The key

old-faucetDrip, drip, drip, drip. The rhythmic sound of water hitting the porcelain sink was not soothing – not now. Damon was seated on his bed, laptop open, headset secured over his right ear, awaiting the quarterly communications meeting that never seemed to occur at a convenient time for east coast employees.

Damon had made this small northeastern seaside town his new home less than a year ago. He would have been perfectly happy to remain in the one bedroom apartment he had taken residence in since his cross country relocation. As was the case for most of his life, however, he gave in to the desires of others too easily.

The one constant in Damon’s life for the past ten years had been Gryffin, the golden retriever now curled up beside him on the bed. Apartment policy had dictated that pets would no longer be permitted in the complex without an exorbitant surcharge imposed on the monthly rent payment. Instead of opposing the injustice injected into his life, Damon cowered to pay the additional amount until it became too much for him to afford.

That’s how he found himself in this drafty abode with creaky floorboards, dripping sinks, and a leaky roof. The abandoned house on the edge of town was the epitome of a fixer-upper. The real estate agent had advised him that the house had not been occupied in over fifty years and had many problems. In a moment of unprecedented stubbornness, however, Damon ignored the warnings and purchased the property – as much an attempt at portraying a resolute personality as it was the need for a place to live. The fact that his monthly mortgage payment would be less than his rent payment, it was easy to rationalize the decision.

“Welcome to the third quarter communications meeting,” came the voice through the monotone speaker secured over his head. As the voice lagged behind the slides displayed on his laptop, just enough to annoy him, Damon sighed and double checked that his microphone was muted. The company had registered a banner quarter with revenues increasing in a way that had Wall Street advising investment in his company much more aggressively.

If only the company would invest in their employees the same way, thought Damon. Over the course of the next fifty minutes, the buzzwords were casually tossed into every other sentence – alignment, sustainability, exit strategy, paradigm shift, and organic growth. If he had been playing buzzword bingo, Damon would have won five times over, the prize being an invitation to yet another quarterly meeting three months from now – another six paychecks in his checking account, another twelve weeks of his life lost to the aspirations of others.

golden-retrieverAs the meeting concluded, Damon closed the lid of his laptop, and set the headset on top while simultaneously reaching for the brown head of tousled fur next to him. Closing his eyes, Damon slipped into a meditative state – almost. Plop, plop, plop, plop. The cadence of the improvised musical composition had changed. Instead of water meeting porcelain, water was now meeting water.

Walking into the bathroom adjacent to his bedroom, Damon found the leaky faucet now dripping into a puddle accumulating in the basin. He knew there would be work to do. He didn’t expect it to be the day after he moved in. He had only used the sink to shave and brush his teeth in the morning. The leaky faucet was one problem he would have to address later, but the clogged drain could not wait. With the rate that it was filling up, Damon would have an overflowing sink and wet floor by the next morning.

Resigning to the immediate task at hand, Damon found his way out into the living room. Digging through the unpacked boxes, he located the one labeled “garage” in black marker and ripped it open. The assorted tools inside would become his best friends over the next several months. Right now, he just needed the pipe wrench. Retrieving it from the box along with a few other tools, just in case, he returned to the bathroom with Gryffin following behind, tail wagging.

Placing a bucket beneath the area he would be working on, Damon placed the wrench around the pipe and tightened it. The whole time, Gryffin sat there watching as if he would surely jump in and help if only he had been blessed with opposable thumbs. Damon treated him as he would a father his own son, explaining everything he was doing as if Gryffin might actually be able to help at some point in the future.

Loosening the coupling joint, Damon removed the pipe as the trickle of water began to drain into the bucket beneath it. Steadily, the pool of water from the basin above fell into the bucket. The clog had not occurred between the drain and the point where the pipe was disconnected. Reaching into the other side with his index finger, Damon felt something. Unable to pull whatever it was out with his hands, he grabbed the pair of pliers, secured them around the object and pulled it out. With a wet thud, the ball of coiled string fell to the floor, landing on the aging wooden floorboards of his bathroom.

brass-skeleton-keyPerplexed by the appearance of the finely wrapped twine, Damon grabbed the end and began to unravel it. Inches turned into feet, until the final few wraps revealed an object embedded in the coil. The brass skeleton key had two numbers emblazoned on the side. As if to prove canine instincts were sharper than that of humans, Gryffin gave an abbreviated bark. Rising to attention, Gryffin began to wag his tail more animatedly, his panting becoming shallower. As Damon twirled the key in his fingers, he couldn’t help but feel the same way.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a six part “not-so-short” short story about self-discovery. A new segment will be published each Wednesday in December with the closing chapter being posted on the first Wednesday of 2015. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day and new year!

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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.

Sizzle

skillet-shrimpThe subconscious mind works to protect us from perceived dangers, even when those beliefs are illusory. The challenge is to look beyond the veil of misconception and see the situation for what it is – an opportunity – for personal growth, and connection to kindred spirits.

The scent of fresh shrimp, just pulled off the local fishing boat, filled the air as the sizzle of several skillets was interrupted by a voice from the front of the room.

“Okay, everyone, now we add the garlic, two teaspoons precisely. And prepare to be delighted by the masterpiece that evolves. Let it dance through the air and tiptoe along the edge of your sensory perception. Court it as you would a young lady from across the ballroom. Welcome it slowly, but surely into your presence. Admire its beauty and treat it with a degree of reverence.”

The cooking instructor was a bit over the top for Bryan’s taste, but he was pretty sure that the taste of the shrimp scampi he and his partner were concocting would more than make up for it. Bryan found himself here as a result of good luck. He’d always been interested in consuming fine food, but he had never really perfected the art of creating it. The free cooking class that he had won as a part of his company’s holiday luncheon party carried him to his present position over the sizzling skillet – this was their tenth and final lesson.

His cooking partner, for they always worked in pairs, was Ted. One was responsible for ingredient prep, the other for managing the actual cooking process. If it were the goal of this instructor to pair two polar opposites together, his objective had been attained. Bryan was quiet, reserved, introspective, and unassuming. Ted was all that negated – boisterous, bold, extroverted, and somewhat pretentious.

While Bryan kept his thoughts to himself on the commentary of the instructor, Ted could not restrain himself.

“What a pile of crap. You know, if he put as much thought into his cooking as he did with his words, his scampi might actually come close to competing with mine.”

He spoke just loud enough for the redhead at the next cooking station to hear him. He smiled and threw her a flirting glance. It wasn’t Bryan’s modus operandi, but for some reason he found himself enjoying the hour each week he spent with Ted and his complimentary personality. Bryan was quiet, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t have a sense of humor, or sarcasm.

Being their final lesson, Bryan would most likely find himself slipping back into his normal routine of comforting activities – curling up in the corner of the bookstore with a book of poetry, listening to classical jazz on his headphones at work, completing the most difficult Sudoku puzzles he could get his hands on, and of course, cooking a few gourmet meals along the way.

Ted would do the same with his own set of diametrically opposed activities, but he wouldn’t be doing it alone if he had anything to say about it. His extroverted personality and appreciation for the unlikely camaraderie formed between he and his cooking partner brought about a suggestion – one that would challenge Bryan’s moxie to embrace the uncomfortable and unexpected.

“Hey, bro, you know this is the last lesson, right?” inquired Ted without looking up from the cutting board.

Well, of course both Bryan and Ted knew. Their instructor had been almost bawling over how far he thought they had all come. He continued to express, ad nauseam, how he was so proud to be sending new budding chefs out into the world, like a parent preparing his son or daughter for everything the world had to offer them. Yeah, he was just a wee bit overblown in his assessment of the situation.

“Yeah, it’s been fun. I might actually eat more than frozen pizzas and canned ravioli now. I might even need to kick Chef Boyardee out of the house to make room for my new culinary offerings.” Bryan tried his best to appear witty. He was getting better, being around Ted, but it still didn’t quite come off as planned.

piper-cherokeeFeigning a grin, Ted continued, “You know, I’m a private pilot. I just bought my own plane, a low wing Piper. It’d be cool if we could take a flight together, maybe to a small airfield down south. There’s a good restaurant just off the runway. I hear they got shrimp scampi on the menu. We can measure it up against our rendition.”

Ted elbowed Bryan in a relaxed manner, allowing just a bit of his flamboyant and pretentious personality to shine through. Bryan noticed none of it, however, because he was suddenly consumed with fear. He hadn’t been in an airplane for years. He had relegated all travel activity to car, bus, or train. He even once took a cruise to the Caribbean in order to meet up with friends who flew there. Herculean levels of mental strength and fortitude would be required to surmount this imposing hurdle. Caught in a tug of war between friendship and fear, the shrimp in the skillet before Bryan began to char, along with his sense of courage.

Digging deep

calligraphy-journal

Author’s Note: This is the final installment of a three part story. If you would like to read the first two sections, please feel free to read Submission and Rejuvenate.

Maybe Jess should have waited before opening the journal, but there was something tugging at her from inside – call it women’s intuition, or just plain old human curiosity – that had her soiled fingers easily creasing the spine, as it had evidently been done many times in the past. Etched in perfect penmanship on the first page were words that looked vaguely familiar.

Nous avons tous nos secrets. Meme les mieux caches seront decouverts, souvent quand ils ne sont pas etre recherches.

The high school level French class that she was required to take many years ago provided Jess with a rudimentary understanding of the text. Standing behind her, Claire was just as captivated by the exquisite handwriting. It was almost as if the curls on the letters, the accent marks absent from the English language, pulled the two women into the page despite the fact they didn’t completely understand its content.

“Is that French?” asked Claire in a whisper, as if they were sharing their own little secret together in the privacy of her backyard.

“Yep, I think so,” replied Jess in a monotonic voice. “I’m a little rusty, but I think I am getting the general gist of things,” she continued as she traced her index finger over the page, picking up the meaning of every second or third word. Sensing the feeling of suspense in Claire’s voice, Jess shared her makeshift interpretation of the story unfolding on these pages.

As it turns out, it was a story of love – and betrayal. As the pages turned, one after another, it was revealed that the author of this journal was being drawn into a vicious maelstrom by his own mind, unable to fight the urges formulated by the dark corners of his psyche. The business trip was just supposed to be business, but it turned out to be much more. All because of a woman – again. The scent of her perfume, the look in her eyes, it was just too much for him to resist. In a matter of days, he had fallen into a trance, spellbound by the charm she didn’t realize she was casting.

Page after page, the story continued, each page almost turning itself in anticipation of the next revelation. It slowly transitioned from a story filled with conflict and moral dilemma into one of rationalization and vindication. And that’s when Jess came to the confounding conclusion of this memoir. Turning to the final page, there were no words on the page, just a three by five inch photograph.

“Is that …” began Claire, but she didn’t want to complete the sentence for fear of knowing the answer.

eiffel-towerJess’ hands began to tremble, her eyes fixated on the image that didn’t make any sense – but made perfect sense all the same. Standing in front of the base of a metal structure, presumably the Eiffel Tower, was a couple, man and woman, smiling at one another, each holding an infant aged boy in their arms. The resemblance was unmistakable. The man was a younger version of her own husband. That’s the part that made sense, even though it didn’t. That’s how the mind operates when it is so utterly disoriented. One part is trying to analyze the facts while the other part is shielding the subconscious self from emotional trauma.

What didn’t make sense was the woman beside him, the children in their arms, and the silver band around his left ring finger. It was much different than the gold one he was presumably wearing at this very moment. A tsunami of emotions washed over Jess, her fingers reflexively releasing their grip on the journal along with the caustic energy held inside it.

The thoughts and questions began to formulate quicker than Jess could process. What did this mean? If this story was what she thought it was, why was it here? She thought back to the cover of the journal, My Secrets – Chapter 5. Chapter five? Jess was the other woman in chapter five. Did that imply there were four other journals before this? Did they share a similar story? Was chapter six being written right now? Jess found the weight of this information could not be supported by her physical being – not now. Falling to her knees, she could do nothing more than stare blankly at the ground in front of her.

Claire placed a hand on Jess’ shoulder as the tears rolling down her cheek caught up with her rational mind. Jess was going to need to dig deep – in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with her professional calling – in order to emerge from the dark hole she now found herself in. Her emotional resilience would be stretched to its limits. Jess was already beginning to understand that she didn’t want or need the white picket fence. She just wanted to find the gate. She needed to find her way out. Thank goodness she now had a sister who would help her every step along the way.

Superpower

superhero-superman

Perched on the ledge of indecision

My cape is absent

Watching other creatures of our species rise to the challenge

Herculean strength exerted against the throngs of evil

I take a step back from the precipice

I am not worthy of this inflated status

Reserved for the exceptional ones

I am but a mere mortal

With no extraordinary powers to differentiate me from the masses

But then a thought strikes

Like a lightning bolt filled with electricity

Energy coursing through my veins

My subconscious unveils a secret force

The courage, the tenacity, the unequivocal resolve

To leap into the chasm of darkness unknown

That is what sets me apart

And validates my worthiness

To enter into this otherworldly universe of possibility

Whether I fall into the abyss or learn to fly

It is in making this choice and accepting my fate

That a seed of superpower capability is born

Transforming far-fetched dreams

Into an undeniable reality

No cape required

 

 

 

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.

 

Breakdown

redwood-highwayCruising down the long stretch of highway, a single lane in each direction, the eye could only perceive towering trees in both directions, like walls on either side of the road. The situation Gina found herself in felt about the same, with the walls closing in faster than she could handle.

With country tunes blaring from the red convertible, the boisterous wind was refused admission. Seated beside Gina was her best friend. Staring forward, lacking any emotion in her eyes, she supposed that was to be expected given Beth’s situation.

She had been dealt an awkward hand to play in the past week. The decision by her employer to outsource her position overseas left her without a paycheck. That was enough by itself. However, couple that with the unexpected death of her sister and the rift it created given the hidden secrets of her family’s past, and Gina could see why there was no emotion in Beth’s eyes. It had all been poured out in the tears that had now evaporated from existence.

In a desperate measure to help Beth cope with some of the overwhelming grief and disappointment that had been unfairly injected into her life, Gina arranged a weekend road trip to a resort on the coast. With a full spa and winery on site, there were therapeutic opportunities, of the physical and liquid variety, to help appease the pain. She had it all planned out.

Gina had always been good with actions, not so good with words. She was thankful for the loud music and wind. The less she needed to speak, the better it would be. It’s not that she didn’t want to talk. Gina just didn’t know how. She grew up in a family governed by strict rules and lectures. There was no questioning authority, ever. The consequences were proof of that. The scars on her psyche lived on for much longer than the lacerations on her back.

When given the opportunity to escape that physically and mentally abusive atmosphere, she fled with resolute intent. Working her way through college and graduate school on her own dime, she relied only upon herself. Trust, of anyone, was an issue for Gina. Rising to the executive level of her manufacturing company, she had earned the right to call the shots. Her motives, however, were misaligned. She didn’t thrive on the thought of being a leader. Rather, she feared the possibility of being controlled as she had in her childhood years. And so it had been for the past twenty years of her life, living a life based upon fear, doing everything in her power to remain free from the grips of authority.

The two hour drive to the resort was an opportunity for Gina and Beth to talk, but they didn’t. Beth was one of the few individuals in Gina’s life that she truly trusted. And yet, she had never fully confided in Beth. The countless thoughts racing through her mind never stopped long enough for her to grab on to them, to vocalize them. Or, at least, that was her explanation, even thought it sounded more like an excuse.

open-highwayAs they passed the wooden sign painted with white block letters, they left the national forest behind, the thoughts and secrets of the past fifty miles absorbed by the canopy of green foliage. The landscape morphed from towering trees to open land, the coastline less than thirty five minutes away.

Peeking over at Beth once again, Gina could see a solitary tear running down her cheek. She didn’t see how there could possibly be any left. Compelled to do what a friend is supposed to do in these situations, she attempted to persuade herself to reach over, turn off the radio, and actually have a conversation. Back and forth, she battled with her psyche to overcome her inner demons, but her two hands remained locked at ten and two on the steering wheel. As it turns out, that was a very good thing.

Gina had never heard a gunshot in close proximity to her. But what she heard could have been nothing else. Except it was something else. The compulsive urge for her car to veer over the white centerline towards the ditch on the left side of the road sent her instinctive action oriented mind into overdrive. Keeping her foot on the gas pedal and steering through the blowout, she slowly eased off the gas and gently applied the brakes until they came to a full stop on the left side of the road.

Staring at the manufacturer’s logo in the middle of her steering wheel, it took a few seconds for her mind to catch up with the crisis played out in the last thirty seconds. When she came back to her senses, she glanced over at Beth and shakily spoke, “Are you okay?” Beth, abruptly extracted from her trancelike state, responded in an unsettled voice, “Yeah, I think so.”

This is where Gina excelled. There was a problem that needed a resolution and she was already planning the required steps in her mind: get the vehicle off the road, assess the situation, and replace the tire. With Beth shadowing her, constantly asking how she could help, Gina kindly refused any assistance. She had it all handled. And, as it turned out, in a matter of twenty minutes, the spare tire was carrying them forward, if not towards their final destination.

It became perfectly clear after less than a few miles that something was amiss. The intermittent hiccup expelled from the vehicle’s belly became more frequent, like it had succumbed to the inevitable indigestion after a cheap and disagreeable burrito. They were miles from civilization. This was not the type of therapy on the agenda for the weekend. Uttering a silent plea beneath her breath to the powers that be, Gina coaxed the limping car forward, each mile requiring more persuasion than the last.

Just ahead, in the distance, Beth noticed the flashing light. “What is that? Up there?” she pointed to the blinking amber light. “I’m not sure,” said Gina, squinting and craning her neck three inches forward as if that would bring the object into focus. As the distance between the two friends and traffic light decreased, so did the cooperation of their vehicle. Sputtering more frequently, it gasped its last breath and rolled to a stop, wheels creaking as gravel crunched beneath them. Looking around, it appeared that those silent pleas were answered with a significant degree of sarcasm.

old-gas-pumpTheir vehicle had rolled into the entrance of a small town, one of those proverbial “blink and you will miss it” towns. The service station about a hundred yards ahead looked to be dormant for the last half century. The old-style gas pumps, the broken pane of glass, and the bedraggled exterior showed no evidence that this unscheduled stop was going to be useful.

As she put the car in neutral and opened the driver side door, she began to simultaneously push on the car frame with her left hand while steering, if that’s what you call it, with her right hand. Despite her desire to resolve yet another situation on her own, Beth was pushing with all her might on the trunk. Gina didn’t have any other choice.

As the gimpy car was ushered into the parking lot, rolling over the black hose, a familiar dinging sound signaled their arrival. Not expecting any sign of life from this sleepy establishment, it was even more surprising when the elderly gentleman emerged from the front door. Wearing tattered overalls and a newsboy cap reminiscent of the early 20th century, his five ‘o clock shadow looked more than a few days old, various shades of white and gray peeking through.

In a gruffly voice indicative of long tobacco use, he cordially introduced himself, “Name is Joe. How can I help you ladies?” Wiping his calloused hands on the shop towel, he extended his hand in greeting, a lost token, Gina thought, in modern society. “Where are we?” Beth interjected rather quizzically. “This lil’ town here ain’t even on the map,” Joe offered in return. “Well, our car seems to have broken down after we blew out a tire a couple miles back and we’re not sure what happened,” returned Beth.

“Well, lemme have a look at her,” smiled Joe as he circled around the vehicle. “Well, you done run outta gas ladies,” he said as he pointed with his index finger to the puddle of gasoline now leaking from the bottom of the car. “You musta hit somethin’ when you blew out that tire, cut your fuel line. What’re the odds of that?” he ponders to himself as he shakes his head. You’re telling me, thinks Gina, can’t we catch a break?

Although his elementary grammar school teacher would have been appalled at Joe’s use of the English language, there was something magnetic about him. There was an intangible charm to his persona. There was no better proof for this than the words that came pouring out of Gina’s mouth next.

Can you help us?” And as those four words were formed by her vocal chords and uttered out into the free world, she wished she could reach out with her hand, grab each syllable, and retract them, stuffing them back into the safe and silent confines of her psyche. Alas, she could not.

“Can do,” says Joe confidently. “Got me the gasoline right over there, but it might take a day to get a new fuel line in.” He could tell by the dejected look on their faces that this was not the news they were looking for. In a feeble attempt to save grace, Joe offered, “Got us a newly renovated place to stay just up the road. Tell Lenny I sent ya, he’ll give you a good deal. Stop back tomorrow afternoon and y’all be good to go.”

These are the situations that had always plagued Gina with doubt, anxiety, and apprehension. Instead, she felt an unfamiliar calmness and peacefulness wash over her. Asking for help from close friends and acquaintances had always been a challenge, and here she was accepting the generosity of someone unknown to her fifteen minutes ago. The air around her became lighter, the invisible weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and an appreciative smile spread across her face. “Thank you,” she exhaled. And in the proclamation of those two words, in the closing of a pact with a complete stranger, a new door was opened to her. That corner of her heart kept under lock and key was free to make its presence felt. Trust had emerged from Gina’s soul for the very first time in her life.

motel-signAs they settled into the modest hostel up the street, a new radiance began to illuminate everything around her, and Beth noticed it. Although the events of the past several hours had helped distract her from the problems still plaguing her, she felt somehow different about everything in the presence of her best friend now.

Taking a seat in the makeshift lounge adjacent to the lobby, Gina and Beth sat in the dilapidated excuse for chairs, fabric frayed from overuse in a previous life. The house wine they were sipping from plastic cups was not on par with the high end chardonnay and expensive goblets they envisioned at their intended destination. That world seemed an infinite number of miles to the west. But, it didn’t seem to matter. As the second hand turned round, thousands of times, minutes into hours, Gina opened her heart and let the emotions pour out. The floodgates had been opened.

Not only did she empathize with Beth about her job, her sister, and her family’s past. Gina also bared her own soul, sharing her fears, her dreams, and her insecurities. There were sympathetic tears, there were knowing smiles, and there was bubbling laughter. Most importantly, there was a connection.

During a brief gap in their conversation, as if in a momentary pause to catch their mental breaths, Beth looked up with heartfelt eyes. Her hands wrapped around the plastic cup, her emotions wrapped around Gina’s heart, she expressed “Thank you, really. I know this weekend didn’t work out as you planned. But, I think this is exactly what I needed.”

Thinking to herself that she couldn’t agree more, Gina offered up her plastic cup in a toast to Beth. “Hey, that’s what friends are for,” she proclaimed as their cups met. And although she had uttered these empty words so many times before, for the first time in her life, Gina finally understood what they truly meant.

 

Awakened

cabin-fogIt began as a mental cognition, nothing more. It was inaudible to his ears, the babbling brook beside his cozy lodge drowning out the pleas of the yet unheard voice. Logan was lounging in the rustic wooden chair carved from the spruce-fir trees on his mountain property. It was his favorite place, here on his veranda, unwinding while seated in a piece of furniture forged with his own two hands. Gazing out over the picturesque vistas he had pined for during his earlier city life, everything was as he had pictured it would be, except for the empty void inside.

Leaving the security of a six figure income at his accounting firm, Logan was in search of a new beginning, a fresh start in this remote and sleepy community thousands of feet above sea level. Trading in his exotic metallic blue sports car for a fuel efficient hybrid, he did all the right things to streamline his expenses and make this transition a feasible one. Everyone said he was crazy, giving up the life he had worked so hard to build for himself. In Logan’s eyes, however, the escalating pain of remaining stagnant in the quagmire of politics and bureaucracy convinced him he would be crazy to not make this choice.

It had been three months since the dramatic change of venue. He didn’t have a plan, an oddity for the detail oriented nature of a former accountant. Taking a sip of the coffee from his favorite mug, he kept it at his lips a little longer than necessary, allowing the venting steam and hazelnut scents to permeate his senses. Staring into the whipped cream as it slowly dissolved into a milky froth, he looked for some sign of his next move. Logan had always been like this, on the lookout for coincidences that he knew were anything but that, relying on his sense of intuition.

What you seek arrives on your doorstep only when you make an active choice to look for it. As if that deep and thoughtful gaze into a steaming beverage invited communication from a higher power, he heard it for the first time. Barely discernible, Logan turned his head, aiming his ears in the perceived direction of the faint source. As quickly as it had materialized, it was now gone like the trails of steam from his coffee mug evaporating into the air above him. Had he imagined it? Had it been a figment of his deepest desires to be presented with a divination? No, Logan had learned to trust these gut instincts. They had never led him astray in the past, unless his move to these highlands proved to be a misstep.

The frequency of these visits from a foreign voice heightened with time. So commonplace they became that Logan began to discount the value of any intended message to his body, mind, or soul. Always the faintest of vibrations traveling through the air, he could not differentiate the value of these mumbles from the trickling of water through the stream, the whisper of wind through the spruce trees, or the crackling of foliage as the resident salamanders made their presence known.

In addition to relying on his inner muse to guide his daily decisions, Logan possessed another trait, perhaps not as valuable in this particular situation: stubbornness. After weeks of the silent whispers, they became little more than background noise, fading from a source of heightened acuity in Logan towards the desensitized numbness that he now felt. Luckily, his inner muse, the source of these murmurs, possessed this same steadfast resolve and stubbornness, determined to break through the thick shell fabricated by Logan’s former lifestyle.

Fall leaves with rakeThe various hues of amber, crimson, and gold adorned the trees spreading out across his panoramic view. The occasional deciduous tree on his property was partaking in its own autumn parade of colors, shedding its leaves while creating a warm blanket on the ground, almost akin to a tapestry painted by the inanimate trees themselves.

Logan disliked the task of raking those leaves, not because of the manual labor, but because he held a natural aversion for disrupting such a beautiful creation of the natural world. His rational mind persuaded him, however, to carry on with the necessary chore. The Kentucky bluegrass that comprised his lawn was a cool season grass, most active during these predominantly cooler weather months before the harsh grip of winter took ownership. This was a time when the grass revitalized itself. The abundance of sunlight, nutrients, water, and seasonable temperatures strengthened the root system, preparing it for its eventual emergence from the melting snow during the spring months. As he grabbed the wooden handle on the rake, the timely arrival of a wind gust brought with it that same imperceptible message. This time, however, the intensity of its voice rising in a crescendo allowed Logan to perceive the communication not only with his mind, but also with his ears.

The uncharacteristic outflow of air from the heavens sent the blanket of leaves on the ground upwards, embracing Logan in a tornadic funnel of color swirling around him. Beneath the rustle of leaves and the howling of the wind, an unmistakable whisper became clearly audible to him for the first time. A single word, repeated every three seconds in a surreal and unearthly tone, “who.”

Although this all seemed to transpire within the time allotted to a single flap of a butterfly’s wing, he could not deny its existence. That did not, however, imply that Logan could make any rational sense out of the experience. With hands still gripped on the rake, he remained frozen, hopeful that his stillness would free his mind from any distractions and help him comprehend the intent of this message carried on the wind.

smoky-mountain-stormAfter the passing seconds turned to minutes, Logan realized that a metaphorical bolt of lightning was not going to strike his consciousness and enlighten him. The darkening skies and encroaching line of storm clouds rolling in behind those squally winds, however, might provide some real life lightning that would certainly not be helpful to his cause.

Leaning the rake against a wall inside the tool shed, Logan latched the door shut and retreated up the wooden stairs. Returning to the safety of his humble home, the raindrops began to tumble from the saturated clouds. Seated on the stool beside his kitchen counter, he was perched midway between a world where raindrops fell and a world where mystical messages were spoken by the amorphous wind. The rain, blowing at a forty-five degree angle was now pelting the kitchen window with increasing energy. As he watched the small droplets of water navigate their way down the pane of glass, Logan continued to search for his own path, unsuccessfully.

As the talons of the fierce storm released its hold on the mountainside, the water continued to collect in puddles as it rolled off the roof, racing to catch up with its brethren that had made the same journey earlier. Logan thought he could feel the roots of his lawn strengthening with each subsequent trickle of precipitation. If only he could find a way to fortify his own roots. Ripping them up and transferring them to a completely new environment created a transplant shock reminiscent of that felt by the rhododendron shrubs he relocated earlier in the week.

Falling back on the familiar and comfortable habits he had cultivated over the previous months, Logan grabbed the trail running shoes from his closet. Seated on the edge of his couch, he laced them up tightly, found his keys, and headed out the front door. The solitude provided by nature allowed Logan to hear himself think. It released any strangleholds on his attention so that he could hold the heart-to-heart conversations that connected his physical and spiritual world.

Upon reaching the trailhead only a quarter mile from his front door, Logan limbered up his joints, stretching his muscles before setting off on a slow and steady jog under the canopy of trees framing the path ahead of him. As he slipped into his groove, Logan picked up the pace of his steps, heartbeat following suit. He had stumbled upon this seemingly magical elixir not too long ago. Channeling his mental focus on the physical obstacles in his path, the creative right brain was free to roam without the distractions of the rational and sometimes commandeering left brain. It had taken deliberate and repeated practice to keep at bay the precision, exactness, and accuracy of his life as an accountant.

The thoughts bounced back and forth between the mental capacity on the left and right side of his mind. Left side: Left foot square on the flat rock ahead. Right side: Who? What does that mean? Left side: Right foot just past that gnarly root. Right side: Is it a question? Is it a statement? Left side: Duck head to avoid the cobwebs waiting to wrap its silky residue around us. Right side: Is there a different meaning to the word?

Back and forth, the communication ensued without a single audible word being spoken. The only sound evident to the aural senses was the rhythmic inhalation of oxygen followed by the exhalation of carbon dioxide, over and over again. He could have been on the trail for five minutes or fifty-five minutes. Time passed in an unexplained manner when he fell into this trance like state of contemplation, one foot planted in the existence outside his body with the other one leaving its footprint on the world within.

After many journeys through this portal, it took a significant distraction to extract Logan from this deep hypnotic state. The forty-five foot dead spruce tree blocking the path in front of him was more than enough to do just that. Pulling himself to an abrupt halt, Logan looked left and right to get a sense for where this behemoth once stood. Branches angled to the left, this giant tree, now devoid of any needles, must have succumbed to the fury of the earlier storm. It had fallen in such a manner that he could not squeeze beneath it. He would be required to scale a height of at least five feet to continue onwards. Thankful that he hadn’t completely severed the relationship with his left brain, Logan began to calculate the best route available to him.

It was in that moment of calculating thought that the creature appeared without his knowledge. Swooping down from the treetops on an eighteen inch wingspan, the owl quietly alighted on the fallen spruce, just out of Logan’s peripheral vision. Quieter than the wind, he approached to make a statement. Too-too-too it called in its signature voice. Shifting his gaze to the right, Logan caught a glimpse of the Saw-whet owl, eyes fixated on him as he repeated his call again, too-too-too.

saw-whet-owlBeing highly nocturnal, seldom seen by any human, this bird of prey’s appearance was anything but ordinary. In a frenzied digestion of visions flowing through him in the moment, Logan saw the spruce tree lying in front of him, the owl perched upon it. He heard the mysterious sound that had become more prevalent in his daily life. And he captured a fleeting image of the rustic wooden chair on his back porch. Inside the maelstrom of seemingly unrelated and disconnected details, Logan’s eyes locked on those of the owl. It was then that everything came into alignment.

He was always led to believe that things had to make sense. The impossible was not possible without a feasible explanation. Logan had learned to abandon that line of thinking and allow events to unfold naturally, absorbing that which was presented without worrying about if and how it made any sense. This was a perfect opportunity to practice that holistic approach.

He had been peripherally aware of spirit animals in the past, those creatures whose traits and characteristics best align with your own. Captivated by the eyes staring back at him, Logan now knew that this owl was connected to him, his spirit animal. The owl spirit symbolizes a deep connection with wisdom and intuition. It is able to see beyond the visible. Beyond the illusion and deceit set forth by the physical world, it perceives true reality.

Not only did the characteristics of this owl align with Logan’s soul, its presence and appearance was indicative of a transition, just like the one Logan was struggling through over the past several months. The who that he heard fall upon his ears was misconstrued. What was really being shared was the too call of his spirit, summoning him towards his true vocation.

Since he had moved north to these higher elevations, he had not only crafted his favorite chair, but many other pieces of furniture that appeared around his house. In clearing the space to build his quintessential mountain home, the fallen trees were recycled in an act of reverence for the sacrifices provided by Mother Nature, a manner of paying homage for the serenity provided to Logan and his new life.

He was able to transform these wooden pillars into works of art, infusing them with the inspiration coursing through his veins, pouring out of his fingertips like water from a faucet. He was meant to create, the inherent joy of the creative process enough to fill him to the brim. Gone were the days of concern for profit margins, net income, and balance sheets. Interest took on an entirely new meaning. No longer was it a fee paid by a borrower of some asset. Instead, it had become an indicator of how much of himself he found inside his creative endeavors. That was interesting.

forest-trailIntuition had always been an important piece of Logan’s persona. On that afternoon, in that deciduous forest, after that violent storm, an owl reminded him just how important it was to his life. As he turned around, Logan began walking with a relaxed but purposeful gait, more than ready to get back home, eager to start on his next creative endeavor. The owl perched on that spruce tree did not follow, but his spirit did. The smile on Logan’s face and the contented presence in his soul was living proof, no intuition required.

Alphabet soup

alphabet-soupI looked forward to the steaming bowl of soup placed in front of me on those cold winter days, even though I really didn’t like the way it tasted. Vegetables were not at the top of my favorite food list in my adolescent days. What did attract me to that otherwise mediocre meal offering was the sea of letters floating before me, swimming among the green beans, carrots, and tomatoes in search of their rightful place in my bowl.

Only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet, and yet the breadth and depth of emotions and meaning that can be conveyed through the precise arrangement of them is utterly confounding. Over the course of my life, I have used those symbols of communication to write checks, to solve mathematical equations, to compose book reports, to tell stories, and to share the philosophical musings in my mind.

There is one form of written communication that has always eluded me. My brain has never fully wrapped its metaphorical arms around poetry. I have consumed the words of the most respected poets, but my mind stumbles upon the words, like mental hiccups interrupting the flow of thought. Perhaps, like anything else, the appreciation of poetry takes patience and practice.

I realize that much of the predisposition to these sentiments is due to the less than fruitful experiences as a student in elementary, middle, and high school. Aside from the various renditions of the ‘roses are red’ poems tossed out on the playground among friends, my exposure to poetry up until this point in my life has been very limited. I recall the rigid rules associated with the haiku form, the free-flowing thoughts in my mind being constrained because it didn’t fit into the prescribed syllabic pattern.

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. ~Robert Frost

All my writing to date has been characterized by authenticity, vulnerability, and the conveyance of emotion. It is these three characteristics that light a fire inside me and allow me to exercise self-expression in the best way I know how. I have given poetry a bad rap, an unfair preconceived notion, and I don’t want that to be. It deserves an honest chance to find its way into my soul.

Gone are the restrictions, the rules, and the prescribed manner of composing these twenty-six letters of our native language. Instead, I turn my focus to the words of Robert Frost. I feel the emotion. I allow it to find its thought. I allow that thought to find words and pour out of my fingertips and on to the page. It may not be pretty. It may not be cohesive. But, it will be me. And therefore, it will be right.

I’m still not a huge fan of alphabet soup, at least not in the palatable form. I have, however, decided to compose a twenty-six line poem with each line beginning with the next letter in our alphabet, a different type of alphabet soup that provides nourishment for the soul. The thoughts buried deep inside are waiting for their opportunity to present themselves. Swirl your spoon in the sea of alphabet soup that comprise your daily life. Allow the letters to wade where they may. Allow the emotions to form and be carried on the coat tails of the venting steam rising from within.

Always wondering
Believing that good prevails
Caught in a tangled web
Dangling by a thread
Everything hanging in the balance
Forget what has happened in the past
Go forward into the future
Happy to part ways with the norm
Inside it feels right
Just following my soul’s whisper
Kicking bad habits to the curb
Laughing away past misfortunes
Meeting my destiny for the first time
Never looking back
Open my eyes
Place faith in the beating of my heart
Quit quitting on the voice from inside
Remove all inhibitions
Sip from the chalice of wild dreams
Turn them into a drunken reality
Under an enchanted spell
Villainous voices vanquished
Walking one foot in front of the other
X marks the next spot on my journey
Yearning for inner peace and fulfillment
Zero chance of failure, success is guaranteed