Friday, March 29, 2013

The Miracle Rising

The Miracle Rising

     It hurt when the storm came. I had not felt that kind of pain in a year. It had always used to hurt before the rains came. But when this storm struck so unexpectedly that it did not have had time to hurt before. When the sky darkened and the wind and rains came, I felt that old ache again. It frightened me.
Then I heard what people were saying. I refused to believe it. When they said that The Teacher was dead I almost laughed. I told them what The Teacher had done for me. How could he die on a cross? When I saw his followers, they were crying. That huge man, one of the fishermen, he was almost as big as me and weeping like a child. I felt their anguish. I wept too. The Teacher was dead. I was so sad I almost couldn’t walk.
     Time before, I had gone for years without walking. And then The Teacher came to me. When he healed me, he gave me so much more. More than just by body was changed. I don’t want to ever forget that day.   

I am on the ground, leaning against the wall by the gate. This day my leg and back are hurting more than usual. It must be about to rain. The ruined bones of my back always ache more before a rain. Today, I decide I don’t want alms. I’m too furious. I shout curses at passersby. I curse the donkey that had kicked me and made me like this. People mostly ignore me. They give alms to the women or the elderly. A big man like me ought to be working. I would be working had it not been for that donkey.
Nothing is fair. Nothing is right. I should be walking around earning money. I had been a strong man. I used to lift heavy bails. Now I am starving and in pain against a city wall, relying on the whims of others to be able to live. My anger seethes and boils like burning stew in a cookpot.
Then I see him. The Teacher walking with a group of men. My anger grows even more. These men are laughing and talking. The Teacher must have said something funny because they all stop walking to laugh. Even The Teacher is leaning on his knees and wiping his eyes. When I see this group of men with their friendship and happiness I want to hurl my pain and misery at them. This is what I think: Even if it were to double my pain and suffering, I would share it with others so that they would stop being so cheerful. I want them to be miserable just like me.

Now on this dark day made my back hurt again. They said that the teacher was dead. They told me how he had been beaten and whipped and then nailed to a cross. The pain he must have felt. It would have been so much worse that what I ever endured.
I spoke the words aloud: “How could he have died? He healed me. The bones in my back were crooked and broken. I was in pain. He touched me and healed me. How then, how could he allow himself to be so hurt that he would die, bleeding and in pain on a cross?”
No-one knew how to answer me.
The rain began. This was no refreshing spring rain. This was a cold, bitter rain like the kind that comes and blots out the world, washes away the dirt and dust and then leaves everything bare, cold, wet and lonely. I let the rain fall on me. My bones hurt, but not the way they used to. Perhaps I only imagined the pain from years of it happening. Inside me, the sorrow hurt more.
Other people stood in the streets and let the rain fall. Still others ran for cover. I knew many of the ones who stood and let themselves be rained on. Friends of the teacher, those who had heard his words or felt his touch, including me, we stood in the streets and let the rain hit us. It hid our tears and we all seemed to want to wash away the anguish. His close followers were no-where to be found. Those followers had been with him that day.

I start shouting at The Teacher and his friends. The men look abashed. The Teacher, however, I can’t believe what he does. The man looks at me and smiles, almost laughs again. Youngsters will sometimes point and laugh at me. But a grown man usually doesn’t even look at me, even if he gives me alms. Now this man is looking right into my eyes. And he smiles. He smiles as if I’ve been with his group of friends and I ought to be walking and laughing with them. The insults and curses in me are stopped dead. I try to speak, but I can’t. What can I say to this man? I can’t ask alms of him now after all I had shouted at him. But he looks at me as if I had never said anything to him.
It’s like this: He seems to understand, even feel my pain and bitterness. The rage I show is on the outside. Inside I am hurting and miserable. And he sees through that rage. My insults and curses mean nothing to him. And he smiles at me as if he knows me and I’m his friend.
But this friendliness does not make me feel better. There is still so much darkness in me that I do not take well to his cheerful looks. So I began to try to shout again. The words are stuck in me and I can’t think of what to say. I repeat words and groan. I finally burst out an insult at his mother. One of the men with him lurches forward. And the teacher puts out his arm and stops him.
“That’s enough,” The Teacher says. Even though he’s not close to me, the voice feels like it is spoken next to me. Now he looks at me without the laughter. His look has expectation. He begins to walk toward me. The rage and pain in me seems to cower.  

The hours over the next day were full of sorrow. I met a woman who quietly told how The Teacher had changed her life. The way the story went, He had saved her from stoning. Another man talked of the blind seeing. There were even talks that The Teacher had raised a man from the dead. When I heard that, I was torn. I had been crippled. Then I was not. The Teacher could do these things. But then why was he dead?
The morning of the first day of the week I was bleary-eyed. I had not slept well, despite having a whole body, my bones felt like they wanted to ache. But I don’t think it was that. I think it was my heart that was in pain. I remembered the day He took my hand. I had felt such joy. I thanked him, of course. But as I stepped out into the cold morning air, I wished I had thanked him more.
Something woke me. I thought perhaps the earth had moved. I stepped outside. The sun was about to rise and I looked in its direction. The light blazed out and I shut my eyes and felt the air turn warm. What a simple pleasure. I used to curse the sun for spite. After that I used to enjoy the solitude and warmth of the sunrise. Now the loneliness…

“You’re hurt,” he says. Two words. Those two words spoken to me seem to say everything about me. Not just my ruined back and leg, but all the pain and sorrow that was with it. And he speaks it, not like an observation, but like he is, yes, teaching me something. He tells me I’m hurt as if I didn’t know. And the words startle me. Why, yes. I am hurt.
He is close to me. I don’t want to look in his eyes. I look at his friends milling about the gate. They are not disturbed by their friend stopping to talk to someone. A few friends are closely watching us. He’s standing over me now. I steal a quick glance upward. Had he asked me a question? No, what does he want?
Why can’t he just go away and let me shout in anger at everyone? There are days when the anger and shouting out are all I have. The rage sustains me better than bread. This is one of those days. I want to go back to raging. I need to. I’m beginning to feel out of breath without shouting. I want the man to move on. Instead he stands by and waits for me to say something.
I try to prepare myself to shout at him. I take a deep breath in order to yell at him to leave me alone. I choke out a sob. Inside I scrabble for the strength that comes from the anger. It’s gone. The rage has left me. Suddenly I feel so ashamed and exposed.
“No…” is all I can say. And then I begin to sob. It’s the same pain anguish I had always felt. But now it’s without strength. It’s hobbled, just like me.
He reaches down to my hand. As he takes it I try to pull it away. But I also let my fingers clamp down. His hand is rough like a workman’s. I look from his hand to his face. I have tears in my eyes. What has this man done to me?
Then I’m able to make out his face through my tears. It looks sad too. The man asks me what I want him to do.
What do I want? All I know was that I want my strength back. I used to be a strong man. But now the only strength I’ve known for the past years, all that sustained me through the pain was that rage. I want to hate again so I can ignore the pain.
How can he ask me what I want? And how can I tell him? I want him to leave me alone.
I choke out the word, “Go.”
At that he gently lets go of my hand. And when he does, a cold wave flows over me. The pain in my body sinks down beneath this feeling of loneliness that I’ve never felt before.

But that morning I didn’t feel lonely. Remembering that day was uplifting. For the first time in days, I felt as if I was not alone anymore. It was like the warm morning sun was my friend and had just given me an embrace. That warmth that came from the light was like something I remembered so well. Yes, it was like the touch of The Teacher. I smiled at the sun and thought words of thanks for its reminder to me of the touch of the teacher.
I didn’t retreat into my room. I took to the streets. My bones weren’t aching at all. The cool air and the warm light were invigorating. I almost felt like running. There was someone running in fact. I saw it was a woman. I thought she must be in danger. She was saying something as she ran, something to no-one in particular.
The woman turned a corner toward where The Teacher’s friends were staying. I walked quickly toward the street corner. When I turned it, she was already gone. I found myself running too. Suddenly a group of men, the followers spilled out of a door and came at me. Some looked angry, others confused. The woman was there, and her face looked like the rising sun.
Two men in the front of the group were at a full run and blew past me. The woman followed closely. I stopped one of the remaining men and asked him what had happened.
“He’s gone,” the man said. “They’ve taken him.”
I let the man go. He was gone? The Teacher was gone? He was dead. Did someone take the body? Why?
The men who didn’t run off stood in the street and looked bewildered. I must have looked the same. I looked in the direction the others had gone, toward the tomb. They couldn’t be lying. Was the woman mistaken or mad?
I walked away and wandered the streets, thinking. Somehow, I ended up at the city gate where I had sat on the ground just over a year ago. I found the precise spot against the wall where I had sat with my pain, rage and hate.

“Wait,” I cry softly. And I look, he’s still there. Through great pain, I reach up my hand to his. At that moment, all I want was his touch again. He takes my hand, oh when he takes my hand again, that coldness vanishes. Warmth returns. I don’t want him to leave me alone. I want to feel this closeness forever.
“I want to stop hurting,” I say. That hate and rage that I’ve held onto, it seems so small and insignificant now. I tell him, “I don’t want to hate anymore.”
And then he starts to pull on my hand. What is he doing? Pulling me to my feet? The bones of my back will rub together and I will pass out from the pain. But the strength, the warmth that I feel at his touch, I don’t want it to stop. And I hold tight to his hand.
And then there I am, still holding his hand, crying out, but not in pain. I’m crying out in surprise. I am standing. I can’t speak. The man’s friends are smiling. People around are staring. And the man, the man is laughing again. And then I start to laugh. I throw my arms around him and I lift him from the ground! The man’s friends cheer. The teacher lifts his hands and shouts words of praise to His Father. I have my strength back. It is as if it never left me. I set The Teacher down, throw both hands in the air and shout, joining the man’s friends in celebrating.

He had taken my hand here. I was pulled up out of it all. Not only was my body made whole, but I started a new life that day. He had made me new, saved me. The rage and hate retreated. As I listened to his teachings in the following months, the rage and hate went the way of the pain.
I had puzzled for days over why this man could save me and not himself.
Now his body was gone from the tomb.
Could that mean what I hoped it could mean?
And when the woman’s next news came out, I was one of the first to believe.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Prince of the Road

     I had the opportunity to be if not a king, a prince. It’s okay, I let it pass on. I thought about it last week. I rode from church to a discovery museum in a school bus last Wednesday. I’m almost never a passenger on long trips. This time I was ¾ the way back in a big yellow bus with my own window. The kids mostly kept themselves entertained. I got to look out at the road. I was just about the same height as the truckers and RV’s. I sat and watched and tried to not feel jealous. 
Interstate 10 in Cabazon. The T-Rex is about a quarter way in from the right.

     We didn’t have long-haul trucks in Hawaii. There were trucks, but none of them had sleeper-cabs. I don’t know how it is now, but we didn’t have RV’s either. You might see an occasional camper in Hawaii, but not the massive land-yachts one sees on the freeways every day here in California and probably the rest of the U.S. Mainland.
     The freeway and road system was a little overwhelming to me after growing up on an island with just two-lane highways. At my last visit there I got to see many more four-lane roads. And Oahu has freeways. But to me, there’s something awesome about a wide stretch of freeway blazing through the great expanses of mostly empty land. The road is full of cars, trucks, RV’s and railroad tracks alongside. Billboards (never in Hawaii) announce the next place to eat or sleep as if it’s one’s last chance.
     It’s a road culture. Sitting near the back of the school bus I kind of wished I was out there. I thought back over 20 years ago when I was working at the radio station. The news man read a job announcement as a feature story, not part of the regular news. There were drivers needed on the mainland for people to deliver RV’s. The job would have meant driving RV’s either from one dealer to another or from the factory to a dealer. They were too large to fit on a carrier truck and needed to be delivered one at a time. The driver was only supposed to drive them and could not use any of the facilities like the kitchen, bathroom or even sleep in the beds. I loved the idea. The job could involve driving all over the country. I would be a bohemian with a backpack and sleeping bag. I could eat at roadside diners, sleep on the floor of the RV or pitch a small tent in a campground or even once in a while splurge on a room at Motel 6. I had fallen in love with the idea of driving across the country and even as a younger kid had wanted to be a trucker after watching TV and movies that glorified the American trucker. They were the last real cowboys, the kings of the road. Driving one of these luxury behemoths could at least qualify me as a prince of the road, right?
     I passed over the job, never followed up on it. I don’t remember why. Maybe a well-meaning friend told me how lousy it could also be. Long distance drivers have to deal with traffic, deadlines, hemorrhoids and boredom.  I thought I could handle the boredom, but not all the other stuff.
     So yesterday I took a comparatively short road trip from my home to Orange County to see my niece perform in a stage play. Our 8 year-old Chrysler mini-van is still a dream to operate. But I miss my truck. I enjoyed the drive. And what’s really nice is I enjoyed returning to place I can call home that has no wheels. I can entertain the romantic notion that the road still calls to me. I have a road trip planned for when/if I ever get my truck fixed. But I think the anticipation and idea of that may be actually better than the trip will ever be. I still can entertain the notions, and they entertain me. And I drive an electric golf cart to work each day.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

The True Story

     I’ve started work on a short story that I would like to have done by Easter. Last year I wrote and posted The Man with the Crown and I was very pleased with it. I love writing fiction, and of course when it turns out good, that’s even better. I used to plan out my stories. I would outline each key event that led to the conflict resolution. I don’t really do that anymore. I did a quick outline for my NaNoWriMo project. Since I would be attempting to write 50 thousand words in 30 days I felt I needed to know where the story was going. It may or may not have helped. Havoc’s Children got the word count in and then some.
     I don’t write outlines for most work now. I start at the beginning of the story and plow forward. I try to have well-developed characters and might write up a biography of them aside of my writing. The best times I have writing is when the characters are strong enough to navigate the story. I sit and type, barely knowing what comes next. To me, that’s as good as writing gets.
     I tend to have a little bit of a tough time writing beginnings. Hemmingway makes it sound so easy with “Just write one true sentence” as if that’s some kind of magic. It does work in my blog. But I can’t quite get it right in fiction yet. Endings however, I enjoy writing those and feel great doing them. I like to end with an abrupt, declarative sentence that encapsulates the theme of the story if I can. That can be a challenge, but the kind of challenge I enjoy.
     This short story for Easter, untitled still, is just a side project. The main thing I’m working on right now is my inventory for Celebrate Recovery. This is more than a challenge, it’s daunting, time consuming and exhausting. An honest spiritual inventory is part of the 12 steps in Celebrate Recovery. It’s a hard examination of one’s life and the events that have shaped it. It must be balanced with both good and bad. I need to include the people who affected me and hurt me. The last I left myself, I was only about 9 years old.
     Most people I’ve talked to have written their inventory as a list, like an outline of a story, which I don’t like doing. So I am writing mine as a story or a memoir. And here is where I ran into a problem. A solid rule of writing is to “show, not tell.” So I would write about an incident in my life. As is my style, I would have little or no description. I would say what happened using short sentences and I would not say the result of the incident. I would leave that up to the reader. Good writing, maybe. But I was missing the point of the inventory.
     When someone helped me realize this I went back and started to think about the effects of the events of my life. That’s when things turned difficult. Writing my life as if it were a fiction story was pleasant, even a little narcissistic. But then I had to drop to my hands and knees and examine the crud between the grout on the floor of my past.
The trouble isn’t about seeing failures; it’s about admitting that things really did matter to me. When I moved to Hawaii at age 8, the culture shock was too much for me to grasp. I tried to invite kids to church and ended up being picked on. I had to elaborate on how that made me feel. I had to stop writing and think about it. I had trusted that if I was working for God, inviting kids to church, then nothing could go wrong. In the end I was shocked and hurt, even feeling betrayed. The hurt came back a little when I wrote this down.
Sure I could objectively write about it. But it was a struggle to face the truth. The truth was it had an effect on who I was, yes, even who I am. I was/am not the über-cool dude, bulletproof, able to strut through any kind of torment and emerge unscathed. To put it simply: what happens to me affects me. I am influenced by things, capable of being manipulated, and can have my feelings hurt. I am not the pillar of strength I would like to see myself as.
The inventory is helping me with other things. I am seeing things that I will have to make amends for. (Another of the 12 steps.) And I can see where God has worked in my life. Most of the time it’s just been blessings I took for granted.
When I’m done with my spiritual inventory I have another writing project in mind. I want to write a memoir. I feel like I must do this inventory first though. It will be a rough first draft. If I ever wanted to publish something, this memoir could be it. I don’t know how long this inventory is going to take. It’s taking longer than I thought it would and in truth, they are never completely done.
I will see where in the year I am when I feel like the inventory is at a good place to stop writing and share it with my sponsor. Then I will decide what to do. It it’s real close to November, I’ve got my next NaNoWriMo project in mind. It’s a fun space-western, hopefully not to serious. And unlike the memoir, I know how it ends.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The joy of Now

     I remember having a bad day back in 2004. It’s not the only bad day I ever had, but it was such a lousy day that I remember how crappy it was. It had a long lasting effect on my. Months after I would look back on it and worry that there would be worse days than that ahead in my life. What is there are days to come that will be worse than that? I’ve lucked out so far.
     Last Wednesday was a good day. We went to Sea World in San Diego. The kids woke up with no problem and were in the van ready to leave when it was time. We had a good drive down. I took quick alternate route around bad freeway traffic. I hit all green lights on the surface streets and unquestionably saved time. I had a good playlist picked out. The drive down through Temecula and across the county line was beautiful as usual and we got to Sea World on time to meet our group and get in.
     Sea World was a blast as always. We rode our favorite rides, saw our favorite shows, and ate a good lunch that we had packed and brought. The weather was cool, but sunny. Everyone had a good time. The kids had a good time and there were no meltdowns or difficulties. We left the park just before closing. I got a little turned around looking for where we always get supper but after a few corrective turns we found the In-N-Out Burger. After that the drive home was easy and pleasant.
     Everyone had had a great day. Nathaniel said his favorite part was the breakfast sandwich I had made him. The day had been almost flawless. I ought to have been joyous after it. I was happy, but there was still an uneasy feeling from the day.
     It has to be a terribly unhealthy attitude to have. But after such a good day, the nagging feeling inside of me was this: What if I never have another day this good again?
     After a bad day, my worry was that it wouldn’t be the worst ever. After a great day, my worry was that it would be the best. I think that this is what drives me to not want to do anything sometimes. If I just stay on the level status quo, no highs or lows then there will be no worries.
     No highs and no lows. No highs seems like a terrible price to pay for no lows. I don’t know if it’s worth it. I do know it feels wrong.
     We rode the Journey to Atlantis that day. It’s a fun, wet roller coaster ride. The first time we all rode together. When the day was almost over Jamie and I rode it once more together. I couldn’t help but think of a day at Sea World about 6 years ago. Jamie was too young to go on the ride and stood by and waited to watch the older kids and I ride by. Every roller coaster car that roared past splashed Jamie abundantly. He loved it. Prajna captured images of him standing in anticipation, getting soaked and laughing afterwards. And the photographs capture something. Pure joy. 

     Here is a face of someone who may or may not have had a terrible day the day before. But in just this moment, nothing in the world is greater than the sunshine and the splash of a passing roller coaster car. Who cares if tomorrow will be bad? This is now and now is good.
     I would like to live in the moment more, but here I am at this moment, reflecting back a week, 6 years and even 8 years. A lot of my blog goes on about the past. Nostalgia is one thing, but fixation on the past is another.
     The truth is that I don’t live in the moment. I constantly analyze the past and mull over the future.
     Now it’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m composing this first draft. I have a kitten curled up asleep on my lap and Roy Orbison on my headphones. I’m writing with good music and a cat. That’s good. I think I should be reveling in this with the same joy Jamie had being splashed. Of course if I leapt to my feet in celebration right now I would upset the cat and possibly my laptop that the headphones are plugged into. I don’t have to be whooping it up. But I can at least acknowledge that there are good days all around and I ought to look out for them and be thankful.
     I would like to recognize that most moments I’m existing in are alright, even pleasant.
     The cat just looked at me and jumped off my lap. I’m not totally devastated because I can finally stretch my legs. Things are still good.