morning november 2016

Fear won.

Good people can feel fear and vote from fear. And good people did.

Elections have consequences, and the consequences of this one are absolutely frightening.

So a reminder about fear.

There is only one remedy, and that is Love. “Perfect love casts out fear.” Not brains. Not anger. Only Love.

And here’s what we know about Love: Her hallmark feature is kindness. As in the one word: lovingkindness. She is infinitely patient. There is no hurry. When you are ready for Love, Love is ready for you. She does not discriminate. She can’t. It’s against Her very nature. There’s no us and them in Love. She shines on the just and the unjust.

During the night, a certain kind of campaign ended. This morning, this morning of mourning, a different kind has begun.

Her name is Love. She’s already going door to door. Take whatever time you need, but She’s ready when you are.

I’m with Her.

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night november 2016

The switch is broken, so I unscrew the bulb, and the warmth afterglows in my fingers. I cover myself with a sheet, tuck a pillow beneath my neck and cheek, and close my eyes. There’s an image from the novel I was reading: the man in Magritte’s painting, looking in a mirror and seeing only the back of his head, again and again. Then an image from the dream that awakened me an hour ago: two wolf pups trotting across a yard, me standing in the street, then the mother wolf, then the father, who turns on me, innocent bystander or not, wrong place at the wrong time or not, his chest and eyes and teeth leaning towards me. Thoughts appear, slowly, like a river in flatland. “Why did you do it?” The color red. “I was dead, and I said. I was dead, and I said.” The color indigo. Little girl Hillary running from bullies, seeking the shelter of her mom, her mom turning her away, leaving her to face them alone. Big girl Hillary hearing chanting: “Lock her up!” Trump saying, “China,” Trump saying, “Something’s going on.” Locked out. Locked up. Look up. Look out. Look beyond. And beyond, outside this room where I am floating in a river, beneath a sheet, beneath a shroud, beyond, the most powerful country on earth lies in the dark, with death and guilt and unprotected kids and wolves in the street in the mirror in our heads. And soon will rise with the future of children in our preyed-upon, played-upon, dumbed-down, black-and-white-and-red-and-blue hands. And wonder is there still some warmth and power in those hands, and perhaps there’s no simple switch anymore for turning things on and off, but is there something yet we can do to unscrew ourselves, and is there a word to be spoken on the other side of death. I was dead, and I said. I was dead. And I said?

30 great things . . .

. . . about Jeanine, on the 30th anniversary of our marriage:

  1. She can dance.
  2. She never met a glass of wine she didn’t like.
  3. When we first met, shortly after she returned from two years in Japan, she taught me some basic Japanese phrases, the first being “Jeanine is very beautiful, isn’t she?”
  4. She’s good with money: not too loose, not too tight.
  5. The way her breath smells. No kidding. There’s this wonderful smell her breath gets sometimes. There’s no rhyme or reason about when or why it happens, but it’s awesome.
  6. She’s trustworthy in every way.
  7. She trusts me. I have lots of friends, many of them women, and she is supportive of that.
  8. The first time I farted around her, she laughed.
  9. She respects that, once in a while, a husband might need to leave the table, pick up his phone, and check the A’s score.
  10. I can talk with her about my work, and she understands.
  11. I can not talk with about my work, and she understands.
  12. Peyton.
  13. Walton.
  14. Most mornings she makes the bed. Unfortunately for her, I’m a bit like Erma Bombeck – who said “Noone ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed” – but Jeanine accepts this about me.
  15. She loves my parents.
  16. She laughs a lot when she’s around my brothers.As do I.
  17. She exercises, meditates, hangs out with friends, gets acupuncture, eats right, and does other things to take care of herself.
  18. She responds to a variety of names: Jeanine, Geneva, Jeaniqua, Jeanita, Nita, Juanita, Jeanine Silver Jones, and more.
  19. Sometimes she gets grits eyes. I don’t know what that means either.
  20. She’s on a spiritual journey and has introduced me to people, experiences, and ideas that I would not have known without her.
  21. She didn’t divorce me after our first fight, which began when I criticized the way she was washing the car.
  22. Her eyes.
  23. Her family.
  24. Special Mommy-Daddy time.
  25. She tolerates me being out of the house for long hours on the weekends, running with friends. Maybe she likes it?
  26. When I’m lying in on my left side, meaning my good ear is buried in a pillow and my almost deaf right ear has to do all the listening, she never mumbles just to tease me. She’s not tired of kale yet.
  27. When she had the magnets surgically implanted in her feet and my hands, so that I would rub her feet whenever she puts her feet in my lap, it was a painless procedure.
  28. When we fold sheets together she doesn’t complain that it takes me twice as long to get the corners lined up.
  29. At lunch, if I catch her with her office door open, she will share the chocolate she keeps in the drawer of her desk.
  30. She makes coconut cake for my birthday. Which is in 6 days. Hint hint.

 

 

things on a dresser

1 rubber band.

1 tube of Burt’s Bees chapstick.

1 package of ear plugs, containing 10 orange ear plugs. The package says they are “ideal for: sleeping, landscaping, home improvement, shooting sports, and travel.” Which means they’re useful for being asleep, being awake, being at home, being away from home, and shooting things. This is an impressive range of uses.

1 empty jelly glass, sitting on a postcard used as a coaster. The postcard is from a local running store, promoting a series of trail runs.

2 small bumper stickers, also promoting trail runs.

3 pairs of Jeanine’s socks.

8 unmatched socks.

1 pair of khaki shorts, which used to be long pants. I cut them off when the bottom hem got overly frayed, and my mother hemmed them for me as a birthday present.My mom once made clothes for my brothers and me out of curtains that were left behind by the previous owners of a house we bought.

1 blue pullover sports shirt, a present from Jeanine at my last birthday.

4 pens.

1 bottle of not very effective melatonin.

1 bottle of generic Benadryl, more effective as a sleep aid than melatonin, but with questionable side effects.

3 issues of New Yorker magazine, partially read. Even insomniacs can’t finish reading an entire New Yorker.

5 books: The Bible (the Oxford Annotated edition of the Revised Standard Version); Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying (paraphrases of all 150 Psalms, highly recommended); A Shimmer of Something, a book of poetry by Brian Doyle; Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird,  a book about writing (don’t blame her for this list; it’s not one of her suggestions); Chi Running, by Ashevilleians Danny and Katherine Dreyer (I trained for a marathon with Danny in 2013).

1 pair of scissors.

1 silver cup, called, I think, a Jefferson Cup, with an engraved “J,” a gift from my chorus teacher, Mrs. Buckner (Dorothy Mae to her friends and, behind her back, to her students), on the occasion of my high school graduation, filled now with coins, 2 paper clips, and a single AA battery.

8 business cards, in a stack.

2 sample packs of Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, from last year’s skin screening with my dermatologist. I’m sure she would prefer it be on my neck rather than on my dresser.

1 travel size tube of Crest toothpaste, from the goodie bag the dental hygienist gave me at my last teeth-cleaning.

1 hair trimmer, still in the box.

1 black Under Armour headband, a gift from my father-in-law. I told him I was thinking about getting a brain brace, for my failing memory, similar to a knee brace for a gimpy knee, and he bought me this.

1 clothespin.

1 rock.

0 car keys.

 

 

6.19.16

I awake at first light, the world outside a soft gray blue. The window is open, the air is cool. I pull up the blanket. I am lying still, breathing deeply and slowly.

I see car lights coming down the driveway from the house up the hill. This is Mark and Kiran, on their way to Mt. Mitchell to run the Black Mountain Crest Trail. They invited me, but I knew yesterday that what I needed today would not be to push myself across mountains.

I rise slowly and stretch slowly. I do five minutes of yoga, also slowly. I never do yoga, but this morning my body asks for it. Many mornings, most mornings, it is the other way around, me asking my body for things, telling my body to do things. But this morning, I am following, not leading, moving without force.

I remember that it is Fathers Day, and I think of my dad. I see him in my boyhood, on the floor wrestling with my brothers and me, telling us stories from his own boyhood, playing ping-pong, working in the garden. I see him now, talking history and politics, enjoying his grandchildren, showing off tomatoes. He has always been a good man, a dad to be proud of, but in the last year, it feels somehow that he has sweetened. His brother Jack died last March. My dad was with him, and sometimes I wonder if Jack left some sweetness behind that night and my dad absorbed it.

Jeanine was gone when I awoke, and I go downstairs to see her. We share a hug. “Happy Fathers Day.” “Thanks for making me a father.” We talk a few minutes more, and then she leaves for town, to walk with a friend.

I feel a desire to tidy things up. I have been reading a Lydia Davis story, and a sentence from that story and the woman it describes are living in me: “She works steadily, but she does not hurry.” I shelve some books from the nightstand that have finished with me. I pick up clothes from the floor and pens from multiple surfaces across the house. I rinse coffee cups and fold laundry. I work steadily, but I do not hurry.

I am imagining a carpenter’s level in my chest, and I move and breathe in such a way that the bubble stays between the lines.

So many days require efficiency, speed, lists, and will. Or I allow them to. Require attention focused so precisely I do not hear the crows talking, or see the hydrangea quiver when a breeze breathes out, or feel my own chest soften when I breathe out. But today I am moving softly, without will, and noticing.

I eat breakfast – fruit, yogurt, almonds – and read yesterday’s paper, which is about the day before’s news, which is about Donald Trump, which is about the shadow risen from the collective unconscious of all of us.

I pick up my phone to text my cousin and a friend whose father died this year. I tell them I am thinking of them and their dads and that I hope whatever sadness they are feeling today will be held by even more sweetness. I wanted to do this, am glad I did, but just holding that phone in my hand makes my mind quicken, makes my will rise to alert, so I put the phone in a drawer, go to the window, and watch the trees. They are working steadily, but they do not hurry. I do some more tidying.

I am tired (from the week, not the morning), so I go back to bed and sleep for two hours. I dream that I am awake, in this bed, looking at Jeanine in an adjoining room. She is wearing her red batik pullover robe, the one she bought in Bangkok the year before we met. It is threadbare, held together in places by safety pins, but she loves it, and so do I. She walks towards me, only now she is 30 years younger, wearing a pink leotard. But as she does, the Jeanine in the other room is still there, too, wearing the robe. There are two of them, a younger Jeanine in front of me, a now Jeanine in the other room. I look back and forth, feeling disoriented, trying to work it out. I keep expecting one or the other to dissolve, but they both remain. Then young Jeanine turns and walks away, but she is also still there in front of me. Now there are three of them. Jeanine in a red robe, Jeanine in a leotard, and Jeanine walking away. The third Jeanine enters another room. She is once again her current age, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, standing before a table, picking something up, working with it. I am seeing all three, but now I am not fighting to understand it or expecting one of them to go away. I am accepting this world where the one I love is not bound by space or time.

I am awake again.

remains of the day

The next day, when I close my eyes, it is trees that I see.The scaly trunks of oak and poplar, the peeling bark of birch, the smooth skin of beech. Dark green hemlock needles above a shaded rust-brown carpet. Trees across a vast distance, greening up mountains and greening in valleys as spring comes to the high places.

There are also faces. Straight on and at angles. Beautiful faces. Men, women, a dog. Smiling, big-hearted, and sunny. Laboring and weary. Resting and satisfied.

Images of faces and trees, flashing, lingering, and after-glowing on the retina of my heart. They please me, ease me, soften and soothe me. They are evidence that the day before, while I was lost in a work of worry and will, love and beauty were still having their way with me.

Last Saturday I joined six friends and a dog for a run-hike of the Art Loeb Trail. The Art Loeb begins alongside the Davidson River outside Brevard and ends at the base of Cold Mountain, at Camp Daniel Boone outside Canton. It traverses dense forests, spectacular overlooks, and a high-elevation wind-whipped bald. It is rugged–rocky, root-y, and lots of climbs and descents–and wondrously beautiful, especially on a clear day in April when the wildflowers are in bloom.

It is also really long. I won’t say how really long. If I do, you’ll think my friends and I are insane. And you’ll be right, at least partly, though I will offer–not in defense of myself or my friends but in defense of insanity–these words from the esteemed psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott, who said, rather wisely, in my opinion, “Pity the person who is only sane.”

So the Art Loeb, let’s say, is insanely long. And in the afternoon, as I tired, and looked tired (“you look pale,” Mark told me), I began to worry about finishing—finishing being something to worry about when you’re in a wilderness area miles from any road. And as I tired, and worried, I drew a circle around myself and withdrew.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, the runner Eric Liddell asks, “Where does the power come from to see the race to the end?” His answer: “from within.” And that’s where I turned. Not because Liddell said it was a good idea. And not because I wanted to. It’s just what I did. I entered an inner chamber where the deepest stores of will are kept, where energy is rationed, directed away from everything extraneous, and given only to the things that are needed—keep moving, watch your step, don’t fall.

Usually, my heart feels pretty open when I run, and I can feel myself being nourished by the friends I’m with and the woods I’m in. The morning had been like that: pausing at an overlook, seeing the clouds in the valley from which we had just climbed; watching Liz suck water from her backpack, spit it into her cupped hands and give drink to Ollie, her dog; noticing the sun turn a field full of bushes to gold, bushes no one knew by name, and didn’t need to, to appreciate the glory of light on leaves. The morning was lovely and amazing.

But by mid-afternoon, weary of body and mind and aware of the miles ahead, I went to an inside place. I did not want to. I knew that my friends could help me, that the woods could help me, if I could let them, and I wanted to remain open. But I could not. I pulled away from the group, away from the world. I kept up conversation, but it was a thin and surface version of myself I sent out to do the talking. The larger part of me I kept inside, near the hearth, near the food, near the blankets. Only once did I come out, when I felt a friend flagging and fading. I opened my heart to help her along, but when I felt her recover I closed back up and focused on my own survival.

My friends did help me, of course. They stayed near. They talked. They pointed to things of beauty. They fed me salt tablets. And the trees helped me. Many of them had been surviving in those woods long before I was born and will be there long after I’m gone. A few times I would feel one whisper to me as I approached, and I’d pause, lay hands on it, and ask for its strength. But mostly I felt apart from—apart from the trees, apart from my friends– on the other side of a wall I rightly or wrongly felt I needed to keep myself moving.

And one way or another, I did keep moving. Willing myself along. All the way to Cold Mountain, like Inman in Charles Frazier’s novel. Then four steep miles down to the finish.

Joel and I were the last ones in. He may not want me to tell you this, but I will anyway. Joel is 69 years old. Sixty. Freakin. Nine. Seriously.

There was beer waiting on us. Not to mention potato chips, goat cheese, banana bread, hummus, and an amazing ceviche prepared with love by Ivan, who drove us all home in the back of his sixteen-foot cargo van that we called, of course, the iVan. And if you ever wondered what the best beer I ever had was, I don’t know the name of it. It was pitch black dark. But I drank it in the back of the iVan along a curvy mountain road.

When at last, that night, I laid me down to sleep, it was not without some measure of accomplishment and satisfaction. But what I felt most was disappointment that I had just spent an incredible day, with incredible people, on an incredible journey, in an incredible place, and, because my heart had closed up—necessarily or not, who’s to say—I felt I had soaked up so little of it. I had given so much to the day—training for it, anticipating it, doing it—and in the end I felt mostly empty.

Only it wasn’t the end. When I awakened the next day, there was that slideshow of trees and faces playing luminous on the screen of my heart. This was a surprise and a joy. My friends and the woods were more deeply a part of me, ingrained in me, rubbed off on me. I loved them more. This happens to soldiers, to teammates, to families, and sometimes to coworkers: While they do together the things they do together, something else is happening, something deep and wonderful, a joining together than no one can put asunder.

And it wasn’t me, it wasn’t my willing, that did it. I didn’t bring these images into my heart. They brought themselves in. They passed through a wall, a bit like Jesus did in one of the resurrection stories.

This is how Love is, I believe. It is all around. It is always helping us, even when we feel so closed off we do not feel it helping. The walls we build and the wills we assert are no hindrance whatsoever.

So close your eyes. See your friends who bear the light. See the oldest living creatures on earth giving away for free the very thing you need to keep breathing. And see the incandescent afterglow of Love that is always and forever seeing you through.

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give up stand up

Just after daybreak, on the first morning of Daylight Saving Time, my sister-in-law Kiran and I met two other friends for a run in the woods.

We were running to the Blue Ridge Parkway and back along the Old Mitchell Toll Road. Now a trail, the Toll Road began as a railway line in 1914. The train took loggers to Camp Alice, about ¾ mile from the top of Mt. Mitchell. There they cut balsam, which the train took back down the mountain, where it was milled and used to build planes for World War I. After the war the railway was converted to a one-lane toll road for cars. You’d drive up the mountain in the mornings, down in the afternoons. The Toll Road closed in 1938, when the Parkway opened and there was a no-toll road to Mt. Mitchell. Now it’s a popular trail for hikers, bikers, and runners.

This was my first time on the Toll Road, and I was excited for that. Additionally, although I am not a fan of Daylight Saving Time — I agree with whatever Native American it was who said, “Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket” — somehow, for me, the fact that it was day one of Daylight Saving Time made it feel like a new year and added to the energy of the morning.

So did the fog. The clouds were close in, and all around, the air was the color of breath on a cool morning. It was like running through ghosts.

The deciduous trees have not put forth leaves yet, so the colors of the forest were mostly grays and browns — oak, poplar, and maple trees and the leaves they had dropped in the fall.

But there were other, more vivid, colors. The remarkable reddish-orange of clay. One friend on this run told of her first visit, as a girl, to the Appalachians. She grew up in the Midwest, where all the dirt is blackish brown. As her family drove east and south, her mother told her that, where they were headed, some of the dirt was red. She could not believe it or imagine it, she said, but when they made the mountains, there it was, and her mother’s making over it had helped her see it and marvel over it. And her story, of course, helped me see it and marvel over it, too.

There’s also lots of green in the woods, even in winter. The dark greens of laurel, rhododendron, spruce, and pine. The medium greens of ferns. And the crazy, ridiculous greens of moss. Lord, the moss. On trees, stones, and logs. On the ground itself. Cool greens, warm greens, bright greens, fluorescent greens. Kiran is a great lover of moss, and she has taught me love it, too. Mosses are the oldest plants on earth – 350 million years and counting – and they know a thing or two about adapting and surviving. But they’re not all about survival; they also give generously to the world around them. They build soil, filter water, release oxygen, and provide a home for all kinds of invertebrates. We ran past a long bank of moss-covered rocks, all of them roughly a foot in diameter and shaped like mushrooms, arrayed as if an artist had sculpted a moss garden.

It’s a long, steady climb to the Parkway, about 3300 feet of elevation gain. There were puddles, mud, and lots of rocks. We picked our way along slowly.

We passed three different hunting camps: two low-slung plywood structures – one with a “Black Mountain Bear Club” sticker on the door, one flanked by a dozen dog houses – and a third comprised of two old airstream-style campers that were like giant rusted metal caterpillars asleep in the woods.

We talked of work and family, of books, of runs past and runs to come. We wondered how many millions of years old the rocks are we were running on. We said how lucky we are to live here, in these mountains, and to be healthy enough to experience the woods in this way.

Halfway up it began to mist, and by the time we reached the Parkway it was full on raining. We were now at nearly 6000 feet, and the rain was cold. My fingers were so numb I couldn’t open my Larabar. I tore the wrapper with my teeth.

Maybe a quarter of the way down, in the middle of a conversation I no longer remember, Kiran tripped and fell. It’s so easy to do, running downhill over rocks, even when you’re being careful. Your toe clips the edge of a rock, and down you go. She landed first on her right hand, then her right shoulder, and immediately cried out in pain. The other two members of our pack were far enough ahead that – between the rain and their talking – they did not heard her yell. I called to them, but they did not hear me either.

I bent down beside her. “You ok?”

“I don’t know. My finger bent way back, and it hurts like crazy. I’m afraid I broke it.” She hadn’t noticed yet that her knee was bloody.

“I’m so sorry. We’ll figure this out, though.” I reached for her good hand and pulled her up, but she immediately doubled over and put both hands between her knees.

She stood up straight and walked a few steps. “Oh man, it hurts so bad!” Then she doubled over again.

I was unsure what to do be helpful. Talk to her, so she’d have a focus outside herself? Or be quiet, give her space, and let her go inside to find what she needed? I split the difference. I put my hand on her back and was silent.

She stood again, and now she was angry. “Dammit! I’m on call tonight!” Kiran delivers babies for a living. “If this thing is broken I won’t be able to work!” We looked at her hand together, and she could flex her fingers. “Well, they’re bending, so probably it’s not broken. But dammit! I did not need to fall! This is not convenient!”

We were still six miles or more from the car. The only way out was by foot. Plus, it was raining and cold, so we needed to keep moving. I didn’t say any of this, and didn’t need to. She was fighting the pain as hard as she could, trying to rally, to get herself together so we could get going. This time she tried running, but after twenty feet she doubled over again and made one of those long, primal grunt-yells that our species has been making for probably 200,000 years.

“Good! Yell! Let some of that out.”

She straightened again and walked a few steps more. Her eyes got wider, and she said, “My throat is closing up. I can’t breathe.” She paused. “I think I need to cry.”

“Do it.”

And she did. She bent over – crumpled over, really — and cried. Sobbed. For thirty or forty seconds. Hard, loud, shameless heaves. Surrendering to tears, pain, anger, and who knows what else. In the presence of trees, and stone, and clay, and moss, and rain. And me. And God.

“That’s right,” I said, “Let it go. That’s good.”

And then she was done. Emptied out. Opened up. Done fighting pain. Done fighting herself. She straightened up, rose up, and walked three or four steps. “Oh, that’s better.” And then we were running. We took it easy — she didn’t want to fall again, and I didn’t want to fall at all – but we were running.

A minute later she slowed and stopped. “Will you look in my backpack? There’s a Ziploc bag with some dry wool socks in there. I want you to pull one of them over this hand, kinda like a splint or a brace.” My hands were still so cold that it was a bit of a struggle, but we managed.

Eventually we caught the other two. In truth, we didn’t catch them. They had stopped to wait for us at the giant rusty caterpillar. One of them is a physician’s assistant, and she took a look. “I don’t think it’s broken, but sometimes a sprain can hurt worse than a break. Also, it’s probably not a bad thing that our hands are so cold.”

On we ran. We passed the mushroom-shaped, moss-covered rock garden. I suggested that she stop, place her injured hand on the moss, and ask for healing. Which she did.

Over the next hour her hand felt better and better, to the point where she said it barely hurt at all. The rockiest sections of the trail were now behind us, and we could open our strides and really run. On the way up, dry and hoping to stay that way, we had dodged the puddles and the mud. But now, after an hour of rain, there was no avoiding them, and once you’re good and soaked, there’s no point in it anyway, so we splashed like kids.

And then we were done, back at the car, changed into dry clothes, headed for home, and grateful. The rain had stopped; the skies were clearing. Kiran was able to work the night, and now, a week later, she says her hand is fine unless someone squeezes too hard in a handshake.

And I’ll say this: It’s amazing what a good cry can do. A good quit trying to hold it together, just let it fall apart. A good stop fighting and surrender.

There’s an Isak Dinesen quote on our refrigerator at home: “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, and the sea.” I think that’s true. But wool socks, moss, and the company of friends aren’t bad either.