Monday, April 30, 2012

Not knowing what That Is

I looked up at my mom as she hung up the phone.  I may have been three or four years old.  She told me that Mister Gurkey died.  (40 something years later I remember his last named rhymed with turkey.)  As the family of a local pastor we got prayer requests and information sooner than others.  And for the past several nights when I said my prayers before bed my mom had asked me to pray for Mr. Gurkey because he was in the hospital.  I don’t remember if I asked why he was there but I think that he was an old man near the end of his days.  So I had been dutifully praying every night for him. 
After my mom told me what they said on the phone I imagined the person at the other end of the line.  They were frantic and busy.  Whatever had put Mr. Gurkey in the hospital in the first place had gotten worse.  Now the doctors, who had been working on him for days, were busier than ever trying to fix him.  I expressed my thoughts to my mom and she told me that the doctors were done trying to fix Mr. Gurkey.  When someone died, there wasn’t anything the doctors could do anymore.  I considered that and I was doubtful of that finality. 
Death to a preschooler was just too big and way too long to imagine.  That night when I said my prayers I added on: “and help Mr. Gurkey up with you.”  Again my mom had to explain something.  Once someone was with God in heaven you didn’t need to pray to help them anymore.  Everything was okay once they were with God.  Despite those joyous tidings, I still did not care for the idea of death. Each night when I would say my nighttime prayers, just before the “amen” I always said “and thank you God for everything…”. It may have been right around then that in my mind I silently added: “except dying.” 
Our family dealt with the death of a pet over ten years ago when one of the four pet rats we had died after only a few weeks.  The four children, Harrison, Naomi, Benjamin and Sarah, were devastated.  We buried the dead rat in the side yard and had a whole funeral.  We knew that rats had limited lifetimes and saw the loss of several more rats over the years.  Prajna and I didn’t seem to learn our lesson when we got Sarah a beta fish for her birthday which didn’t last a month.  By then we owned Pumpkin.  The animal shelter had already named him when we got him.  He grew to a big orange cat and survived two moves and saw the passing of 4 other cats. 
When I got home from church yesterday Sarah was digging a hole in the corner of the yard.  Prajna told me that they found Pumpkin dead.  He had no signs of injury or poisoning.  We don’t know why he died.  I went out and finished digging the hole.  I let Jamie take a few shovel scoops.  Then we all gathered around, put the cat in the ground and took turns filling in the hole.  Prajna said a little prayer thanking God for Pumpkin and we put flowers in the fresh dirt.  It was the most elaborate pet memorial since Darcy the rat.  It wasn’t quiet for a moment when Nathaniel walked away saying he hoped his lunch hadn’t gotten cold.
Sarah was the one who took care of Pumpkin the most.  Most of the Facebook posts express sympathy to her.  I kind of want to say that I liked him a lot too.  And as I write this I can look directly to my right and there is the windowsill with Pumpkin’s food dish.  Some mornings around this time he could be there.  Now he’s in the ground or in cat heaven, we can only wonder. 
All my kids are older than I was when I first grappled with the notion of death.  They are all older than any were when our first rat died.  Today, Nathaniel is a few months shy of how old Harrison was when we lost Naomi.  And after Naomi, a ginger tomcat might seem insignificant.
And I think it is.  For better or worse, dealing with loss has toughened me a little bit.  The loss of Pumpkin doesn’t hurt too bad.  I think I can get through this.  However, even after 40 years, I still think of death the same way I did back when I was very young.  I’m not as afraid to fall of my little bicycle for fear I might die.  But  death is a great big unknown.  No matter how much I believe God’s promises, I still don’t know exactly what to expect.  And me, someone who gets bent out of shape when I don’t have a precise floor plan for a weekend event, like to know what to expect.  I think that faith has to be a mighty stepping stone in the walk I take.  The passing of a cat reminded me of that.         


Monday, April 23, 2012

I'm sure of nothing.

     I tend to not believe in karma.  A friend once pointed out to me that if karma was real, Jesus wouldn’t have been nailed to a cross to die.  I think that what happens happens, regardless of what I’ve done in the past.  But sometimes I do notice the irony once in a while.
     In my cleaning job nowadays, I sometimes have to pick up cigarette butts around the area outside church.  With latex gloves, nothing is too gross.  But I can’t help but remember when I was a smoker and I tossed most of my cigarettes on the ground.  Is this reaping what I sowed? Is it just irony?  Or does God keep tabs on me and counted every Marlboro flicked out the car window, thrown to the sidewalk, or crushed into the ground? 
     One night this past week I was home from work.  It was almost 10:30 pm and the church parking lot lights were off.  I saw headlights moving around in the dark, so I got my phone and went to a window to have a look.  I had in mind to call the sheriff dispatch if it looked suspicious.  The vehicle began to accelerate and swerve.  Moments later it left the parking lot and sped away.  The security alarms had not gone off.  I hoped all was well and slept fitfully. 
     The next day I found two fast food trays where I had seen the vehicle.  Apparently they had been stolen and then used for what I learned was called “tray surfing”.  At first I thought that meant putting the trays under the wheels and spinning around.  But when I learned that people actually stood on the trays and were pulled by the vehicle I couldn’t believe it at first.  The danger and idiocy of that act astounded me.  But the trays had holes worn, practically burned, though them right where feet would be.  Someone really did that.  And when I shared this discovery with people, the inevitable allegation came out: “You would have done the same thing as a kid if you’d thought of it.”
     Would I have?  I did love to spin donuts with my Mustang.  But did I steal things from fast food restaurants?  Yes, my friends and I took a WET FLOOR sign once.  But did I do property damage?  Well a friend and I made a habit of tipping over a port-a-john every time we drove by a particular park.  Maybe I never put other’s lives in danger, but no question about it, I was a destructive roughneck back in the day. 
     Now I clean up after people.  I don’t deal with property damage or vandalism very much.  (Although someone did illegally dump an old dishwasher in the church’s recycle dumpster Saturday.)  Is this work my penance?
     No, I don’t think so.  I enjoy my job too much for it to seem like reparation. I don’t mind cleaning up after people. I just am incredulous at what I see sometimes.  About two weeks ago I saw a kid skateboarding past the NO SKATEBOARDING sign with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.  I asked him how old he was and he snapped that he was 16.  I was rude to him.  I told him he oughtn’t to be smoking and should be going to the high school group instead.  He shrugged me off and skated away.  I felt terrible for being rude.  I think that I saw myself in him too much and said to him what I would have wanted to tell myself at 16.
     “Youth is wasted on the young” the old saying goes.  Sometimes it seems to me that wisdom is wasted on the old.  I don’t know.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be.  I know a lot of nice kids (not just my own) who are willing to listen to wisdom.  And I wish I could model it more.  I wish I had been more polite to that kid with the cigarette.  I wonder if he would have listened if I told him that I had been somewhere close to where he was, cocksure king of the world with an unknown future.  Or maybe there was no way to reach him.  But more than carless disregard for other’s property, kids who don’t seem to care about themselves disturb me greatly.
     Maybe a price I pay for the sins of my youth is the wisdom. Instead of a price to pay it’s just a result.  Accompanying this wisdom is the desire to pass that wisdom along.  Sometimes my blog goes too far that way.  I don’t want to presume to tell anyone anything other than what I’m thinking about and how it’s affecting me.  And lately I’ve been feeling like people should listen to me because I was foolish in my youth.  And now what?  I’m not a chowderhead anymore?  I’m afraid that this blog reads like it was written like one.  Once in a while, the world throws for a loop and it comes out in my writing.   The search for truth this week has only concluded that while other people might demonstrate empty headed actions one way, I can demonstrate the same state of mind trying to make sense of it in 878 words.  



Monday, April 16, 2012

Being "fine" on a Sunday Morning

o   Sunday Morning 5:20 a.m. The dad drifts back to sleep after getting up with the middle child who had a nosebleed.  He had his mind set on getting up at 5:30 to read the Bible and pray.  Now he’s convinced that without just a little more sleep he will perish.
o   7:52 a.m. The school age children are fighting because one of them woke up the other.  The parents get up and yell at them both and notice what time it is.  Then the parents both discuss who was supposed to get up first and start a special Sunday breakfast. 
o   8:20 a.m. The toddler, who has been quiet all this time, has been cheerfully playing in the mess he filled his diaper with sometime last night.  His sheets, bed, stuffed animals and body are all soiled.  The dad runs a bath and the mom starts a load of laundry.  Mom discovers the clothes she was planning on wearing to church balled up in the washer with several towels. 
o   8:35 a.m. The dad feeds the children the last of the cold cereal but they are out of milk.  The kids don’t mind the dry cereal except the younger school-aged who tries to use a spoon still because it’s his favorite spoon that he finally found outside yesterday in the sandbox.
o   8:45 a.m. None of the children can find a complete pair of shoes.   
o   8:50 a.m. Church starts in 10 minutes and this is when they would be leaving.  The kids are fighting.  Mom is trying to fix her hair.  Dad is saying to get in the car.  One child is wearing mom’s bedroom slippers and the other has rubber boots.  The toddler in his high chair has evacuated his bowels again.
o   8:55 a.m. The oldest child just blew the car horn and now the neighbor’s dog is barking.  Mom quickly eats a Lunchable® while dad cleans and dresses the toddler. 
o   9:00 a.m. The older children have made up a new song to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell” but the only words are “we’re gonna be late for church.”  Mom reminds dad that they’re late anyway and please drive carefully.     
o   9:07 a.m. The children’s cheerful song as lapsed into crying as dad yells at them to be quiet.  All three kids are crying.  Dad hold his tongue at the classic muscle car in front of him that ought to be going 90 miles an hour by the look of it but instead is going 20.
o   9:09 a.m. The car in front pulls over to look at a house for sale.  Dad pulls around and blows his horn.  Mom rebukes him and reminds him that they have a fish decal and need to set a good example.
o   9:15 a.m.  The car is parked at church.  The mom is trying to calm the kids down.  Dad looks for the diaper bag.
o   9:20 a.m. Most of the music is over.  Mom and dad have dropped off all the kids at Sunday school and are relegated to the front row of church for being late.  After the last song everyone is greeting and shaking hands.  Dad sees the mom with a big friendly smile.  The pastor steps up to shake his hand and the dad wonders if he washed his hands after changing toddler last time.  When asked how he is he answers: “fine”.
It was never quite that bad.  Some Sunday mornings were stressful.  I can remember events that led me to believe that Sunday morning was The Devil’s favorite day to mess with folks to see if they would not get anything out of church.  And I heard pastors agree with me.  I won’t go into a discussion here about the nature of evil or its master.  And I hope that the scenario above was at least a little humorous if not somewhat recognizable.  I wanted to point something out with all of this.
We did have mornings where we sat in the parking lot and tried to get it all together.  Once I was out of the minivan and amongst the church folks, there seemed to be this need to project an image that all was well and that we were a nice Christian family.  It’s too bad that human nature seemed to compel that desire to put up a front.  I think the only reason that we fooled anyone may have been that everyone else was too distracted putting up their own to notice others doing the same.  Sometimes when we had a heart to heart talk with friends we learned something shocking: We were not the only ones to have mornings like that.
Having the kids older now has definitely taken the edge off Sunday mornings.  I think it also helps, however to just be real.  Maybe the fronts we put up can come down if we see that a lot of us have them.  So if you see me sometime and I say I’m doing fine, you have my permission to not believe me.  And please take that as a hint to be honest with me too.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Confessions of a Wannabe

     The cracked air coats everything with dust as the sun glares down.  Next to the deserted road a pair of rough boots holds up a loan figure in a long black coat.  The scowling face is obscured by the dust.  The wind flaps the black coat.  Behind the figure is a black vehicle of indeterminate make.  The figure just stands by the side of the road and scowls.  Harmonica music wails in the background.
     It’s hard to believe that this awful presumptuous picture I’ve concocted actually starts in the snow.  It indeed originates in a landscape with blowing snow drifts.  And there is Han Solo mounted on a Tauntaun, the animal created for the second Star Wars installment.  When I saw The Empire Strikes Back, I was already a fan of Han Solo.  I had liked Luke first.  I was the type to believe in pure good back then.  But three years later I admired the roguish confidence that shone in Han Solo’s character.  Then when I saw him riding around on the ice planet, the thing that caught my eye the most was his parka.  All the rebels seemed to all wear uniforms of a tan color, Han Solo had a thick blue parka with a fur hood.  He was different, out of uniform, his own man.  I figured that he flew The Millennium Falcon to the ice planet and before disembarking, went to a storage locker and pulled out his warm coat.  He was prepared for anything.  What’s more he had the means to carry it all with him. I wanted to own and wear a parka around my tropical hometown. 
     So this first hero I really tried to emulate was Han Solo.  Not only was he reckless and cool, he was resourceful and prepared for anything.  I had a string of heroes following him.  All cool guys who seemed prepared for things.  Aside from being resourceful, they also worked alone.  I must have been in denial about how many people helped out Indiana Jones. 
     Mad Max was a loner.  He also had big black boots and a cool car that was loaded with everything he needed.  There was food and water and extra fuel stored and weapons stashed all over.  Even on his person, Max carried tools and weapons. 
Sometimes I look at myself and wonder if I ever had an original thought in my head as to who I am.  My current vehicle is a dusty vehicle sagging with tools I rarely use, extra water, clothing and yes, a knife here and there just in case I need to open a box or letter.  The only person I’ve ever cut is myself accidentally.  On most days I carry more junk on me than I usually need including a multi-tool and folding knife and a Swiss army knife, a harmonica and a flashlight and phone.  With the addition of my keys, I sometimes wear suspenders.  I could say they are to keep my pants up, but I also have to own up that there is another roguish space captain who wears suspenders that I wish I was like. 
And owning up is what I think I’m doing here.  I am going on and on to say that I’ve spent most of my life wanting to be like other people.  Most of them had a few things in common.  The resourcefulness was definitely a main thing.  They were mostly loners.  Maybe it all came down to one thing: they didn’t need to rely on anyone else for anything.  I wanted to be self-sufficient. 
Fortunately for me, I remember the year when I was out of college before I was in a relationship with Prajna.  That was the most alone I ever was.  And as much as I thought I liked being alone, I was miserable. 
Once in a while I get the urge to get off by myself and go camping, usually in the desert.  I do relish the time alone, but I don’t think I would without knowing I have family and friends to come home to.  I also dress sensibly in light clothing when I go out there and resist the heavy boots and long black coat.  I have to confess: That asinine description at the beginning of this entry was… no is how I sometimes wish I could be.  There, I said it.  I hope that by this honesty, that there is less of a façade for me to hide behind.
I really did use the name Roadwalker when I named this blog to describe a walk.  But I also couldn’t shake this picture:

When I found this picture I couldn’t help notice the resemblance to the pictures of roads I have on my page here.  
This is a tough thing to confess, but without the truth being told I don’t feel like my writing is worth as much.  I confess that I am something of a wannabe.  Not was, am.  So thank you for indulging me with this self-indulgent entry today.  And thank you for bearing with me as I confess an embarrassing fact about myself.  Hopefully this confession is a step in the right direction, taking away the layers I hide behind to find out who I really am.



Monday, April 2, 2012

Street Corner Perspective

I’m sitting in a Jack-in-the-Box Restaurant at the corner of Citrus and Redlands Boulevard.  I want to kill about an hour before I take a Cheeseburger to Harrison so I’m prepared to read the Vonnegut book I just started.  As I’m eating I’m listening to Paul Simon.  The first song, Kodachrome, talks about the past being clear and inviting.  I get out my notebook and write that down because I don’t have a blog topic yet.  The music continues and I glance out the window.  It’s about 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon.  Cars and pedestrians are steady.  A man walks by carrying a two gallon gas can in the direction of the Arco Station.  I write that down too and a few minutes later he walks back carrying the gas can as if it’s full.   
     I have been discontent for weeks.  I haven’t realized how sulky that has made me.   Of course everyone close to me has.  When I haven’t denied being discontent and depressed, I have chastised myself for feeling that way.  I have a wonderful family, home and job and no business feeling anything but joyful about it all.  I have tried to understand why I feel how I feel.  I asked myself: “What do I want?”  Yesterday I stared out a window and thought about what I wanted, and tried to imagine the same question about the people I saw.
     The driver of the new black Mustang GT looks glum about something.  I convince myself that I would never look that way behind the wheel in one of those while in the Jack-in-the-Box drive thru.  I wonder, what emptiness is in this guy’s life?
     If I had won the latest lottery of almost uku-billion dollars I think I might have been happy for a while.  I sat at my table with my empty Ultimate Cheeseburger wrapper and told myself that I have simple tastes and would still eat at Jack-in-the-Box if I won the lotto.  Aside from trying to buy a blimp or something I think I would do what most people would do if I fell into a huge pot of money.  I think we would all want to pay off debts, maybe take care of family member’s debts and get set for life with a nice place to live.  In other words, we would try to satisfy our wants and needs.  I would assume my life would be free from troubles if all my needs were met. 
     I had first put my headphones on because there was a loony looking guy in the restaurant.  Now I think I just stares at everyone in turn.  He’s been talking to himself and switching seats.  No table in the store seems to suit him.  He’s not easy to please it seems. 
     Outside I see a pregnant woman get out of her Cadillac and go into the AM/PM store.  What does she want in life?  She comes out a few minutes later with a big fountain drink, gets into her car and drives away.
     I won’t state the cliché about what money can’t buy. You can imagine it.  But how many intangible things are there that money can’t buy?  If we won the jackpot what would we want that could not be purchased? 
     A kid with long hair on a scooter meets up with another kid his age outside the gas station.  They have an excited talk.  The second kid makes happy, animated gestures.  They head back up the street in the direction the first kid came, still talking.  Nothing seems to be bothering them this afternoon.
     After looking out the window for about 45 minutes I feel a little better.  I have been taking notes and imagining a blog entry.  Sometimes I feel like everything I do is futile and I don’t’ want to ever get up early and blog or write again.  That is an irrational feeling and I know I’m wrong to feel that way.  Then I think of something to write about and the feeling goes away.  Maybe this is an intangible need of mine that money couldn’t ever buy: something to write about.
     A party of ten walks down the street.  There are two or three adults and the rest are kids.  Two are in strollers.  They go into the AM/PM and I only see a girl and adult woman outside a few minutes later.  They are leaning against the wall of the store eating. 
     Some people are speeding in the right lane passing other cars.  I wonder what they want.  Are they really in a hurry or just conditioned to drive fast?  Someone pulls out of the gas station lighting a cigarette.  Another person is at the red light talking on their cell-phone.  
     I looked out the window and thought about all the people I saw and tried to imagine what they all wanted.  The pregnant lady wanted a soda.  Did she also want peace of mind and less heartburn?  I don’t know.  Did the guy speeding like a manic want to get home to see a loved one?  Did he have to use the bathroom?  Was he even paying attention to his speed and thinking about something else?  Did he love the thrill of speed and was getting exactly what he wanted then?  
What was the one kid telling the other about that was so cool?
Some people have to wait a while for a break in traffic to turn left out of the gas station.  Cars stack up behind them.
     I bought a cheeseburger before I left and took it to Harrison so he could have something to eat before his percussion ensemble performance.  I met his immediate need for some supper and that felt good to me.  
I was grateful for the time spent looking out the window.  I think I gained a little insight, or at least a reminder that I’m not the only one who wants things, some of which no amount of money can buy.  That was a healthy dose of perspective.  If I don’t count the meal I bought, that experience cost me nothing.  
I don’t want to assume that this blog meets anyone’s needs but mine.  It’s never my goal to teach a lesson.  If I can share some perspective that I have picked up, then that’s good.