Monday, October 29, 2012

Painting on the Temple Wall

            I don’t know what the idea was, but the teacher of my confirmation class took us around to other churches. It must have been to broaden our horizons. It wasn’t other denominations, it was other religions. So one afternoon we went to the Jodo Mission Buddhist Temple, just down the street from our Methodist church in Lahaina. I had been there plenty of times before, so I was unimpressed by the beautiful landscaping and pagoda towering up. There was the largest statue of Buddha outside of Asia, fat, green and beaming down at us. And there was the Coke machine that my friend bowed before to be funny. (I thought it was a riot and wish I had thought of it.)
     The pastor of the Buddhist Temple was delighted to show us around. I was already familiar with him and his family. His daughter was best friends with my sister. He took us in the actual temple. The rest of the class snickered at the reverend’s pious pause before particular artifacts. I shifted uncomfortably. The rest of my class was mostly neighborhood boys, 7th grade like me, that I avoided in school, mostly for fear.
     The inside of the temple was exquisitely decorated. The pastor pointed out what some things were. That was when I was so impressed I nearly wet my pants. I thought then and there that this was the coolest church I had ever been to. And I wondered what my pastor had wanted by showing off other religions to us.
     Well, I didn’t convert to Buddhism. What I actually saw in the temple that knocked my socks off was just a picture of a flower. The pastor had pointed to it and explained the flower's significance to the Buddhist religion. It was a lotus flower. A lotus. That was all it took to thrill me. A Lotus was the kind of car the James Bond drove in a recent movie which turned into a submarine. A Lotus Esprit was my dream car. Everywhere I went including school and most likely that field trip that day, I had a Hot Wheels® Lotus Esprit in my pocket. I had no idea that there was a flower with the same name as the coolest car in the world. But seeing a picture of that flower was all it took to make my day.
     It’s been fun recalling and telling this story. And I try to convince myself that I blog mainly in order to practice my writing and have an obligation to write something legible at least once a week. I really try not to proselytize. But I want to point something out here from my story.
     Some parents might object to a Christian church taking a field trip to a Buddhist temple. Who knows what ungodly dogma might cloud their little minds, right? Should you risk that? But the only thing I came away with in my head was a painting of a lotus flower that lent its name to a British sports car that I had a fondness for. I walked into that temple with an extreme liking for that car and walked out with the same. Who I was before that excursion was not compromised, just re-enforced.
     The world is a scary place to turn kids loose into. I still tell my 15 year old to please look both ways before crossing streets. It’s just what I am that says that. Can I tell him to stay out of places of worship that do not adhere to what The Bible teaches? Well, yes I can. But if he were to wander in, perhaps to get a drink of water, who would he be when he walked out? It shouldn’t be my concern as much to where he goes, because I only have so much say over that. What I need to be most concerned about is not where he goes, but this: Who he is when he goes. That is all I really have a say in. Not where he is, but who he is.
     His fondness for James Bond exceeds mine at that age, but not of cars. His integrity and resourcefulness still makes me proud.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Sorrow Soiree

     The Starfish in Finding Nemo chants to herself to “find a happy place” when the situation becomes unbearably anxious. Maybe it was a peaceful beach where a lot of people could have found a happy place. I have to confess that in addition to a happy place of mine, one of which is a high point on the Disney Wonder out at sea, hours before dawn, I have another place that isn’t happy. It’s easier to go there and they all know me.
     Of course it’s easy to hide in a veil of self created misery and have a sorrow soiree. A sorrow soiree is a place I can go and wallow in self pity, listen to the voices that tell me how no-good I am and everyone else really doesn’t care for me. If I wallow long enough, I will begin to believe the voices and sing along with them. Nobody ever comes to my sorrow soirees, maybe because it’s just a pity party.
     When I sat by the side of the road last week in my disabled truck I distracted myself by reading. It was the ride back in the tow truck where I started really feeling sad. I saw my sabbatical disappearing, never to be seen again. And I saw my truck out the back window of the cab of the tow truck. I wondered if it would ever move on its own again.
     For a lot of my life I have battled depression. I have been able to work through it very well and am a lot better than I used to be. But back in the day it could be crippling. The thing was, I didn’t coast to the side of the road and wait for help. I kept on. I went to work and tried to function as if nothing was wrong. Here is where one of my biggest problems was. I tried to ignore it all and just keep on keeping on. I tried to be strong in the face of an rainy wind with lightning all around. What a strong guy I thought I was. And in reality (for in fact I never escaped that) I was in denial. And while I would try to press, all along I would be at that sad little party in my head. Withdrawn inside, pretending outside.
     It would have been so easy to play the card of depression last week and fall into a nice funk, be miserable and have one of those old parties with myself. I would have been willing to go there but for a few things.
     First, I remember what it was like being sick with clinical depression. It’s a quagmire that is very difficult to escape from. I remembered well enough the damage it did and tried to have the good sense to not go back there. But just wanting to not go there wasn’t enough.
     The afternoon I was supposed to be driving into Death Valley there was a mandatory meeting that I had been excused from. It wasn’t an easy decision to go ahead and attend. I had excitedly told everyone my plans to be away. Everyone would wonder what I was doing back so soon and some people might ask and I might have to repeat the story. But I went to the meeting. People did ask me and I told them my truck broke. And I saw sincere sorrow.
     All week people asked me how my trip was and after I told them I got empathy. This was not something new to me, people being nice to me. But it went against the theme of the pity party. The thing about the pity party is the music that I mentioned. It’s not a melodious thing to enjoy. The words repeat over and over how no-one cares. When I tried to avoid the party and stay in the real world, I was hearing things that went against those voices. People cared.
     A setback like the broken truck makes a lame excuse to withdraw from everyone. But any excuse will do when there’s a party waiting. I wanted to plan my NaNoWriMo novel while I was off alone. I could have canceled that writing too. But I’m trying to press on. It isn’t easy because keeping my head up after things go wrong is something I haven’t done in a long time. But I’m trying to stay out of denial this time. That means accepting that I am disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world and I can still try to write a whole novel in the month of November, which I have been looking forward to even more than a sabbatical. I also can’t deny that there are people who care about me. And does that ever make a difference when I remember that each day. Thanks everyone.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Gang aft Agley

 I’m more than a little disappointed. But I don’t know what the appropriate feeling is. I’m trying not to sink into a sulky depression. I just don’t know how to feel.
     I wasn’t sure I would ever take another sabbatical again. The little getaways off by myself where I take a road trip, camp overnight, and spend some time alone are what I call a sabbatical. I tried not to fix on the idea that I was entitled to these escapes. I already have a low-stress job that I spend a lot of time alone at. If I want time alone I can go to work or even just get up early like I do when I write. And whether or not I deserved to get away, I also questioned ever going off when my questioned even owning my truck. I don’t need to drive to work anymore. I have no real use for this 1992 Toyota four-wheel-drive pickup. There are other, more important expenses and we try hard to live within our means.
     So after two years in a row of getting away in late summer with me thinking it would be an annual thing, last year I had to cancel my plans to go back to Death Valley. It just didn’t work for us that year. So I dealt with it. I blogged about it.
     I was thinking that this year I might make it out. The truck was running a little rough, though. But a friend fixed some minor problems and suddenly the truck was running great. I set a date and location. I wanted to go to Mahogany Flat, campgrounds at an 8000 foot mountain summit inside Death Valley National Park, east of the Valley Floor. I had been there before. It was peaceful. The night sky was bright with stars. And I could only get there with four-wheel-drive. I didn’t know how much life my truck had. I thought that this might be my last opportunity to get away to this location.
     Gas prices leapt. I stuck with the plan. I had refrained from listening to some of my favorite CD’s for a few months, saving them for the long road-trip. I mapped out my route, scrounged up the family’s shabby camping gear, and got my food together. I also packed a blank notebook. I wanted to sit up in the campgrounds and plan out what I was going to write this November for National Novel Writing Month. I excused myself from teaching Sunday school and attending a staff meeting, telling everyone my plans and trying to not sound too excited. No, I wasn’t going with anyone. I was going alone. Yes, to Death Valley. No, it probably would be cold where I was sleeping.
     I could barely sleep the night before. Sunday morning I got up at 5. I packed my last few items. (I had started a list weeks before.) Kissed a sleeping Prajna goodbye and I was off, on the road by 5:45.
     I was in Victorville in just under an hour and I topped off the gas tank. Then I went to McDonalds to use the restroom and the Wi-Fi. Then I got onto highway 395 and started heading North. The sun was up and the air was still cool. My first CD ended and I put on the next one.
     At about 8:30 I was about 35 miles from Victorville. The CD was less than halfway through when I began to hear a noise. It sounded like wind whistling through a bottle. I thought it sounded like an overheating sound. My gauges all looked good. The noise got louder and then I felt a roughness like a bad rear tire. I got to the side of the road. As the truck slowed, the roughness became intense. I stopped and got out. Checking out the truck, the tires looked fine, but I saw a little curl of smoke coming from the differential and a burnt chemical smell. I don’t know a whole lot about cars, but I know that the differential has gears and bearings inside and needs fluid to work. The truck had broken down. It would not drive any further.
     I called the auto club, then Prajna. AAA called me back and asked for a better description of where I was. I told them, no, there were no landmarks. But I had re-set my odometer in Victorville and I could positively say that I was 36 miles North of the city on Highway 395. If the driver was coming from that direction, he couldn’t miss me.

     Then I sat in my cab and read Writer’s Digest while long-haul trucks, RV’s and other traffic sped by between quiet empty pauses. The tow truck driver was a friendly young man. I answered his questions but didn’t ask any back. I spent the drive back composing a blog.
     “Just my luck,” the driver said. “I’m hitting every red-light.”
     “Yeah,” I agreed.
     I didn’t consider myself unlucky. Yes, the rear-end of my truck had a catastrophic failure. But it was within the range of AAA’s free towing. And it hadn’t happened inside the National Park or up the side of a mountain where I could have been stranded for a day or so. I was lucky… blessed is more like it. But I still felt disappointed, and guilty for feeling that way. Who was I to think I should be able to get away, spend money on gasoline only to amuse myself?
     Our tow truck passed a very expensive-looking speedboat being pulled by a nice Dodge Pickup. I tried not to be jealous. Of course I don’t care for boats, but I could have a nice little with the money it took to own and operate a speedboat, right?
     I felt not only guilty for feeling disappointed, I felt embarrassed. I would have answer to people why I was back early or how my trip went. And topping it all off was confusion. Should I grin and tell people that it’s okay? Or should I clam up and shake my head when they ask me? Be artificial or honest?
     I wanted to go home and read Of Mice and Men and nap all afternoon. Instead I went to the meeting I opted out of. Everyone was sincere in their sympathy.
     I’m trying to be honest, but polite about it. I am trying to face the truth. I can’t deny my disappointment. I can’t deny how blessed I was that it happened the way it did. I can’t deny that my truck may never drive again and that kind of hurts. I can’t deny that there are people nearby and all over the world with greater needs than me and I should be thankful for everything. And I am. I am. So the disappointment and the thankfulness battle it out in me and here I am writing about it. If anything good comes from this I will try to harness the feelings and use them in a self-indulgent blog entry.
     I’ll get over it and move on. 



Monday, October 8, 2012

Misplaced Indignation

     I looked carefully at the ticket the waiter handed me and shook my head. I had been a pizza cook at the Lahaina Pizza hut close to nine months and thought I had seen everything. But this was too much. I called the waiter over.
     “Look at this,” I told him. “These X’s here mean cancel that item. You said these people want no cheese on their pizza.”
     The waiter confirmed that was what he meant.  I tried to stay calm and moved closer to this new guy who seemed to know nothing and needed a little talking to from an experienced pizza man.
     “You can’t have a pizza without cheese,” I said. “Cheese is what a pizza is all about.”
     “That’s how they want it,” he explained. I looked at the ticket and then into the dining area at the table with a young couple, tourists most likely, who thought they could order a pizza without cheese. I didn’t know how to tell this poor naïve waiter that he had gone too far indulging them.
     “You can’t have a pizza without cheese…” I repeated.
     “Yes you can,” said the manager walking by.
     I was incredulous. How did this man get to be manager?
     “They can’t do this,” I protested. “It’s a veggie pizza. Without the cheese, all the vegetables will burn. You can’t have a pizza without cheese, you just can’t.”
     We made the pizza. Once it was in the oven, I called some other cooks over and pointed to the table and explained that those people had ordered a pizza without cheese.
     “Eeeewww,” they all said. I felt validated.
     In addition to that validation, I felt like a monstrous injustice had been committed and told all my friends and anyone who would listen for the next week about it.
     And today, 26 years later, the incredulity I feel now is how much indignation I felt back then. Really David? Let the people order what they want and just let it go. When that was happening, the Berlin wall still stood. Injustice of all kind was worldwide. I got my knickers in a knot about how I thought people ought to want their pizza.
     So I’m older now. There is nothing like a few years to soften someone up and give them a sense of perspective, right? Maybe not. How about having children? That might help someone realize what’s important in life. Two years overseas helps foster a healthy sense of perspective. Granted, it was in a developed country with clean water and impressive infrastructure. And if that didn’t calm me down and realize what is important, having a child diagnosed with cancer at three years old is something. Talking care of her for three and a half years, going through scans, surgeries and all sorts of trials did quite a lot to help me realize what was important and see the big picture.
     But did this last?
     A piece of furniture disappeared at work last week. It vanished without explanation and no-one knew where it had gone or who took it. People at work were a little disturbed. I was particularly upset. I had been one of the last one’s out of the building that night and had walked right by the shelf that had been noticed missing the next day. I took it personally. And even though I didn’t visibly bluster, I bottled up some intense feelings.
     Then the furniture piece was found in a locked closet. So now it’s back where it belongs. But the question of who, why, when and how might never be answered. And that still bugs me. When I updated my family that the shelf had been found, there was little joy or interest. I probably appeared emotional when I told about it. Jamie, who is almost 11 years old, asked me if I was going to blog about it. Prajna rolled her eyes at the thought of me venting my frustrations over such a petty issue.
     But I was intrigued. I thought about the indignation I felt over such a little thing. I thought I had gotten over that. I thought I had learned to pick my battles and not sweat the small stuff. Was it enough that I didn’t burst out in anger and keep my feelings to myself over such a little thing? I didn’t insult anyone’s taste in pizza this time. Did I deal with this in a healthy way?
     I don’t know. I do know this, if I found out who moved the furniture and locked it in a closet I would want to throw burned vegetables at them. I might not be over this. Most of all, I wish I knew why they did it. And it all comes down to this: I might never know.
     I might never know. But one day I’ll get to heaven where there will be no sorrow, pain or confusion. I will see my daughter again. Maybe in heaven there’s a library with all kinds of data someone can look up and it would have this incident listed. Or maybe I won’t care about it anymore. Maybe once I get to heaven there will be plenty of cheesy pizza.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Memory of an epic Showdown

     When I couldn’t grasp things as a kid I might have dreamed about them in order to sort them out. I remember dreaming worst-case scenarios, playing them out in my head and managing to survive. One dream I remember as a young kid had an endless line of cars streaming between me on one side of the street and my home where I needed to go. All I remember in the dream is jumping ahead in time and finding myself home with my dad telling me it would be alright.
     My young mind went though all kinds of “what if?” questions. In later elementary school I walked home most days past the crossing guards at the corners outside the school. The captain, an upper classman, would blow a whistle and two other kids would lower their signs, round stop signs at the end of long poles that extended out into the crosswalk. When the students were done crossing the captain would blow twice from the whistle and the guards would raise their signs. I remember hearing the strong, authoritative voice of a crossing guard once ordering me to stop before I crossed the street so he could allow traffic to pass. It didn’t matter to me that these were elementary school kids not much older than me. To me, they held astounding strength and ability. They could stop traffic on the main street in my town. Where I had always been told that there was danger and I had dreamed of being stranded, these kids were Moses parting The Red Sea. Nothing seemed stronger than them. But not even my anxious little mind could have imagined the showdown I witnessed that one afternoon.
     It felt cool and the shadows were long. It was probably the end of another day that I had sat in the classroom trying to absorb information I hoped I would need someday. I may still remember facts and information from the classroom that day or I may not. It was after school, walking home that I have not forgotten. I didn’t need to cross the street where the crossing guards were working. I walked by, alone as usual and glanced at the kids with their orange safety vests, yellow helmets and stop signs at the end of long poles. The kids were holding the poles extended into the crosswalk and a crowd of kids was moving in the crosswalk. Then I heard it. From my right came the unmistakable wail of the ambulance siren. The ambulance was a converted Chevy van decked out with red flashing lights, so cool it was one of my dream vehicles.  Everybody got out of its way and it could run red lights. And the thought raced in my mind: Why didn't I ever consider this? Of course this has to happen. The immovable crossing guards would have to someday stand and face this, the unstoppable ambulance.
     The kids in the crosswalk ran to the curb like a wave slapping the shore. The siren grew louder and I watched in astonishment as the two crossing guards actually held their signs down in the crosswalk still and looked down in the direction of the approaching emergency vehicle. It may have been only a second or two, but in my young life, these two seconds were where time stopped. And here is where I have a clear picture in my mind of two crossing guards holding their signs, the long afternoon shadows, and in this stopped time, there is the growing sound of an approaching ambulance.
     Suddenly time started again with the two quick blasts of the captain’s whistle. The two guards yanked their signs up and it seemed that at the same instant, the ambulance appeared and drove through. Perhaps it had won this showdown. But the crossing guards had held out to the very end and gone with as much strength and dignity as possible.
     It was all I could tell my mom about when I got home that day. I never considered for a moment that the ambulance driver would have slowed down in a school zone and not hit any children.
In my young mind there was never any compromise. Whoever was stronger would always triumph. And in the world the debate seems timeless. Generations ago, who was stronger, Tarzan or Flash Gordon? The Axis or the Allies? The reds or the rest of the world? Nowadays I still see it. Gandalf or Dumbledore? Them or us? My cat or the praying mantis?
And the big question, will there ever be an epic struggle and will we ever have to find out?
As a child, the biggest fear I had was not being able to achieve the safety of home. The crossing guards were there, but even their work could be disrupted, I saw. And I wonder how much of the most important struggles I fret about all come down to just that. The current events of the world that everyone seems to be most frightened over seem to be the ones that would deny someone a safe place. I wonder... if that is what we are all really afraid of, what can be done to settle the struggles before they become so epic? Maybe that sounds like the mind of a young child asking who is still impressed with flashing lights and sirens. I sometimes wish the world could be that simple.