Inspire and Be Inspired

Head on over to the new davecenker.com, sign up to be a member of my author community, receive a free award-winning short story and continue the conversation! See you there!

DaveJen-BannerOne thousand days ago (hey, it just sounds better than 2 years, 8 months, and 26 days) I remember sitting down with a guitar resting on my knee.

Those malformed chords I was strumming were messy sounding, but the chord it struck inside me was perfectly in tune. I remember thinking … I should start a blog. It came out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure why I vocalized that thought. I had written less than a total of 500 creative words up to that point in my life.

If someone would have told me way back then that I would be composing this post today, I would have surely let out an involuntary chuckle beneath my breath. It’s not that I wouldn’t have wanted to be here, but I have this way of starting different things (lots of them) only to have them collect metaphorical dust as the initial excitement fizzles out along with my passion for it.

And yet, a thousand days and just a few more than five hundred words later, I compose this post with an anxious yet excited heartbeat. This will be my last post at this blog site. That’s the sad part, for me at least. This little corner of the blogosphere has been a sort of virtual private sanctuary for me to discover and share insights, thoughts, and stories with each and every one of you.

The exciting news – again, for me at least, and hopefully for you too – is that my writing will continue forward with as much, if not more passion than I have had up until this point. Today, I am launching my new author-centric website at www.davecenker.com.

For those of you that have been following along with me on this journey over the past three years, you will know my tagline by heart – inspire and be inspired.

Second ChanceI’ve written personal essays, flash fiction, short stories, and even a novella up until this point. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this past November, I set an ambitious goal to write my first novel, uncertain where that lofty ambition would land me. 50,000+ words and several personal revisions later, I have a draft of my first novel, Second Chance, that I am now ready to pass over to my editor. My plan is to have it published sometime later this year.

In an effort to build an author platform, I have migrated my online presence to www.davecenker.com. Along with promotion and news on the release of my first novel, I will be offering flash fiction, short stories, book reviews, and the occasional dip into non-fiction.

I have a feeling that pressing the publish button on this post is going to be more difficult than any I have pressed up until this point in my writing life. But, if you’re reading this, I suppose that I’ve been successful in overcoming that small hurdle.

I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for all the reads, the likes, and most importantly, the comments that have helped me to embrace this role as an author. I know it sounds so cliché, but truer words could not be spoken – I simply couldn’t have done it without you.

HomecomingI invite each one of you to visit my new site and continue onward with me on this journey we have started together. As a small token of my appreciation, when you sign up to be a member of my author community, I will send you a copy of a previously unreleased short story titled Homecoming. I would be honored to share this story with you that has received an honorable mention in the 2015 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest.

You can join my author community by visiting my new site at www.davecenker.com and clicking the Free Story! link in the top right corner of the home page. I’ll still be checking this site for the next couple of weeks, so if you have any problems or questions, feel free to leave a comment here.

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings. ~Meister Eckhart

Let the magic of new beginnings be with each and every one of you. Inspire and be inspired.

 

Advertisement

Butterfly Effect

butterfly-effectI can hear everything, but I see nothing. I want to move, but I can’t. I feel as though I am restrained and yet I don’t sense anything binding me. I turn my head left and right to ascertain my surroundings, but it is pointless. For a different reason than I think. My brain is instructing the muscles in my neck to exercise, to move such that my head will swivel. But, the message is never received. There is some gap in the communication between mind and body, and I don’t like it.

Footsteps, mumbling voices, and the distant sound of cars passing on a street. It’s as if my sense of hearing is working just fine, although slightly muddled, but my sight is failing me. I can sense my chest moving up and down, Slowly, but surely. It is some indication that I am, in fact, alive.

And even though I cannot see the world around me, a movie begins to play inside my head. It’s one of those times when you wish you could grab some paper and jot down what you are seeing and feeling. This would make an incredible story. Usually, I would just chalk it up to laziness. I’ll remember it later and write it down then. But, this time is different. I want to write down these thoughts, capture these images, desperately. But, I can’t. That gap in communication between brain and body is affecting the muscles in my arms, hands, and fingers just like it is affecting my head.

I begin to sense movement, as if I am somehow becoming a puppet in my own movie, my strings being tugged to play out my part. I begin to dance around the set, seemingly unrelated objects passing by me. It is all so surreal – a notebook, a paper airplane, an acoustic guitar – they must mean something, but what?

And then, I can feel the fluttering wings of a butterfly alight on my nose. My real nose, not my puppet nose. And light begins to filter back into my consciousness. What was once a dark room begins to become an expansive space filled with daylight.

The voices around me become more audible. A sense of clarity and understanding washes over me. “Are you okay sir? What is your name?” The first thing I see as the light returns is Joseph, at least that’s what his name tag states. The paramedics are stabilizing me, strapping me down to a board, deeming my body physically immobile.

The connection between my brain and body has begun to function once again. As I swivel my head to look left, I see the mangled twist of metal that used to be my car. And I finally realize, there is so much more to do. I look beyond the wreckage to catch a fleeting glimpse of what looks like a butterfly just beginning to disappear from view. And I whisper to it in the faintest voice possible, “Thank you.”

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

Shifting gears

mustang-50I sit at the traffic signal, eyes locked on the red light. My left foot is depressing the clutch while my right foot is hovering over the top of the accelerator pedal. With my left hand at the eleven o’clock position on the leather wrapped steering wheel, my right hand caresses the gear shift knob presently in first gear. The tunes are streaming wirelessly from the cell phone in my left pocket and I am perched at the starting line awaiting clearance to launch with the anticipation of a green light.

I have been in this situation many times before. The versatility provided by my car allows me so many choices. I can ease away from a standstill and revel in the low rumble of the engine as the RPM gauge cycles from 1,000 to 3,000 – back and forth through the sequence of gears.

I can punch the accelerator with my right foot while simultaneously releasing pressure on the clutch pedal and accelerate – to a legal speed, of course – faster than most vehicles on the highway. And it’s perhaps what I enjoy doing most, getting where I want to be posthaste, both in my car and in the things I set out to do in life.

I was prepared to do just that on this day when something happened. It’s another reason why I am so protective of the commuting time in my car. It’s like a personal sanctuary for me. Some of my most persuasive and compelling thoughts have come to me while nestled in the cockpit of the driver’s seat.

As the final chords of The Goo Goo Dolls Rebel Beat finished, there was a momentary pause while the software in my phone decided what would be queued up next. Once upon another time.

sara-once-upon-another-timeNo, this is not the beginning of a story. This was the song now streaming through my car speakers. The title track off Sara Bareilles’ EP album released in 2012 had been played so many times before. But, on this particular day, it provided me with something different than it had in the past – perspective. There is no logical reason why I heard the lyrics differently on this given day, why I paid them more attention, especially since I was focused on coordination of movements between feet, hands, and brain to accelerate quickly off the starting line. But, that is exactly why I have allowed logic to ride in the backseat more often these days. Situations arrive on our doorstep when we are ready to invite them inside for a visit. Today was that day.

Once upon another time
Before I knew which life was mine
Before I left the child behind me
I saw myself in summer nights
And stars lit up like candle light
I make my wish but mostly I believed

Something about the words resonated with me on this go-around. And I felt compelled to look up the meaning of these lyrics when I arrived into work. In an interview, Sara explained that this title track is really about loss of your childhood and letting go of your past, a part of her journey through life at the time she wrote the song. I sat and thought for a few moments. I was grasping for some connection. I was meant to hear these words in a different light for some reason. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I had a good childhood. There was nothing I needed to let go from that past. And then, it hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. There is more than one past. There are an infinite number of pasts that we are creating each and every moment of each and every day. And I did need to let go of one of those to move on towards my next big ambition.

rafiki-it-is-timeFor the past year, I have been publishing short stories to this blog. And it has been extremely gratifying – to tell stories, to share emotions, to welcome everyone who chooses to read them into my small corner of the world. It has become comfortable – like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. But, it is time for me to toss the comfy blanket aside and embrace the chilly air of doubt and uncertainty. You see, I have been encouraged, nudged – and eventually now – persuaded towards publishing some of my stories. I have a sense that it is going to require a fair amount of time, work, and growing pains to reach this ambition. But, as Rafiki proclaims in The Lion King, “It is time.”

Here I was, all ready to accelerate to 60 mph as quickly as I could, and instead I ease from one gear to the next as the captivating sounds of the harmonium echo in my ears. I am not going anywhere from a writing sense. In fact, I will probably be writing as many stories, if not more, than what I was writing before. But, they will now be in anticipation of publication in a book as well as on my blog.

Many of the stories that I have previously published on this blog will be made accessible, in the near future, via Amazon in e-book format. Check if one of your favorites is slated for release through the new Short Stories menu on the home page of my blog. If your favorite isn’t there, let me know and I will add it to my next wave of short stories to be published in e-book format. Each of the stories will be provided in their entirety with a short passage provided by me detailing the inspiration behind the story.

artist-easelIn addition, I will be releasing a new short story series titled Impression exclusively on Amazon. As a humble way of showing my appreciation for everyone who has read and commented on my stories to date, this new short story will be available to download for free during the initial days after release.

I will still be a regular contributor in the blogosphere – perhaps just in a different capacity now. I am not exiting the highway, I am simply changing lanes. I am shifting gears so that I can accelerate towards the next step on my own journey as an author. It’s a difficult decision for me, more than you could probably imagine. I have had this draft sitting on my computer and in the back of my mind for several weeks. Although things never seem to be black and white – except for my car, of course – the perspective provided by each situation helps us to discern the various shades of gray in between the two extremes. And even though it may not be easy or comfortable, it’s the process of choosing one of those shades of gray that adds depth to our perspective, and growth to our lives.

Young heart

produce-stand-tomatoAuthor’s Note: This is the final chapter of a three part short story. If you would like to read the previous two chapters, please visit Hot dog and Chance encounter.

As he watched the bus pull away from the curb, Lloyd sat back down on the bench. He didn’t have another delivery until later that afternoon. He couldn’t help but intervene, or at least attempt to, in Derek’s situation. He wished someone would have done the same for him in his younger days – not that it would have been likely to make any difference.

Lloyd remembered the expensive suits, the fine dining opportunities that he relished so much, and the aspirations for a corner office on the top floor. He had lived in that world in some past life. He pushed everything that was ultimately important to him into the background – relegated to sometime later when he had accumulated the prestige and money to do what he really desired – open his own restaurant. He exchanged his time for money, unprepared for the realization that he would never get that time back.

It was the strangest day in Lloyd’s life. Dressed to the nines, walking down the street after a chaotic day in the office, he paused in front of a local produce cart on the street, looking for the perfect ingredients that comprised his infamous spaghetti sauce. He picked up a tomato and held it in his hands. He couldn’t explain it – and it never would do any good to even try – but it was as if the delicate texture of that fruit softened his own thick skin and allowed him to see what was really important to him, for the very first time in his life.

That chance encounter with a tomato – yes, a tomato – caused Lloyd to do the unthinkable. He left the security of his high paying career. What he also left behind was the chaos that accompanied it. He opened his own produce delivery service using only the decrepit bike sitting next to him and his own two feet. He always had a gift for choosing the perfect piece of produce. His discerning sense of sight, touch, and smell was appreciated by some of the finest restaurants in New York City. And they paid him quite well, relatively speaking, for his expertise. Did Lloyd have his own restaurant? No. What he did have though was a sense that he was helping to create the most magnificent meals, for tourists and locals alike, that he appreciated so much.

The knowledge that he was making a difference in the world, however small it was, in a way that he felt passionate about, caused Lloyd to smile inside and out. It took him longer to come this realization than he may have hoped. But, as they say, better late than never. Not only was Lloyd perceptive with produce. He had the same insight into human behavior. As confident and ambitious as Derek appeared to Lloyd, there was something in his body language that spoke differently.

And although Lloyd’s attempt to uncover the root cause of Derek’s situation was not welcomed, he felt that he needed to at least try. He hoped that time would not escape Derek’s grasp like it had for him. He had done all he could do at this point.

Seated in the city bus rolling out of downtown, Derek pulled the wallet back out of his pocket. Guilt washed over him for even feeling the need to check that everything was still there. Driver’s license, credit cards, social security card, not even a single dollar of the fifty-seven in his billfold appeared to be missing. As he thumbed through the bills, one by one, he finally came to the conclusion that there was nothing missing. In fact, there was actually something in the wallet now that wasn’t there before. It was a small piece of paper folded into four, about the size of one of those small pocket notebooks he used to record homework assignments as a child in grade school.

Unfolding the paper, written on one side was a message in a language he understood perfectly – In economics, opportunity cost is the next best alternative you give up when you make a choice. When we choose one thing, we refuse something else at the same time.

On the opposite side of that paper was a message that would make sense to him at some time in the future, after he had accumulated a bit more experience. Lloyd had hoped this particular message, although confounding right now, might help Derek short circuit the path to understanding.

It takes a long time to grow young. ~Pablo Picasso

luna-lovegoodDerek wasn’t sure why, but he felt an uncanny desire at that moment to purchase a blank canvas for the wall of his new apartment in the city – and to create upon it his own vision, to splash upon it colors in a random, yet redeeming way. The childhood artist inside him poked his head from behind the curtain of adult responsibility to reveal itself – momentarily. His ego would most likely intervene this time around, pushing such a frivolous and silly yearning to the back burner in preference for his lifelong ambition of wealth and prestige. One’s deepest desires, however, are very subtle – and persistent. His inner voice would continue to court Derek until he accepted the invitation. His physical body may have been growing older by the day, but Derek’s heart was growing younger – and wiser – with each passing minute.

Author’s Note: Thank you to everyone for taking the time to read and comment – may your heart continue to grow young in pursuit of your deepest desires.

Hot dog

wall-street-nycSitting across from the executive on the fiftieth floor of the high rise in New York City, Derek’s hands were sweaty with anticipation. This was the final stop on his whirlwind day of interviews with one of the most prestigious investment firms in the Wall Street district. Everything had gone as well as he could have hoped. But, he knew that the ultimate decision concerning his prospective employment lay in the hands of the person sitting across from him.

Peering over his half-moon spectacles while carefully considering his notes, pondering the myriad of responses provided by Derek over the course of the day, the CEO reached across the mahogany desk separating the two and extended his right hand. “Derek, I think you are exactly the type of ambitious individual that this company needs. Welcome to our team.” Involuntarily, a genuine smile of satisfaction spread across Derek’s face, “Thank you sir. I really appreciate this opportunity,” replied Derek with a firm handshake to accompany his confident words.

Derek had been working towards this very moment for the past six years – perhaps much longer. Living in a small suburban town just outside of Chicago, Derek completed his MBA just three weeks prior – the last step in preparation for a life on Wall Street and all the perks associated with it. From his earliest childhood memories, Derek was consumed with numbers, trends, data, and the detailed analysis of it all. Most kids opened the newspaper and flipped straight to the comics. Derek, however, stopped at the business section, perusing the trends on his favorite stocks, always on the lookout for the next ticker symbol equipped to surpass street expectations.

As the floor number displayed inside the elevator approached the lobby level, Derek’s thoughts were already shifting towards his next ambition. He always dreamed of owning a penthouse overlooking Central Park with the finest art hanging on its walls. Numbers and fine art, they were the two things in Derek’s life that stimulated him more than anything else. As diametrically opposed as they were – art and math – his natural ability in one allowed him to enjoy the other.

To anyone who witnessed Derek strolling through the lobby, they would have thought him to be a seasoned veteran at the firm. The fine Italian suit, the wavy yet slicked back hair, the black wing-tipped shoes, and most importantly the confident gait was proof positive that Derek belonged in this atmosphere – on the surface, at least. Looks can be so deceiving.

Walking out of the quiet lobby and on to the sidewalk, the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple burst into action. The constant motion, honking horns, and murmur of shuffling footsteps was intoxicating to Derek. He felt at home around the busyness of big city life. The knowledge that this was now his new home brought upon a wave of euphoria. The scent of fresh hot dogs from the sidewalk vendor added to his feeling of exhilaration. In a seemingly underwhelming celebration, Derek had promised himself a genuine New York hot dog to christen his official acceptance into the city that never sleeps.

hot-dogStepping up to the gentleman situated under the faded umbrella, Derek barked out his order as if already a weathered New Yorker, “One dog – onions, relish, mustard, and ketchup.” Exchanging a few dollar bills for his celebratory meal, Derek ambled towards the bench beside the bus stop. Seated at the end of the bench was an older gentleman with unkempt facial hair and a hoodie pulled over his thinning gray hair. The old bike leaning precariously next to him had a basket on the front – in it were a bushel of apples and a few ears of corn still in their husks. He held in his one hand a tattered notepad, in the other a partially sharpened pencil.

Setting the hot dog beside him on the bench, Derek pulled out the ringing cell phone from his pocket. The incoming call was from his girlfriend, Missy, back in Illinois. The first words he heard were characteristic of his longtime partner, “So, are there Broadway shows in our future?” She was both witty and confident. Their relationship was proof that sometimes it was likes, not opposites that attract each other. The next several minutes involved congratulatory remarks, shared dreams and aspirations for a new lifestyle supported by a six figure income north of a half million dollars per year. By the sound of the conversation occurring between the two, it appeared that their first years’ worth of income – and then some – had already been spent.

“Miss you lots, love you more, see you soon.” It was their signature communication that was unique to them. As he pressed the button to end the call, he slipped the phone back into his pocket. Sinking his teeth into the hot dog, he couldn’t help but let out a sigh of contentedness through his nose while he closed his eyes and absorbed everything he had been dreaming of for so long. It was now becoming reality. He was the new dog on the block, and he was poised to establish himself as the next alpha male in the financial district.

journey-secret-destinationWhat Derek failed to notice was the furious scribbling that the elderly gentlemen had been penning on his notepad throughout his conversation with Missy. What also eluded his attention was the wallet that had come out of the pocket with his cell phone, resting beneath the bench he was seated on. The hustle and bustle of New York City seems to accelerate everything. There was no exception in this situation. The wallet sitting beneath him was there no more. Derek was completely unaware of its disappearance. As it turned out, Derek was unaware of so much more.

Author’s Note: This is the first part of a three part short story. Please stay tuned for the next chapter to be published next week. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day!

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

The seed

volunteer-stateAuthor’s Note: This is the third chapter of a six part story. If you would like to read the previous chapters, please visit Chapter 1 – The key and Chapter 2 – Plus one.

Gryffin, the loyal golden retriever belonging to Damon, couldn’t help but feel slighted. Now relegated to the makeshift back seat of the pickup truck, he didn’t have nearly as clear a view out the front windshield. Nor did he have the occasional scratch behind the ears from his master.

Nope, the front seat was now occupied by Damon and his new human companion. Jo, a waitress from the plantation house turned diner, joined the trek south towards the Smoky Mountains after the fortuitous revelation of her latest customer’s final destination on the previous evening.

Merging back on to the interstate, Gryffin got comfortable with his new surroundings, head resting on his two front paws. The flurry of chatter coming from the seats ahead of him was evidence of the budding rapport being established between his master and Jo. Damon shared the details of his adventure – as much as he knew anyway. He really wasn’t quite sure what he expected to find at his destination marked by a set of coordinates just off the Appalachian Trail.

Jo reciprocated the conversation by sharing some of the fascinating history in her family – the origins of their plantation from more than a century ago, the story about how her great grandfather fought as an advocate for the abolition of slavery even though it was against the mainstream way of thinking, and how it ultimately compromised his status in the community.

It was pleasant conversation, and perhaps necessary for two people who had known each other for less than sixteen hours. The topics provided a safe haven in which one person could become comfortable with the other, to feel each other out and begin to understand their way of thinking. They might as well do so since they would be spending the next ten hours or so together in a truck en route to the Volunteer State.

After about the first hour on the road, however, the conversation had begun to dry up. The silence was becoming more uncomfortable with every passing mile marker. Jo decided to take a courageous leap into slightly more tumultuous conversational waters.

“So, do you have a significant other in your life?” She attempted to catch herself from spewing this inquiry into the space between them, afraid that it would come off sounding like a pick-up line, but she failed miserably. It was now out there to be answered, even though the intent behind her question had a much different meaning than it may have initially sounded.

If Jo was worried that the question would be interpreted the wrong way, her fears were quickly assuaged when Damon responded with a chuckle, “Yeah, I have someone special in my life. He’s sitting right behind you. It’s always been Gryffin and I for as long as I can remember.”

Jo stared ahead, eagerly anticipating the question she expected would be returned to her. And just as she had given up hope that it would be asked, Damon replied, “How about you? With the significant other thing.”

Jo cracked open this door – on purpose – and now she was committed to pushing it wide open and inviting Damon inside, even if neither he nor Jo were quite ready. She had been desperately searching for an unbiased individual to share her story with, and she finally came to the realization that this may be her best opportunity.

true-friendshipAnd so began the story of Jo and her boyfriend – well, ex-boyfriend now, she presumed. It wasn’t a story that Damon was expecting to unfurl with a question as simple as “How about you?” But, each passing minute and empathetic exchange led the two passengers to become more than simply riding companions. They began to understand that they shared something in common, even if their situations were dramatically different.

Jo’s boyfriend had treated her quite well – initially. But, there had to be something extra going on behind the scenes. Excuses began to pile up when Jo proposed a getaway weekend together. And it probably wasn’t a coincidence, Jo realized, that the frequency of his visits decreased as her monetary contributions to his undisclosed business venture began to approach critical mass. It was a secret he had promised to share with her when the time was right. Apparently, that right time had never arrived. And it never would, for one morning when Jo worked up the courage to confront him at his apartment, she found it empty. She felt exploited, neglected, and abandoned. Jo reached out to several mutual friends. Each swore they were not privy to his business secrets. She had discovered, however, that there were rumors he had moved to precisely the location they were now headed. That was Jo’s personal business and ultimate reason for hitching a ride south – to discover the truth.

Despite the differing circumstances, Damon felt the same emotions inside – abandoned and taken advantage of in his professional endeavors. He didn’t feel it justified to compare the delicacy of these emotions in a relationship to his own situation, but he felt a connection to Jo’s emotions nonetheless.

welcome-to-gatlinburgThere are times when an individual gets into a flow state. Things begin to occur in a sort of surreal manner. Time both seems to stand still and speed by in an incomprehensible manner. That must have been what transpired between Damon and Jo, for they found themselves rolling into the outskirts of town just north of the Smoky Mountain National Park. More than four hours had passed since Jo initiated this conversation. Both were silent now with the same notion occupying their thoughts. Neither was prepared for the abrupt separation that would come to pass if Damon dropped Jo off in town, not after the conversation that had just materialized. The newly fashioned bond between these two riding companions turned friends was undeniable.

The ball was in Jo’s court, and she wasn’t quite ready yet to make a decision. So, she decided to stall.

“How about I help you find your … well, whatever it is you’re looking for,” offered Jo. Part of her was curious. Part of her wasn’t ready to confront the truth about her boyfriend. Perhaps the biggest part of her wasn’t prepared to sever ties with Damon at this point.

“You’re more than welcome to tag along. I really have no idea if and what I’ll find. It might very well be anti-climactic, but I do have a key,” he smiled as he grabbed hold of it and held it up in his left hand.

So, three riders remained in the vehicle, more than just disinterested passengers now. Each of them seemed to have some vested interest in the outcome of the situation in their own peculiar way. As they wound their way up the solitary park thoroughfare, the switchbacks and tight curves had Gryffin sliding to and fro in the back seat.

As their truck arrived at the summit of the pass bordering on the Tennessee and North Carolina state lines, the setting sun provided a stunning backdrop for the vista greeting them. It left them speechless with an awe-inspiring smile reflecting the beaming rendition provided by the landscape itself.

Opening the back door, Gryffin jumped out and began dashing along the path, as if he had the destination coordinates locked in his canine brain. Damon and Jo, for just a brief moment that seemed like forever, forgot about the coordinates. They stared out over the majestic landscape so eloquently painted by Mother Nature, and were held captive by her innate beauty in some unseen metaphysical world. Looking down, Damon and Jo both noticed the plaque that was serendipitously positioned directly in front of them:

Man has created some lovely dwellings – some soul-stirring literature. He has done much to alleviate physical pain. But he has not … created a substitute for a sunset, a grove of pines, the music of the winds, the dank smell of the deep forest, or the shy beauty of a wildflower. ~ Harvey Broome, Naturalist

Damon and Jo looked at each other, smiles still etched on their faces. No words were exchanged. None were needed. They had just shared a moment together. The wet feeling on Damon’s hand brought him back to the physical world. Gryffin was slobbering all over him, anxious to continue, almost understanding that something special was awaiting them.

appalachian-trail-newfound-gapDamon turned the dial on his watch to GPS mode and began to walk towards the trail head that he had seen depicted on his laptop screen less than forty-eight hours ago. It felt like so much more time had elapsed. So much had transpired in such a short period of time.

With the cooler weather and waning sunlight, Damon, Jo, and Gryffin found themselves alone on the mountain crest. The sun was descending below the horizon quickly. They would need to expedite their pursuit to have any chance of discovering whatever it was they were looking for before daylight escaped them.

Damon was assuredly happy that Jo was with him – to take part in whatever was to be discovered, and to help drive back down the mountain in darkness. He began to wonder what would happen when they returned to a lower elevation. Would Jo’s sense of adventure recede? Would she ask to be dropped off in town, never to be seen again?

While contemplating these questions in his own mind, Damon found himself navigating on autopilot to the exact coordinates indicated on the brass key around his neck. He looked at the inscription on the key again, then back at his watch to make sure they matched.

Looking around the area, nothing seemed to be out of place. Everything seemed to be undisturbed, to the human eye at least. Gryffin must have been a bloodhound in a previous life for he started to bark gruffly at a spot right behind the tree where Damon and Jo were standing.

“What’s up boy?” asked Damon.

Gryffin retreated back to his companions, and then turned around to return to his previous spot as if to say follow me. Both Damon and Jo picked up on the cue. At the base of the tree were a collection of leaves that had been displaced by Gryffin’s investigative efforts. What laid beneath those leaves was a large burrow. If anyone else had revealed this burrow, one would have thought it was the home of a wild critter. Everyone in its presence now suspected otherwise.

smoky-mountain-treeGetting down on his hands and knees, Damon reached his hand and arm – slowly – into the hole up to his elbow. “I feel something,” he said with a tinge of excitement in his voice. Pulling his arm back out brought with it a small container. It looked like an antique jewelry case. And on the front panel was a keyhole that looked to be just the right size.

He quickly, but carefully took the key around his neck and inserted it into the keyhole. Jo squatted down next to Damon, peering over his shoulder in anticipation. As he turned the key and opened the lid, he wasn’t sure what he would find. But, what he did find surprised him nonetheless.

Sitting in the box was an acorn and a rolled up parchment. Unrolling the leathery material, slightly yellowed with age, he found the following quote transcribed in beautiful penmanship:

Man is wise and constantly in quest of more wisdom; but the ultimate wisdom, which deals with beginnings, remains locked in a seed. There it lies, the simplest fact of the universe and at the same time the one which calls forth faith rather than reason. ~ Hal Borland

new-beginningsBelow the quote were three numbers. Two of them didn’t need decoding. The exact location denoted by the new set of coordinates was unknown, but Damon did know he would be next heading somewhere north and east of his present location. The third number was more mysterious and required mental contemplation. Damon was, however, becoming less concerned with the meaning of the number and more concerned with whether he would have a kindred spirit accompanying him on the next leg of his journey. Straddling the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, he was simultaneously straddling a state of mind. As he massaged the acorn between his fingertips, Damon reminded himself that new beginnings do indeed require faith. The metaphorical seed had been planted – the nurturing process had begun.

Author’s Note: This is the third 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!

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.

Submission

white-picket-fenceThe words staring back at Jess from the final page of the journal were not in her native language. And yet, no translation was necessary to convey their meaning. Her fingers gripped around the leather cover were shaking uncontrollably. She felt her hands, dirty with soil, reflexively release her connection with the caustic energy transmitted through the emotions on those tattered pages. Jess had heard the phrase a hundred times before. Now, she understood its true meaning. A picture is worth a thousand words.

It all happened so fast for Jess. In a period of six months, she had moved to the suburbs, began her dream career, discovered the man of her dreams, got married, and moved into the perfect home complete with a white picket fence. As she stood over the skillets on the stovetop, one contained pancake batter turning golden brown, the other had bacon sizzling up to crispy perfection. In the midst of her morning ritual, she didn’t have time to wonder how she arrived in this new role. The two pre-teen boys, backpacks slung over their shoulder, sauntered into the kitchen and sat down. They had come to expect the same breakfast routine from their stepmom before school each morning. The growing bump on Jess’ belly provided further proof that this would be her calling in life for the foreseeable future.

“Good morning, love,” came the impassive greeting from her husband, Sean, following the two boys into the kitchen. It had become like clockwork. Pancakes and bacon for the boys at a quarter til eight, coffee in the tall travel container – just a dash of cream, two sugars – and a lightly toasted sesame seed bagel with butter sitting on the counter by the back door at five minutes before the hour. Ten minutes later, Sean had backed out of the driveway enroute to the office, the boys were on the bus to school, and Jess was left in the quiet solitude of her kitchen to contemplate what had transpired over the previous months.

She often found herself perched over a cup of hot coffee at the table. By the time she finally took a sip, it had turned cold. In between, she relived memories from her childhood, the most poignant being the sixth grade field trip to a local riverbed. Jess could still recall the unexpected joy that came as a result of the primitive tools supplied to her – a hammer and a chisel. Picking up rock after rock, positioning the chisel in just the right location, and lowering the hammer with a forceful thud split the earthly stone in two. She found an odd sense of serenity in this routine. It was a stress reliever and a treasure hunt rolled up into one. A single swing of the hammer on that day long ago would prove to transform this casual activity into a lifelong passion.

fossilMoving the chisel into a perfectly placed crevice on her latest rock, Jess swung the hammer down. Appreciating the signature crack of metal meeting metal, the energy from her own physical exertion travelled down the tool into the rock splitting it in two. As the pieces separated, one falling to each side, Jess’ view through the scratched safety glasses was crystal clear. Her treasure was revealed – the perfect fossilized imprint of a specimen that was later dated three hundred million years into the past. That was how Jess found herself, since that point in time, fascinated with the uncovering of details from the past, arranging the pieces to tell a story of evolution. She began chasing, with intense fervor, a career in the field of geological sciences – specifically, paleontology.

She had succeeded in turning a relatively obscure profession into a successful one for herself. And just as she was beginning to establish herself as an expert in the field, Sean and the two boys entered her life. Everyone believed she made the right decision – to stay at home, be a housewife, and care for the family. The problem was that everyone knew of her, but no one really knew who she was. Being a relatively quiet and solitary individual, Jess didn’t allow very many people into her world. One of those people that she did let in, however, would end up being the one that changed her life forever.