Chance encounter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unspoken voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good morning, what’s your name?”

“Fred.”

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

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

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

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

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

Sunrise

legal-tableSince his recent promotion, Patrick had been burning more than his share of midnight oil at the firm. Case upon case was piling up on the docket. If he was ever going to make partner status in this lifetime, he needed to buck up and deal with the luxury of getting four hours of sleep each night. The first several weeks of his new work regime carried on without incident. Adrenaline and carefully coordinate shots of caffeine provided by the firm’s espresso machine served him well. Like the sludgy oil in your car, however, you can only ignore it for so long before it revolts, the engine seizing up in protest. Patrick’s body did just that while seated at a conference table in an otherwise ordinary status meeting with his associates.

He was focusing on the details of a domestic violence case slated for prosecution the following week while simultaneously disseminating his planned strategy. In the next moment, Patrick opened his eyelids to the unexpected view of a much different environment: a white sanitized hospital room with his wife, Samantha, gazing out the window, an apprehensive look on her face.

“Hey beautiful,” he said to Samantha in a hoarse voice. The oxygen tube in his nose and the drugs dripping through the intravenous feed in his right hand were slowly bringing him back to this earthly world. Samantha quickly approached the bedside taking Patrick’s hand, “Pat, you had me so worried.” An impulsive tear ran down her cheek.

“What happened?” Patrick’s question arose from a confused mental state as he continued to absorb the details of his new surroundings.

“You had a heart attack,” stammered Samantha, the tears beginning to flow a bit more freely as she began to understand the gravity of the situation. “Honey, something has to change,” she pleaded. “This can’t go on. We can’t afford to have something happen to you.” By we, Samantha was referring to herself as well as the two young girls at home with grandma right now, ages four and seven.

Patrick had many redeeming and admirable qualities. The stubbornness that served him so well in his professional life did not do so in his personal and family life. It was this obstinance that left him lying horizontal in a hospital bed instead of sitting crisscross applesauce on the living room floor with his two daughters and their dolls. His body had provided a final warning, waving a white flag in surrender to the overwhelming stimuli of his self-induced professional responsibilities. The urgent message was signed, sealed, and delivered. Tossed into the trash like junk mail in the past, it was finally being read and received by Patrick.

“I know, I know,” said Patrick. “I need to change things. I promise I’ll go see the doctor when I get out of here.” And so it came to be that Patrick visited his doctor the following week for the first time in at least five years. Sitting in the exam room awaiting his family physician, Dr. Kreb, to enter, he couldn’t even remember if he was a she or vice versa. It had been so long, he knew that there would be no recognition between the two of them.

As the doctor knocked and entered the room, he (so it was a male after all) flipped through the pages of Patrick’s medical records while greeting his latest patient. “How’s it going today, what can I do for you?” Patrick was thinking that he should already know the answer to this question. He was admitted to the hospital but three days ago. Patrick’s emergency visit should have shown up in his file. Doesn’t everything end up in these files, he thought as he grasped for some release of internal tension and anxiety, recalling a Seinfeld episode from many years ago?

“Well, I guess the better phrasing is what I can do for myself,” retorted Patrick. As the doctor returned to the front page, he finally understood the reason for his visit. “Yes,” said the doctor. “I see we’ve been pushing our limits a bit too far, eh?” Although Patrick had a wry sense of humor, he didn’t appreciate any levity in this particular situation, at least not the kind doled out by his doctor.

wake-up-alarm-clock“I suppose you could say this is my wake-up call. I’ve hit the snooze button a few too many times and I know now that it’s time to finally get out of bed.” Patrick spoke in a self-deprecating tone as he began to sense how his cumulative actions over the previous year had led him to this present moment. He wished that he could simply take a pill and make this ill-fated situation disappear. Deep down, however, he knew this was impossible and was dreading the recommendations that would be forthcoming from the medical professional. It would be more invasive than the surgery that he didn’t need.

The doctor spoke in a very matter-of-fact tone, reading from the notes he had made, as if he was rattling off a list of items to pick up at the grocery store on the way home. “First, you need to cut back on the amount of stress you are creating in your life. That means no more eighty hour work weeks. You need to cut it back to forty hours like the rest of the human population.” Looking over the rims of his bifocals to be sure his patient was paying attention; he continued “Second, you need to find a way to manage the excessive amounts of stress that you have already invited into your life. Find an activity or a hobby that gives you some time for renewal and rejuvenation: set aside some time to listen to music you enjoy, meditate, or take a daily walk on the beach. Your choice, just be sure to find something.”

The first piece of his treatment was going to be difficult to embrace. His work had become an addiction for Patrick. Cutting back to half the hours would be akin to going cold turkey. It was not going to be pretty. In fact, he surmised that it would introduce even more stress in the short term. Despite his apprehension, however, he knew it was necessary. Besides, if he didn’t follow through with the doctor’s advice, he was either headed for another heart attack or a divorce, maybe both.

As difficult as the work schedule aspect of his treatment would be, the doctor had stumbled upon a perfect activity for Patrick to help alleviate some of his existing stress. This part would be much easier. He had moved from the Midwest after law school to be closer to the beach. And yet, here he was less than ten minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and he could count on his one hand the number of times he had been there in the past ten years.

atlantic-ocean-beachOne of those times, perhaps the most memorable of his life, occurred on his first date with Samantha. With the pale moonlight casting a glow over the endless sea, the two of them stood with their foreheads touching, gazing into each other’s eyes as the lapping waves tickled their toes, sinking their feet into the sand as if setting strong roots for their future together. Maybe that’s why he didn’t return as often. Maybe he never wanted to risk tainting the perfection of that fond memory. Patrick would be strolling on that same beach more often now because he relished the reminiscence of that first date. He planned to relieve stress by taking a daily walk on the beach each morning before commuting into the office.

He had walked on this beach and sat on these dunes dozens of times in the past several months. The most spectacular part of this new practice was watching the sun begin to peek above the horizon as night transitioned to dawn. Each sunrise was different. Every one portrayed a different mood and told a different story. Some narratives were filled with gray clouds and a dull light that cast a somber ambiance. Other renditions were characterized by brilliant hues of vibrant pink, blue, and orange that was manifested by the smile of encouragement and hope on Patrick’s face.

turtle trekThis Friday morning’s sunrise was neither melancholy nor effervescent. And yet, it was like none he had ever seen. As Patrick sat on the dunes, forearms resting on his knees, he eagerly awaited the story line beginning to unfold as the diluting darkness of night gave way to the refreshing light of day. From the corner of his eye, in his peripheral vision, Patrick noticed what looked like a shadow, a vague form of something meandering down the sand towards the water’s edge. As the rising sun began to cast more light on the scene, he spotted the trail of sea turtles trekking vigorously towards the safety of the deep ocean waters. This was only the first of many obstacles that they would need to surmount in their young lives, but it was the most pressing at the moment. They were devoting every ounce of energy and focus into the here and now, and Patrick was overfilled with gratitude, being able to witness this magical transformation, this beginning of a new life.

It led Patrick naturally to contemplate the direction of his own focus. Each and every morning, he would sit here on this beach and focus on what was out over the horizon, awaiting a grand spectacle to make its presence known from a distance. He wondered how many other things, like these fledgling turtles, that he missed right before his eyes.

His daily routine should have carried Patrick south towards his office and the final eight hours of his new forty hour work week. It was those eight hours, after all, that would help propel Patrick closer to becoming a partner, that vision looming just out over the horizon. Instead, he turned north, headed home to his own fledgling turtles, all the while planning a perfectly splendid party involving imaginary tea, pretend scones, and the three most important people in his life.

Awakened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alphabet soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back

yellow-traffic-lightThe approaching traffic light, color turning from green to yellow, beckons a decision. I look forward to assess the traffic flow ahead of me, I glance in the rear view mirror to gauge the distance of the vehicle trailing behind me, and I take notice of my present position on the road. Neurons fire in my brain that sends a conflicting message to my right foot. Depress the accelerator to avoid getting rear-ended, or apply full brakes to avoid running a red light. In a split second, I have looked forward, looked back, and somehow also remained in the present.

We are presented with what seems like an infinite number of choices, every second of every day. Some provide more significant consequences than others, but they are decisions to be made nonetheless. Accelerator or brake? Chicken sandwich or hamburger? Remain in the comfort of your hometown or move a thousand miles away to a new job and a fresh beginning?

As I sit at the red light that I have successfully navigated, the single engine airplane flying overhead reminds me of the delicate balance between looking forward, glancing back, and staying present.

During the practical test required as a part of obtaining my private pilot license, I knew it was coming. It was a skill that needed to be tested in order to assess my aptitude for operating an aircraft as pilot-in-command. You are taught to always remain two steps ahead of the airplane. Remain cognizant of every potential pitfall that may arise while you are thousands of feet in the air. It’s not only required to pass the practical test. It’s essential to remaining safe.

The mesmerizing murmur from the piston engine through your headset and the spinning propeller lures you into a complacent state. Until that sound and that movement is no longer present. The aviation examiner has reached across with her left hand and retracted the throttle lever to idle. “You have just lost your engine”, she says. “What do you do now?” There is a checklist for everything, so I carefully work through the memorized steps: assessing my altitude, locating a suitable landing spot, reporting an emergency over the proper communication channel, and attempting to restart the engine, all while gently and slowly bringing the aircraft closer to the earth as a glider. After living this experience firsthand, it is easier to appreciate why staying ahead of the airplane, looking forward, is more important than staying in the present and admiring the scenery.

I think about how this relates to my everyday life outside of an airplane cockpit. How much time do I spend looking forward, looking back, and staying present? And what is the right amount of each? As evidenced by my experience as a pilot, looking forward keeps you from enjoying the present, those moments right in front of you. Living in the past leads you to stagnate, either constantly relishing in past accomplishments and experiences or playing the “if only” game that plagues our psyche at times. And staying too present prevents you from learning from the past and planning for the future.

I have been looking in the rear view mirror more often lately, in my personal life, in my professional life, and in what I like to call my writing life. And they have some very interesting parallels to one another.

There are things I wish I would have said. There are things I had hoped to handle differently. The decisions themselves and their consequences are irrelevant. What was significant for me was deciding to acknowledge the decisions that were made and reflect on them accordingly. I didn’t obsess on my choices, although it was tempting. The key to my sanity was the decision to glance, as I did when looking in the rear view mirror of my car, and not hyper focus on the past.

In my writing life, I look back at the first few posts that I composed as a part of this blog. Looking at those pieces, I often mutter under my breath, “What in the world was I thinking?” and almost laugh at the absurdity of the content. Poorly written, maybe. Embarrassing, likely. Authentic, absolutely.

I am what most would call a recovering perfectionist. And you would think that my desire to go back and tinker with those pieces from the past would be impossible to resist. Truth is, I never have done so. Maybe it’s because it would be too much work, Maybe it’s because I’m lazy. But, more than anything, I know that it’s because one of my guiding principles is to remain vulnerable and authentic.

Those pieces, however malformed they may have been, were an accurate reflection of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions at that time in my life. Going back and reading them may be difficult for my discerning perfectionist eye. But, there is more to a piece of writing than the words. There is the emotion and feeling held in the space between the words and decisions. And in that sense, to me, these are works of art. They tell a story of my growth as a writer and as a human being.

Looking back you realize that a very special person passed briefly through your life – and it was you. It is not too late to find that person again. ~Robert Brault

rear-view-mirrorI am sure that another year from now, I will look back on a piece I wrote today, on decisions that were made and mutter the same thing beneath my breath, “What was I thinking?” And in a strange and somewhat peculiar sort of way, I actually hope that is exactly what happens. It means I will have grown just a little bit more.

 

Opening day

rays-opening-day-2014Although time travel in a physical sense is presently science fiction, it is a reality when traveling within our mind. Through our experiences and our memories, we are able to journey into the past, for better or worse, and revisit those feelings and emotions that stirred us so deeply. And although many of those memories are filled with grandeur and majesty, often the ones that become a fabric of your life are the quietest and simplest.

Monday, March 31, 2014 is a national holiday. Well, it is for baseball fans. As opening day of the new baseball season, it is a celebration of hope for your team, an unofficial welcome to the splendor of spring. And a very good excuse to take a vacation day, travel across the state with your son, and watch the Tampa Bay Rays opening day game in St. Petersburg.

For years, I have been a cheering fan in the seats at Tropicana Field on opening day, partaking in the festive atmosphere, allowing myself to be ushered by the wave of excitement. Alone. The opportunity to share this rendition of opening day with my eleven year old son filled me with eager anticipation. After partaking in a lunch consisting of a foot long hot dog, a pressed Cuban sandwich, and a shared order of fries, we found our way to section 219, row D, seats 19 and 20, our new t-shirt and cap securely clutched in hand.

As we settled into watching batting practice, the rhythmic crack of a wooden bat piercing the air was an oddly comforting sound, an announcement that baseball is back in full swing. As the power hitters launched ball after ball into the outfield seats, many a “Whoa, did you just see that?” were shared between us, along with sips of lemonade from our souvenir cup.

Near the conclusion of warm-ups, we decided to explore a new addition to the venue affectionately known as The Trop. Circling the entire stadium at just above field level is a walkway that allows you to soak up the experience from nearly any vantage point. As we were navigating our way through the crowds of people along the path, the jumbo screen came to life. With a musical score introduction exuding a victorious tone, a cinematic presentation followed. Highlights from past seasons streamed over those pixels on the big screen providing a reminiscent trip down memory lane.

The magical sequence of events that our entire family watched together on the final day of the 2011 baseball season. The highlights from Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series. As I place a hand on my son’s shoulder, I got down to his eye level and pointed with my finger to the very last row at the top of the stadium behind home plate. “I was up there during that game when they advanced to the World Series, and it was absolutely amazing. I wish you could have been there with me to see it.”

Caught up within the evocative memories of seasons past, I kept the tear forming in the corner of my eye from escaping down my cheek. The goose bumps, however, could not be contained, washing over my skin with a tidal wave of emotion. Not because my team succeeded. Okay, well maybe a little bit because of that. Ultimately, though, the emotion came from sharing such a special moment with those around me, whether it was the stranger who looked like Mr. Miyagi seated next to me in those nosebleed seats during Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, or with my family on our living room couch in 2011.

As we departed the stadium, en route back home, the churning hunger pains from our stomach began to win out over the adrenaline rush of an opening day 9-2 victory. In search of a Chick-Fil-A at all expenses, my son willingly staved off those pangs of hunger until we were finally able to locate one an hour into our drive back home.

After pacifying the immediate demands of hunger, I looked up to my son who was sitting across from me and I said, “You know, when they were playing those highlights from the past seasons, I got goose bumps.” He paused a moment, looked up with a little grin, almost one of relief, and said, “Yeah, me too.”

opening-day-is-specialAnd right then, I forgot whether we had won or lost the game. The memory I had intended to make by attending a baseball game with my son didn’t occur in a stadium. It transpired at a Chick-Fil-A, an hour away from home, while dipping chicken nuggets in buttermilk ranch sauce. And those goose bumps that had visited earlier treated me with an encore performance. I can’t say exactly why that moment filled me with such joy. Perhaps it was just an intimate moment between father and son, a shared memory that endowed more emotion than a game winning home run ever could. Sometimes, we capture memories in a photograph, and sometimes a memory becomes so imprinted upon us that a photograph could not possibly do it justice. Chalk one up for the latter.

Connect the dots

connect-with-othersSmall black raindrops falling from the sky. The pattern of dots scattered across the blank page appear random. If it weren’t for the sequential numbers that accompany these smudges, I would have the urge to wipe my sleeve across the sheet and clean the apparent mess. I have fond memories of these puzzle books as a child, the mind racing three numbers ahead, connecting the dots in my mind, forming a guess at the final illustration. My fascination may have been due to the relative ease with which an artistic creation was produced. Or, it may have been the process of moving from one step to another, connecting the dots, and discovering what lies hidden within those specks of ink.

I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. ~Henry David Thoreau

I savor time alone with my thoughts. Driving in my car, sitting at my desk, walking on the street, sometimes even in the company of others, I am lost in my thoughts. It’s a great expansive universe waiting to be explored, millions of thoughts racing from neuron to neuron. Most of them escape my consciousness while some pause momentarily, providing me the chance to contemplate a suggestion proposed by the subconscious mind. The mental adrenaline rush is sometimes more compelling than the physical variety. I am never one to shy away from the opportunity for peaceful seclusion. Ironically, it is this withdrawal into self that often helps me appreciate that this is only half the picture.

Sequestered in my cave for eight hours a day, you would think I was as content as a bear in hibernation. However, unlike that bear, I have not fattened up for the extended time in my little grotto. When the grumblings from my stomach echo through the silence, it is like a virtual alarm clock telling me it is time for some sustenance.

I’m a deli person. Our local grocery store has a station set up specifically for ordering custom subs. My opening line is always the same: A whole Boar’s Head Italian on white, provolone, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, banana peppers, and just a bit of sub dressing. It is so well rehearsed that I know it as well as the Pledge of Allegiance. The frustration is getting to that first line often takes twenty minutes. The popularity of these deli offerings is evident from the gathering of patrons with tickets in hand. With every number called, “Now serving number 24”, each of us instinctively looks down at our number, performing our daily quota of math to determine how much longer we need to assuage the protests from our stomach.

Recently, a new option was provided for consumers at this deli. Online ordering. With a few clicks of a mouse, you could build a custom sub to your exact specifications, providing a blueprint for the quintessential lunch offering. It was pure genius. I was giddy. Swing by the deli counter, pick up the sandwich made fresh just for you, sitting in the tray for less than five minutes. In the store, through the checkout line, and back at work in less than ten minutes. Brilliant.

I have taken advantage of this opportunity on at least three or four different occasions already. But, I have realized that there is always something missing. It wasn’t the banana peppers, or the mayonnaise, or even the sub dressing. They were all there. What was missing? Human interaction. Pretty strange coming from someone who hoards personal time. However, it was in this moment that I completed that virtual connect the dot puzzle, revealing my own little work of art.

I never realized how much interaction occurred after the well rehearsed ordering details. It wasn’t until I didn’t have it front and center that I understood how much I missed it. Becoming familiar with each worker’s personality, appreciating the way tomatoes are put on before the lettuce to keep the sandwich from falling apart, getting an update on how a sore foot is recovering, pondering the next destination on a wanderlust list, playing meteorological expert for five minutes because these busy employees are confined indoors without a view. Trust me, I can relate. It’s a two way link of communication that cannot possibly be replicated in the online world.

human-interactionThat mental adrenaline rush is gaining momentum again. I now realize why I enjoy a quiet walk in the woods as much as a stroll down Broadway in New York City. I still treasure my time alone, but it’s the interaction with others that provides those racing thoughts and ideas, nourishment of a different variety for my philosophical side. My introverted and extroverted sides have a very symbiotic relationship, each feeding from the experience of the other.

Those rumblings from my stomach? I never would have guessed that my hunger for a sandwich was surpassed by a hunger for human interaction. A voice from behind the counter announces “Now serving number 42.” Yep, my turn. It’s time to feed my appetite.

Standing tall

Lighthouse at TwilightThe sea may be placid and tranquil, an undisturbed canvas upon which passing ships etch their story. Or it may be a cauldron of immense proportions, filled with turbulence and turmoil, writing a story of its own as it summons payment by those same vessels for crossing through her waters. Through it all, the beacon of light perched over the horizon radiates a signal of calming influence. Never moving itself nor asking for anything in return, the lighthouse perseveres against the forces of nature, securing a pact between land and sea as a conduit for safe passage.

Is it the manner in which it majestically towers above the landscape? Is it the memory of a simpler time in our human existence? Is it the story of adventure, mystery, and quiet contemplation that is held within its walls? Is it the sense of hope that its light resolutely displays for the entire world to see? What is the allure of a lighthouse? For me, it is all of these things, plus one more. Courage. Although an inanimate object, each lighthouse has a personality all its own that breathes life into its onlookers. Each is a symbol of the willingness to persist against all obstacles tossed in its direction. It stands tall in the face of adversity.

There are times when the ocean is not the ocean – not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most. ~M.L. Stedman

My persona is analogous to a buoy floating on the water. Save for the most extreme circumstances, I undulate to follow the motion of the waves. Whether mere ripples in a pond or frothy whitecaps washing over my head, I remain steady, rather even-keeled. This is a blessing and a curse. There are times when it is best to allow the raindrops to roll off your back. But, there are also moments when it is best to confront those same drops of rain head on, bravely wipe them from your eyes, and stand tall in the name of principles held within. Confrontation, definitely not a term in my daily vernacular.

In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, each person in this world must choose to be an anvil or a hammer. Sometimes, I wonder whether I am both, anvil and hammer, at the same time. In a fiercely contested psychological battle, I hold myself responsible for those scenes where I remain submissive, my own voice quiet, not ready or willing to speak the thoughts screaming from the depths of my being. Is it just too much effort to rock the boat? Has this personality characteristic planted its roots in my upbringing? Do I favor acceptance over respect? Does my internal compass need re-calibrated to point towards my true north? Whatever the case may be, the first step is to recognize this anomaly, a worthy exploration of confrontation in its own right. The second step is to forgive yourself for prior transgressions against your personal creed and march forward with courage.

You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. ~M.L. Stedman

It is said that books which touch us most deeply are the ones that speak the message we most need to hear. I have finished reading two complete works of fiction since turning the final page of The Light Between Oceans, a novel by M.L. Stedman. It is the first time a book has brought a tear to my eye. The significance of its influence on my frame of mind has been matched by no other. One month, two story lines, and dozens of characters later, the plight of Tom, Izzy, and Lucy still remain vivid in my memory. I wish that I could reach into the pages of this gem and pull each of them into my world. Perhaps it is because I deeply respect their exhibition of mental fortitude. In the face of adversity and difficult choices, each remains true to their deeply held beliefs, speaking their mind, standing tall.

stand-aloneThe origin of radiance from a lighthouse is but a modest and unassuming flame, nothing more than a flicker of light to the casual observer. However, a series of delicately aligned and precisely focused lenses magnify that flame to an intensity hundreds of times more powerful than the source. Cutting through the densest fog, overcoming the force of gale strength winds, peeking through the drops of a torrential rain storm, it provides guidance. That beacon of light is a symbol of hope, a demonstration of courage, a reminder that just like that lighthouse, we can all stand tall.

What if

what-ifWhat. If. Two words, repelling like magnets, wary of getting too close to one another. By themselves, each is completely harmless and innocuous. Allow them to approach each other with but a single space between them? Dare to place a question mark afterwards? Such a simple rearrangement of characters becomes a force to be reckoned with. We are cautioned against uttering these toxic words as they typically signify regret, disappointment, and guilt. I ask that you courageously take a journey between these two words with me. They don’t always need to hold a connotation of negativity.

It begins first thing in the morning as the alarm clock blares, waking us from a peaceful and restful state of sleep. As the seconds turn to minutes, the minutes to hours, the pace of our day accelerates with astonishing speed. Countless buzzing, chiming, and chirping from our electronic devices indicate new text messages, Facebook updates, and email notifications.

As a child growing up in the 1980s, I was extremely fortunate to have a computer in my house. The rarity of this possession could be likened to owning a diamond embedded iPhone in the present day. Yes, these are actually available with a price tag approaching eight million dollars. But, I digress.

Seated at that computer for hours on end, I would teach myself BASIC programming. I never had grand visions for developing anything of significant importance. I was simply enamored with the idea of exploring the unknown, wandering through this seemingly infinite world of possibilities, letting my imagination and new found knowledge take me wherever it pleased.

On one occasion, I remember programming a game based upon the baseball cards I had collected the previous summer. In an effort to make it appear that something more important was occurring, I introduced an artificial delay in the code to lengthen the loading time and slow down the program execution. Oh, the irony. Thirty years later, I am doing the exact opposite, searching through pages of existing code to improve efficiency and speed up program execution. What if my desire to slow things down was the prognostication of a future need from my younger self?

Consider our world of just twenty years ago. Want to discover why the earth remains in orbit around the sun? Hop on your bike and visit the local library. Want to travel to your grandparents’ house across the state? Allot six hours as your parents faithfully adhere to the fifty five mile per hour speed limit on the interstate.

Today, we are able to obtain the same knowledge about our planet’s orbit in record time through a finely crafted Google search from our smartphone. We hold more computing power in the palm of our hand than was used to land a man on the moon. Think about that. That same trip to grandma’s that took six hours now takes barely four as the speed limit in some parts of our country has been elevated north of seventy five miles per hour.

Faster, quicker, now. That is the world we live in. We are moving so quickly to keep up with the world around us. Barely keeping pace, we are leaving the most important part of us, our heart and soul, gasping for breath. Dragging behind like a tin can attached to our bicycle, it is screaming for us to slow down. Oblivious to its pleas, we bolt forward in pursuit of the carrot hanging just out of our reach. What if we’re already moving fast enough?

Do I use technology? Every day. Do I appreciate it? Absolutely. It is because of the technological revolution over the past twenty years that I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and clothes on my back. Does that give me permission to turn a blind eye to the dangers it presents our society? And more importantly to our individual selves? Unequivocally, no.

The problem’s plain to see. Too much technology. Machines to save our lives. Machines dehumanize. ~Styx – Mr. Roboto

einstein_technology_exceeded_humanityAs I enter an elevator bound for my office on the sixth floor, I am greeted by a colleague holding a smartphone in his hand. As a streaming radio program pours from its speakers, a text message chimes in, and the phone begins ringing to indicate an incoming call. All at the same time. Feigning embarrassment, he expresses a desire to live in an age free from these electronic tethers that govern our daily routines. Perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but maybe this seemingly implausible ideal is worthy of our contemplation.

What if bandwidth should be defined less by how much data our cellular networks can handle and more by our mental capacity to have a meaningful conversation with those close to us? What if we are all moving plenty fast already? What would transpire if we all slowed down and paused to take a deep breath, both literally and figuratively? What if the most important, significant, and consequential question we can sometimes ask ourselves is what if?