335. Amore perfect day…

Image result for brilliant fall day picturesA more perfect day I can’t recall

as the lazy leaves litter emerald lawns-

no need to cut or weed again

till spring dawns.

The sky is a sapphire dome

with a glowing tungsten sun

massaging fifty five degree air

into ideal running weather.

As I run out and then home

A wisp of a breeze about.

No traffic, no body in the park

jogging along trying

to get out of myself and

breathe God’s glory in and out.

“Abba… I belong to You.”

Brennan Manning suggests this prayer

for 30 soothing

minutes a day, only this prayer

till transformation arrives.

Old Norman Rockwell would cry

’cause he couldn’t paint this blissful

riot of colors and shapes yanking at

my eyes for praise and wonder.

I just keep pounding away
savoring the dusty smell of dry oak leaves
Don’t think, draw no conclusions
Be a leaf tumbling down to the earth
Simply breathe, “Abba… (inhale)
I belong to you” (exhale)
 
Forget the connections and the constant
knitting of perceptions into some fruitless fabric
of meaning. No, unravel me, God.
Blow through me
shredding all my manmade knots;
pull me through the knothole
to Your side
where truth and love reside.
Here I’m too big in my pride
Too wide in my self love
Shrink me, God, with a syringe of humility
Draw me down gently like a sunset
“Abba… I belong to you”.
 =====================================================================
This was my internal monologue as I jogged my two miles today, waiting for my body to revolt, but it didn’t. The lungs and legs kept churning reliably. So nice since I hear of many folks with compromised health, and I, of course, naively hope to be the exception to disease and injury. Silly self delusions. No one gets out alive, though many get out unaware of eternity, never knowing why they lived or what it meant. No thanks. I’d rather have the truth in pain than ignorance in bliss.
 
I came up the rise to where Eric’s blue fountain sits, a little oasis for dogs and humans. 360 degrees of autumn glory sang out to my senses. I hugged the round fountain, warmed by the afternoon sun. “I miss you, Buddy. Your love, your joy, your purity. Go Steelers!! Yeah Buddy.” I thanked him for the short drink and started to wander off, wondering how Eric is doing in heaven. Joy, joy, unspeakable joy is all that came to my love kneaded mind. I thought about his funeral in February. We sang “Joy to the World” to him and for him. On this fall day I thought Beethoven’s 9th was in order. “Ode to Joy” is the English  translation. Everyone knows the melody. Just a couple of lyric lines will do…
All creatures drink of joy
At nature’s breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
 Image result for orchestra director pictures
I imagined Eric leading a celestial orchestra the same way he used to lead bands at the winery when we all went to dance. Eric would dance and sway in his own zone of supreme happiness. Everyone knew he was special, beautifully special. My friend Clark said, “No one got more joy out of his time than Eric.” And I agree. Let that sink in as you drink in joy. What a wonderful way to honor Eric’s memory with a fountain to refresh you and your dog; a dogwood tree to impress you with its beauty; and a bench to rest upon. Eric was a famous rester and generous with his extravagant joy.
Months after Eric’s funeral his dad Dave kept praying for a word from God to know that Eric was alright. His father’s heart was gnawed at by the relentless rodents of not knowing. Then one afternoon his phone rang with an unfamiliar number. Music blared, the Vienna Boys Choir… and then an old voicemail from Eric burst across time, “Hey Dad. I’m fine. Love You. Bye.” Joy, unspeakable joy, swept over my friend like one of those street cleaner machines. Big brushes scrubbed away disbelief and grief for the moment. He ran to get Vickie and share the wonderful message from the maestro of joy. Listening to it eased the ache of the razor blade in his heart, as grateful tears rolled down his cheeks. “My Boy is all right. He’s alright. He managed to call me. Wow. Unbelievable.”
In the ICU Dave’s question had been “Why? Why?” as Eric lay like a pin cushion mannequin, tubes and monitors tethered all over him. Now his word was “Wow! Wow!” Faith blown away by answers.
Tears swell in the back of my throat just remembering this fantastic story. And I breathe again without running, “Abba… I belong to you.” Eric belongs to Dave. Dave belongs to God. We all belong.
 
It won’t be long till we are pulled through the knothole of time and space that separates us bodily from the Creator.  For now, only our souls can slip through the keyhole like smoke rings to the other side. Every now and then a smoke ring blows back through the keyhole, catches us by surprise on a perfectly glorious day… and unlocks the universe.

250. “Heck yes, I would!”

I don’t even know the precedent to this title, but I figured that I could comb through my thinning synapse farms and glean a memory or two where that line would fit as a response to a distant call. [In case you are wondering what a synapse farm looks like, it’s sort of like a catfish farm where fish swim through chutes and ladders and finally are selected for market by a dimwitted minimum wager with a net when they are plump and delicious, and exhibit just a tinge of orange around their gills.] Sort of like the Amazing Carnack routine of Johnny Carson, where he gave an answer to a sealed question and then opened the envelope and read it aloud for the punch line.  It’s harder than you might think to challenge yourself with such an open-ended gauntlet toss. You can wind up smacking yourself with the glove of challenge. You’ve heard of Russian roulette, yes? But have you heard of Russian bocce? Since it snows so much in Russia, they throw the polina ball straight up and pray it does not hit any of the players assembled below. And then they roll their balls at it as if playing horseshoes with bowling balls.

The line reminds somehow me of the terrible old joke from childhood that was told to me about the dance where the boy with a wooden eye worked up the nerve to ask the girl with the harelip to dance. When she responded excitedly, “Would I? Would I?” He could not help himself and yelled back, “Harelip! Harelip!” Why anyone would tell a kid this joke is beyond me, but somehow these cruel jokes filtered down to junior high kids who told them to elementary age kids, who lost some of their innocence in the process. Would you repeat such an awful joke? In a male-dominated neighborhood in the 1960’s, the answer “Heck yea, I would!” was a fairly common response to any challenge.

Across the Parkway lived Pat and Dougie Fontaine. Mean boys in a lower middle class community. Pat was older and in high school as I recall. He built himself a little putting green in his side yard, the Dorset Drive side. That was quite an accomplishment now that I think of it, and smelled of social climbing. Well, one day the prison road crew were working on the street just beyond the intersection of the Parkway and Dorset Drive. The prisoners watched Pat putt very self righteously while they sweated away picking at asphalt on a humid Virginia summer day. We younger boys were enthralled with these convicts and the one guard with a shotgun.

“Mister, is that loaded?”

“Wouldn’t be much good if it weren’t, kid. Wanna hold it?”

“Heck yes, I would!”  That did not happen. Laughter erupted in the gap between innocence and corruption.

One of the prisoners drew a bottle of chewing tobacco spit from the tailgate of the truck. He said to me, “Hey kid, you want to pour this prison juice into Arnold Palmer’s golf hole over there?”

“Heck yes, I would!”

I did and later on Pat beat my butt. Hey, I deserved it.  The prisoners got a kick out of the whole scene. I guess I got a literal kick out of it. I was destined for smart assery, I suppose.

We Hillians used to roam the woods near our neighborhood back in old Virginia Hills, which was situated between Kings Highway and Telegraph Road in Fairfax County, Virginia. 300 cookie cutter houses laid out on identical quarter acre lots. Those woods have all been plowed under and built upon, but back in the 1960’s they were wild and wooly. The eager young boys in my circle of friends just about lived in those woods, which may have preserved the little bit of sanity left to our stay at home mothers. “Go play”, they’d tell us, without any concern that we might wander literally miles in any direction. And we did wander with regularity. We caught lizards and turtles and snakes and toads and frogs and salamanders and crayfish and baby squirrels and birds and anything slower than we were. It was great suburban adventure to climb trees or have a little campfire wherever we chose.

Across from the Methodist church on Kings Highway was a dirt lane that ended at an old run down farm house from the 1930’s covered in clapboard that needed paint twenty years ago.  It could have been a set  piece for “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I don’t know the occupant’s name, but we had some tall tales about him being a drunk and a crazy man. It was quite a challenge to go down near his house where he had apple trees growing on either side of the lane. Now this may not seem too exciting to kids who play Call of Duty on X Box today, but back in the world of three dimensions this old cuss had a real shotgun with rock salt instead of lead, so the legend went. We knew about the dangers as we quietly snuck down the lane toward his apples, hearts pumping and adrenaline pulsing through our bored little suburban brains.

Now it wasn’t enough to simply slide in through the brush and the tall grass at dusk to snitch some apples in early fall or late summer. Someone always had to push the envelope and throw down a dare. I don’t know which kids dared which other kid. I just know that I was neither. I was along for the adventure not the record book. Anyway, let’s say Michael dared Steve to run up to the old man’s porch and knock while we ran to a safer distance to duly verify the completion of the dare. Steve ran like a bat out of Hell across the crumbling wooden porch and knocked rapidly on the old guy’s door as he also turned to run for his life. It was all in one fluid motion as my memory recorded it. Anyway, as we all held our collective breath, the old man came to his door, flung it open and began shooting some sort of gun at Steve as he scampered away like a zig-zagging jack rabbit through a briar patch. It’s amazing what adrenaline can do to ten year olds’ nervous systems.  When we finally got to a safe place on the other side of Kings Highway and lay on our bellies in the leafy carpet of the woods, we laughed and caught our breath again.

“Want to do it again?” (Not knowing life would wind up far less exciting.)

“Heck yes, I would.!”

 

247. Inversions

Invert–verb (used with object)

1. to turn upside down.
2. to reverse in position, order, direction, or relationship.
3. to turn or change to the opposite or contrary, as in nature, bearing, or effect:

to invert a process.
4. to turn inward or back upon itself.
5. to turn inside out.
 

It’s 76 degrees Fahrenheit on the second floor of my office building here on October 27.  Cold Canadian air is due in a few days. Like a bookie I owe betting losses to, he’s coming in around the freezing point on Friday night to hurt me and force me to comply with his cruel will.  Frost will settle in by Friday night, and I’m not talking about poets. I can feel it like dogs can sense earthquakes before humans do. It’s coming with an urgency that will shiver our Mid Atlantic butts into winter jackets and coats and corduroy pants, uttering “Ahhhs” as we find our way into warm dry interiors. You know, at first flip flops were summer sandals before they became political reversals.  When folks change positions, we say they flip-flopped. This sudden temperature inversion will be a meteorological flip flop of seasons in a week. You don’t argue with cold fronts or tornadoes or floods or tsunamis. You just surf them out as best you can and hopefully you survive. You just have to turn on the furnace and bunker down, my downy blog peeps. We’ll get through this winter with good books and music, warm conversations over hot cider and coffee, and hearty meals with happy dogs curled underneath the dinner table. That sounds delightful and yet doubtful at the same time.

And this weekend we play with time again, turning our clocks back an hour. Why? Because Congress thinks it’s a great idea for the economy. Think about that for a minute:  the most untrustworthy weasels in the country set the clocks twice a year and tell us it’s a good, no, a great idea. Originally this time change was designed to help farmers maximize available daylight. Uh, how many farmers do you know? The ones I see working during harvest time drive combines and trucks with headlights. Hmmm. Trust Congress?

 Trust me. Don’t they tell the truth when they’re not lying? So do mimes.

 

It’s funny how screwed up people get as the seasons change. This morning I went to a supervision meeting at 9 a.m. No one was home. It started without me at 9:30 a.m.  But I’d given up on the meeting when one of the guys left a voicemail for me telling me he was going to be 20 minutes late to my house, where the meeting was not. I then got settled at my office when the meeting host called me to see if I was on my way to his house. I told him I was there already at 9; no one answered the doorbell so I left. He said he got to his own house at 9:06. (What do you do? Laugh, cry, scream. )  I chuckled and sauntered off to the coffee shop for a longer and deeper conversation with Joel, the resident decaffeinated attorney. He asked me to consider how many other appointments and dates I’d missed in my life,  which was not reassuring nor was it meant to be. (Attorneys live in the land of potential liability and what ifs.) I told him I did not care, that it all comes out in the wash eventually. But he insisted that I could have been famous if I had met my destiny earlier and not missed the weekly opportunity meetings along the way. I sensed he was massaging me to ask for a contribution to one of the many charities he serves.  Like an inverted Bill Clinton, he said, “I feel your pain.”  I said, “Billy Joel, that’s my knee.” Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my 7p.m. appointment had already come to my office at 7a.m. God only knows what other appointments were missed or dyslexically rearranged by 10 a.m. on this, the last warm day of fall. I tell you, it’s coming like a new born glacier calf flailing down a fractured fjord.

I can feel it coming unglued. Last night my Washington Redskins beat the overrated Dallas Cowboys in the JerryDome on Monday Night Football, in overtime no less. It was awesome to see a beat up third string team defeat a highly touted first string team on their own field. Oh the inversions are everywhere I looked. You can’t pick out winners and losers, blog casters; you just have to play the game or let the weather do what it must.  Let me insert a slide to demonstrate how irrational inversions seem to be.

 You see, it makes little sense for warm air, which is lighter and should rise, to trap cool air beneath it and keep Mr. Sunshine hidden. However, if you fumble the ball or throw interceptions, Mr. Romo, an inversion occurs and the Red team marches the other way against the Blue team. Even in the colossal spectacle of the JerryDome, the modern day gladiatorial Cowboys were defeated by the rag tag, politically incorrect Redskins and their third string quarterback. Ooooh, that stings.
And now the crescendo inversion. I found a Peruvian 50 centimos coin in my pocket change last week as I fed the evil coin eating parking meter. It’s the same size as a U.S. quarter and that’s what I  thought it was until I noticed the different details. Huh. It appears to be silver like U.S. coins used to be. I’m keeping it for good luck. Perhaps I’ll drill it and make a necklace out of it. Chic inversion that.
So, don’t forget to turn your clocks back an hour this Sunday at 2:00 a.m. Put an extra blanket on your bed. Never trust lawyers,  politicians or Jerry Jones. And may you find your own lucky charm this winter. Till next spring, invert something.

 

242. One crisp fall day

Some days call your name with a different slant of sunlight or a final cricket chirp as you close the windows to your bedroom for the summer’s end. We humans notice sensory changes through the bodily inputs of smell, sound, sight, touch, and taste. Even the subtle ones like lowered humidity or wind direction can trigger our minds toward preparing for the winter or pull on emotional strings of past losses and grief. As I mowed the grass this past weekend I bumped my head against a winesap apple, strode under a Bartlett pear, pushed around sleeping butternut squashes, and came out alongside a heavy grape vine pregnant with zesty purple fruit. Glorious, glorious abundance from little past efforts on my part. But the devilish deal is this: to eat of this fruit is to simultaneously accept the end of the growing season. It’s not bittersweet, but the moment is tangy and crisp, poignant. The older I get, the more I feel the silent sting of these days. I pause just shy of melancholy. Then again, I could be overthinking this experience.

In vain attempts to lengthen summer my wife and I have scheduled warm southern fall trips in October. Last year it was the Gulf Coast of Florida. Wonderful, yes, but it felt like a magic trick to fly two hours and gain a month of growing season, like a rabbit came out of a magician’s top hat and hopped away. This year it’s out to Arizona. I know it will feel fantastic to recapture the heat and feel my body relax in the Arizona desert warmth. The catch is coming back to instant chilly weather, dampness, and dreary low sunlight days. What would you rather do: leave Baltimore or come back to it? Springsteen wrote a song about it, Hungry Heart. What’s an old guy to do?  I can’t stop time or ignore the delicious fruits of the moment I am in. Do I eat and die, or fast like a fanatical anorexic who fears death so much and thereby only prolongs a slow version of it? I suppose the longer I reside in the desert, the more change I’ll come to see. The desert is subtle, blogalinas.  However, no land can be immune to time’s relentless march. No rabbit will hop from a sombrero in Tucson, nosirree. More like a gila monster will crawl out of a boot, to be culturally and geographically correct.
So, as this day warms up into an early autumn gem, I’m confused. My body knows the sunlight is lower octane now; it’s welcome but not celebrated.  I suppose I’d celebrate this  very same day in the early spring, but no. This day promises less not more. So I resign to pull up the squash plants, and yank up the late beans and peppers. I remember one last hill of red potatoes that need to be exhumed. Soon enough even the green grass will fade to muddy brown and then a frosty white. It’s time to draw in the frivolous furniture of summer days and the fragile potted plants on the deck.  Wind up the hoses and drain them in the process. We’ll babysit all of these seasonal items for another six months and do it all again on the other side in April. Yet I find myself pausing longer at these changeover moments. How many times will I repeat these mundane tasks? Not to be morbid, my bloggerators, but to be realistic I count 20 years of life expectancy in my expected assets accounting column.
As I see it, I’ll have about 15 years of retired life if I die on time. That’s an appropriate book end to my life. My first 15 years were spent in pre-tirement, I suppose, with the middle 48 spent entirely in tirement. No wonder I’m tired.  In my first 15 years I learned how to be a functional adult, although there is still some debate about that claim.  So figuratively speaking, my life will be a fat book of 48 years secured by two fifteen year old bronze book ends. On my life’s tome I’d like a nice leather binding with gold lettering, “Burrito Special Vol. 1” deeply tooled into the cowhide. Wait. I think I’m overthinking this thing. Left unsupervised, Irish people tend toward melancholia, tragedy, and the morbid. Halt!!
I actually ate that winesap apple. It was shockingly delicious. I insisted that my wife take a bite…forget the Garden of Eden allusion. Her name is not Eve. Later she made a butt kicking roasted butternut squash soup. And I’m considering harvesting all those grapes for juice or jelly. The pears don’t soften up till October.  Perhaps that’s the answer to my unechoing silence:  enjoy the harvest now. Live abundantly and gloriously. Laugh at death. He is simply doing his job, scything away daily without benefits, days off or any retirement plan.  Death is merely a UPS delivery guy in black, minus the truck. Just sign for the package and he’ll be on his way.
Then there’s that other thing called eternity. I can’t get into that right now, my little chinchillas. I have to do some billing and  then vacuum. Also, there’s someone at my door with a package.