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.

 

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Cassiopeia

cassiopeiaThis cylinder with precisely aligned mirrors is like a magic portal into another universe. I close one eye while I peer through the eyepiece, seeing light that has traveled years to greet me on this summer evening. I can still hear Grandpa Will’s voice sharing that fact with me as a nine year old girl. It has stuck with me for decades. Even though I have access to the most advanced deep sky observation equipment that research money can buy, I still pull out this little telescope on occasion to reminisce.


“Sweetpea, what’s a four letter word for portal?”

Grandpa was the crossword master. I knew he already knew the answer, but I’d play along. This was our special time together each evening in the living room.

“That one’s easy, Grandpa. Door.”

“Ahh, of course,” he’d say.

I’d sit curled up beside the radio, positive there was someone inside speaking to me. Between segments of my favorite show, Starwatch, Grandpa fed me questions that he knew I’d be able to answer. I was only nine, but not as naïve as he thought.

Tonight’s constellation was Cassiopeia. I’d always been fascinated by the mythology behind the stars. Each night, when the show was over, there was time for pajamas and teeth brushing before heading off to bed. Sometimes, when Grandpa was feeling gracious, he’d let me stay up an extra ten minutes listening to his favorite jazz show together. Tonight was one of those lucky nights.

I rotated the tuning dial. I knew exactly where his program should’ve been. All I could hear, however, was static.

“No stalling, Sweetpea. It’ll only be ten extra minutes no matter how long it takes to find the station.”

I’d used this tactic before, but not tonight. I kept nudging the dial, trying to find the smooth saxophone sounds. I never did find it, but I did hear a voice between the rumbles of static.

“Grandpa, did you hear that?”

“What?”

“That voice.”

“No, Sweetpea. How about we head out to the backyard and see if we can’t find Cassiopeia?”

We spent the remaining five minutes looking at the distinctive W in the night sky. Grandpa explained how half of the year it was a W, the other half it was an M. I was hooked, but I still couldn’t forget that voice.


I panned towards the stars in Cassiopeia, my heart beginning to flutter. The twinkling was presenting a message in Morse code. My heart beat faster with each letter revealed S-W-E-E-T-P-E-A.

“Ellie, did you find something?” asked Jack, my colleague across the way.

“No. Cassiopeia is just really interesting tonight.”

“Well, let’s get back to it. These new galaxies don’t find themselves,” quipped Jack.

“Yeah, right.” I smiled before taking one more peek through the telescope. The last twinkle to greet my eyes on that evening was like a wink, from my Grandpa Will and Grandma Margaret, somewhere in the middle of Cassiopeia, a galaxy away, but always right next to my heart.

Leap of Faith

leap-of-faithThe dirt beneath my feet is compacted. There are a few pebbles that don’t belong. They scratch at the soles of my track shoes as I work to flick them out of the way. I’ll not permit any imperfection from interfering with my goal. It’s so much more than a number. 8.95 meters. It is the holy grail for long jumpers and I am poised to engrave my name into those record books with my final effort of this competition.

The wind is at my back. The crowd is energized with anticipation. I shake out my calf muscles and swivel my head back and forth to clear the mental cobwebs before beginning my approach for takeoff. I envision a jet fighter accelerating quickly as it is catapulted off the deck of an aircraft carrier. That’s how I have always done it in the past, prepared for accomplishing the unthinkable, used vivid imagery to picture impossibility becoming my new reality.

I begin to trot before working up to a sprint as I reach the white demarcation that serves as the threshold between what has been in the past and what will be in the future. Planting my left foot, I extend my right foot towards the sky at an optimum angle. Not the pristine takeoff I’d been hoping for, but I’m determined. I’m certain, this will be my moment.

I arrange my limbs in a perfectly aerodynamic form. A gentle nudge from the whisper of a breeze blows from behind me. ​Thank you​, I whisper in my thoughts as I approach the spot in the sand that I have imprinted in my mind. There is no special denotation showing where I need to arrive, I just know. Reaching my azimuth, I begin a descent back to earth, my short-lived flight now cleared for landing. I extend my toes and fingers out towards the horizon, watching that coveted spot in the sand pass beneath me.

With a thud, my shoes sink into the sand. I exhale a victorious breath. The measuring tape is extended, but I already know the results. 8.96 meters, a new world record. The crowd erupts in appreciation of my Herculean accomplishment. I’ve done it. I’ve overcome my personal demons. I’ve prevailed against all odds to win the gold medal hanging around my neck. The smile on my face couldn’t be any prouder, even if in reality, I haven’t won a single thing.

The supporting cast of the theatrical production joins me on stage as the final act is completed. The audience provides a standing ovation for my performance. My eyes lock on those of a young boy seated in a wheelchair at the end of the third row, clapping with an enthusiasm that is more infectious and rewarding than the imitation reproduction hanging around my neck.

It’s then that I realize that winning a medal may be the ultimate goal for some. But, for me, inspiring others to reach beyond their personal limits, now that is pure gold.

Wanderlust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wandering aimlessly
We stumble upon
The key to happiness
And contentedness

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Night and day

tortilla-chipsAuthor’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. If you would like to read the first chapter, please visit Extra point.

Beyond the raucous parties filled with alcohol, salty tortilla chips, and excessive testosterone levels, Bryce had a secret – one that he had been keeping close to the vest for years. As the final guest disappeared through the front door of his apartment, Bryce locked the door and turned the deadbolt. It wasn’t really necessary – turning the deadbolt – but, it gave him a sense of privacy that allowed complete immersion in what would come next.

He left the assortment of empty beer bottles on the counter. There had to be at least a dozen of them scattered about. The bag of chips, already beginning to stale, could wait for another fifteen minutes. Bryce marched in a straight line toward his bedroom. He opened the walk in closet and counted over three jerseys from the left. Pushing the hangar to the side, he located the two sets of sheets sitting on the shelf. Nestled between them rested Bryce’s secret in its coveted hiding place.

He retrieved the magazine and retreated to sit on the corner of his bed. He furiously flipped pages until he reached the foldout midway through the issue. He felt a surge of adrenaline course through his veins. The two page spread of the Monet reproduction was the feature piece in this month’s installment of Art Appreciation.

Bryce never really understood all the technical details. He didn’t comprehend the techniques or artistic elements that comprised the production of a painting. He just knew that when he looked at some notable works of art, something shifted inside of him. And he liked that. What he didn’t like was the sense of apprehension that accompanied his desire to feel that way in the first place.

Bryce was raised in a household devoid of genuine parental involvement. He wasn’t abused. He just wasn’t necessarily openly loved. His sense of pride and feeling of belonging came from interactions with his football teammates as well as the girls who ached to hang on his bulky biceps at high school social events. It was all he knew. It was all he was taught, not by his parents or teachers, but by his own personal experiences.

There was too much risk involved, for Bryce at least, in revealing a side of him that had remained hidden for so long. Bringing this fascination with art to light may disrupt the equilibrium that he had established. Surely, there was not a man alive today who would watch a football game in the afternoon, and then revel in the observation of art by night. What would his friends think? Would he be looked upon as weird? Abnormal?

Bryce was physically gifted. He had the six pack abs and chiseled calf muscles to prove it. But, he also had another capacity that wasn’t as obvious – a mental aptitude not related to academics. It had allowed Bryce to become one of the most accomplished high school quarterbacks in state history. It’s what some people refer to as street smarts. Bryce always had a strategy. The vibrating alarm coming from the cell phone in his pocket reminded him of his game plan that had nothing to do with Xs and Os on a football field. His nighttime shift at the local art museum was scheduled to begin in thirty minutes.

As a security guard, Bryce was able to maintain his image as a rough and tumble ball of testosterone while catching glimpses of the art work he enjoyed while on his evening rounds – all under the veil of it being his job.

Strolling through the double doors to the museum, Bryce always felt tiny. The size of the colossal front entrance leading into the massive central atrium certainly provided a dwarfing sensation. The daytime guard, John, was anxious to greet Bryce. “Hey Bryce, Tom asked you to call him before you start your shift.” Gathering up his keys and water bottle, John continued, “And by the way, what happened in the game?”

“It was crazy. The Titans pulled out the winning touchdown in the last minute of the game.” He was talking about football, but he was presently thinking about the painting hanging on the wall in corridor two on the third floor. The adrenaline rush of a football game wore off after a few hours. The one he experienced from a painting, however, seemed to be interminable.

old-dial-phoneAs John departed through the front door, Bryce insured the front doors were locked shut. Then, he sauntered over to the front reception desk and dialed *9 on the old style rotary telephone to reach his supervisor. “Hey Tom, this is Bryce. John told me you wanted me to call in? What’s up?”

The voice on the other end of the line had a pleading tone to it. “Listen, Bryce, I need some help. Frank called in sick for tomorrow’s shift and John has a flight out of town to visit family this evening. I need someone to cover for the day shift tomorrow.”

Bryce had become accustomed to the nighttime ritual. There was a quiet solitude in meandering through the dark corridors. The precisely positioned soft lights directed at each of the paintings accentuated their natural beauty. This time alone at night was a personal sanctuary of sorts for Bryce. He wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the request being pushed upon him, but he could tell that his boss was in a bind. And he figured that seeing the art in a new light might be appealing.

“I can do it. What time do you need me here?” replied Bryce.

“Eleven to five, and thanks a ton buddy. I’ll make sure you get an extra day off sometime in the next week or so.”

do-something-different“Sure, no problem.” As Bryce hung up the phone, he grabbed the keys in the desk drawer and began to make his first of three rounds for the evening. Little did he know that the difference between his two shifts, night and day, would be just that – night and day.

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a three part short story. The final installment will be published next week. If you enjoy these stories, please connect with me on Facebook to share more inspiring reminders throughout the week. Thank you for reading and providing your thoughts – 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

Step by step

newfound-gap-sunset

Author’s Note: This is the fourth chapter of a six part story. If you would like to read the previous chapters, please visit Chapter 1 – The key, Chapter 2 – Plus one, and Chapter 3 – The seed.

With the sun hastily sinking below the horizon, Damon slipped the acorn into his pocket, giving it a small caress as a sign of appreciation for the wisdom it had recently bestowed upon him. He draped the brass skeleton key around his neck and placed the parchment back into the soil covered box that had just been discovered in a concealed burrow. Together with Jo, a waitress that he had befriended at a roadside diner less than forty-eight hours ago, Damon retraced his steps to his truck in the parking area. Gryffin, Damon’s loyal golden retriever, was following closely behind.

“What do you think those numbers mean?” asked Jo, referring to the three inscriptions on the parchment below the quote about new beginnings.

Damon knew the exact meaning of the first two numbers. Like the previous set of digits etched on the key now hanging around his neck, the numbers were coordinates to a new location, north and east of their present location. The third message etched below the first two, 811 E42F – 26, left both Jo and Damon befuddled.

Damon’s night vision had always been suspect. He had made every effort in the past to restrict his driving to daylight hours. This was one time when he was happy to have made an exception.

“Jo, would you mind driving us back into town. I’m not all that comfortable with night driving, especially on these mountain switchbacks,” Damon pleaded.

“Sure, no problem,” responded Jo. She had responded without really thinking, as if she was in some sort of hypnotic daze. Her thoughts were obviously elsewhere. Damon wondered where her preoccupied musings were leading Jo.

Damon had a secondary reason for asking Jo to drive. The night blindness pretext was just a veil to conceal his real motivation. He knew that Jo was on the cusp of diverging from their joint venture once they reached the base of the mountain. She had hitched a ride with him from her hometown in rural Virginia to locate her ex-boyfriend who had relocated – with a good chunk of her money – to the town just outside the park boundaries. Having Jo behind the wheel would put her in the driver’s seat, both literally and figuratively.

The signature chime originating from the dash of the truck spoiled Damon’s well laid plan. “Looks like you better get some gas when we get back into town,” offered Jo.

And just like that, the ball was back in Damon’s court. He wasn’t encouraged by her use of the word you instead of we. Maybe she would just grab a taxi from the gas station and disappear from his life in pursuit of her original objective. The thought of how he was going to handle the situation left him feeling quite awkward. He felt something more than a superficial companionship in Jo’s presence. He wasn’t ready for their newfound friendship to dissolve so quickly, but he didn’t want to appear desperate for asking what he really wanted – for her to accompany him on the next leg of his journey. As it turned out, Jo made the decision for him.

mountain-switchback“That quote, the one you found on that piece of paper,” began Jo. “It’s really made me think.” She carefully kept her eyes on the road ahead of her. With the road curving left and right every couple hundred feet, it was a prudent decision. However, she was doing so more because she wasn’t ready for the rejection that may come with her next request.

“I’ve always been one to go with my gut, and the quote on that paper you just discovered about new beginnings was a wakeup call. There’s something inside telling me that I should continue travelling with you, and forget about whatever story is unfolding as a result of my past decisions … if you will have me.”

Damon couldn’t help but smile, just a little bit. “It wasn’t I who discovered that piece of paper, it was we,” responded Damon. And right on cue, as if to take partial credit for the discovery, Gryffin echoed a bark of approval from the back seat. “And you are certainly more than welcome to join me. In fact, I would rather like that.”

With the emotional distractions resolved, Damon’s attention returned to the logistics of the hours that followed. “Maybe we can find a couple hotel rooms in town, get some rest, and start fresh in the morning?”

“Where to, though?” asked Jo.

“I think maybe we should find a hotel with a business center. With access to a computer, we can figure out where these coordinates are leading us,” responded Damon.

Upon reaching the outskirts of town, Jo pulled into the parking lot of a gas station with a convenience store attached to it. While Damon began to fill up the truck, Jo headed inside to get some local knowledge on a good place to stay for the night.

When he had finished topping off the tank, Damon had noticed that Jo had yet to return from inside the store. He gave Gryffin a reassuring scruff behind the ears, uttered “Be right back buddy”, and headed for the front door. Inside, Jo was at the front counter with a pre-wrapped sandwich, bag of chips, and soda.

“I thought maybe we could get a bite to eat and brainstorm about that last number,” interjected Damon before she passed her money over to the clerk. He wasn’t quick enough. Jo had already paid, but she responded back, “It’s not for me.”

“It’s for the guy sitting on the curb outside,” she continued.

homeless-signDamon hadn’t seen anyone outside. Who exactly was she talking about? As he craned his neck to see out the front window, he now noticed the disheveled man huddled over on the curb. Am I that oblivious to the world around me? thought Damon. He was slightly embarrassed, at himself at least, that he had filtered another human being out of the equation of his life so easily.

While contemplating these thoughts, he didn’t realize that Jo was already exiting the store. “You coming?” came Jo’s voice with one foot already out the front door. Following her over to the curb, Damon watched as Jo leaned down and offered the man her purchases. It would have been a mere snack to Jo or Damon. To this gentleman, however, it appeared to be a feast. And although the only two words that emerged from his mouth were “Thank you”, the genuine look in his eyes spoke a thousand words of gratitude.

“There’s a small hotel, up ahead on the right. The guy inside said it looks sorta like a dive, but it’s a great deal and they are pet friendly. And yes, they have a computer,” smiled Jo as they returned to the truck.

Sitting at the hotel computer, each was digging into a carton of take-out shrimp lo mein. “You know,” voiced Jo between bites, “I had a different idea in mind when I said I’d like seafood for dinner.”

Damon stirred through the sea of noodles with his wooden chopsticks, searching for the sparse shrimp which evidently had all been consumed. “Yeah, I’m right there with you. I guess beggars can’t be choosers. Seafood and mountains don’t necessarily fit in the same sentence now, do they?”

Placing his uneaten portion on the table next to the computer, Damon looked over at Jo who had found one last shrimp, and offered, “If we ever get the chance, I’ll treat you to some proper seafood.”

“Promise?” grinned Jo. Without hesitation, Damon responded with his own smile, “Yep, I promise.” Returning to the business at hand, Damon punched the new set of coordinates into the browser’s search engine. It felt like turning that brass key again, opening another treasure box.

welcome-to-dcThe map on the screen contained many familiar landmarks. It was obvious where they would be headed next – Washington, D.C. More specifically, the exact coordinates pinpointed a particular building in the District of Columbia – the public library. It was at that point in time, almost simultaneously, that both Damon and Jo looked at each other and shared a collective chortle of recognition. They immediately understood the meaning behind the third inscription on that parchment.

Author’s Note: This is the fourth 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!

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!