. As the opening notes of her song She Used To Be Mine carried towards the ears of her audience, they bypassed the physical senses and headed straight for the soul. A heart-wrenching, introspective, and incredibly powerful love ballad brought tears to my eyes. I don’t even know why it is that those tears materialized. I don’t know that I was either happy or sad. To be honest, I didn’t care. I was just moved. We don’t always need to understand why it is that we feel a particular way. We just need to decide to feel. That is enough. A true artist has the power to kindle that emotional reverberation. With the final note of this spellbinding performance, I came to the realization that I was not alone in my sentiments. In unison, three thousand other fans, connected by a riveting rendition of emotional portrayal, found themselves standing in awe and appreciation. It was a moment, maybe the moment.

Compare where you are to where you want to be, and you’ll get nowhere. ~Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

I have listened to this song time after time: on the radio, on my copy of Kaleidoscope Heart, on my Sara Bareilles Pandora station. It wasn’t until I experienced it live, however, that it finally hit home. Maybe it was the surge of emotion washing over me at this point in the concert. Maybe it was a connection to the fear, doubt, and uncertainty conveyed through the vocal chords of this gifted musician. Whatever it was, I found myself ready to enter uncharted territory of my own.

I won’t go as a passenger, waiting for the road to be laid. Though I may be going down, I’m taking flame over burning out. I’m already out of foolproof ideas, so don’t ask me how to get started. It’s all uncharted. ~Sara Bareilles, Uncharted

little-black-dressInspire and be inspired. It is my mental anthem, my guiding principle. I have been inspired in a very unique and compelling fashion. I may never grasp the breadth of influence that was provided to me on this special evening. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t aspire to inspire the world, one person at a time. It’s all uncharted after all. And that’s what it makes it so incredibly beautiful and wonderful.