Moments

The sky blossoms a kaleidoscope of color – the heat a lover’s embrace on a winter morn… It’s only a moment, but in that moment the realization of a thousand other moments… the compression – expansion – dissipation of time itself… a horn blows – the traffic moves and it occurs to me we have no moments to waste…

Independence Day

I wrote this about fifteen years ago and have for the most part dragged it out every Fourth since then… this afternoon I’m halfway home sitting in a much to luxurious hotel room in Chicago looking out over a city I love to visit…. the staff takes good care of me here, most are immigrants working hard on this “holiday”… I take the time to listen to their stories when they are willing to share… It’s the true story of freedom – independence – the pursuit of opportunity this country still represents to those outside clamoring to come in… I think about my trip East from Seattle this past week – the beautiful country I have passed through – but also the blatant racism in so many small towns where Native Americans are treated as second class citizens – how do we embrace “…all men are created equal…” when we look the other way uncomfortably? Maybe these are questions without simple answers… I think probably, but I believe when we stop asking we have conceded point and the bright shining example we should and could be is tarnished a little more…

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The sweet smells of cotton candy and caramel corn dance through the early evening air mixing with the laughter of children and the soft murmur of a thousand conversations. The sun begins its slow descent and you can feel the anticipation thrumming through the stadium. As the sharp cadence of the Color Guard recedes the lights go down and the first shells burst in a spectacular blaze of color and thunderous sound. I lean back in my seat and let the show assault my senses.

Independence Day, a day of celebration, a day of remembrance, a holiday so simple yet so fraught with the complexities of modern day politics and the ever-shifting landscape of international policy it should challenge us to examine its true meaning. In its purest form we celebrate the courage, vision, and perseverance of our forefathers. They created a new nation with their very blood and infused it with a set of ideals and beliefs that has not only become a rallying banner for democracy everywhere, but a siren song for the oppressed and downtrodden the world over. ‘We hold these truths to be self evident…” the power of these words shaped a nation and challenged the greatest imperial power of the time. They also set an inescapable responsibility for us as a people, we cannot embrace our history, our independence, carry on our annual celebrations and displays if we ignore the balance of our declaration: …” that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have taken this responsibility upon ourselves and have found opportunity in our history to rally to it: The fascism of the Axis powers in WWII, our vigilance against the insidious creep of Communism during the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Jihadist of the Middle East and in defense of those most vulnerable within our own borders. These political and military battles may represent our collective will, but the achievement of our independence was built on the personal efforts and decisions of those men and women who chose to shoulder the burden of, not only defeating our imperial masters, but also investing themselves in the creation, nurturing, and guiding of our country as it took its first steps on the path to greatness. Too often it seems that the ideals our founding fathers espoused have become the fodder for today’s self-serving political machine. It unfortunately transcends party and pollutes the purity of the democratic process. We must always remind ourselves of those “self evident truths” and understand that the preservation of them is a personal responsibility.

The final rumbles are fading into the distance and the last vestiges of smoke have cleared, chased across the horizon by a warm breeze. I take my daughter’s hand as we begin the slow walk to our car and I silently rejoice in the fact that she will grow up in the greatest country in the world. I promise myself to teach her the history of Independence Day so she can one day become the conscientious steward of our freedoms that is the legacy of our citizenship.

Two Vases

A good friend was telling me a story about an abandoned home where the folks had left their “parents” or maybe “grandparents” cremated remains behind… that seemed incredibly sad and lonely to me… I imagine a conversation something like this…

Two Vases

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

I feel you near me dear
Do you remember my kiss
Now it’s just the two of us

Long passed are our days in the sun
The sand soft beneath us
The kids playing in the surf

I remember the stars above
The singing of a mountain stream
Marshmallows by the fire

It seemed so long I waited
Now you sit beside me
Matching vases in the shadows

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

The Order

The steam rises in soft plumes out of the chipped ceramic coffee mug while the thin napkin, folded just so, absorbs the first drops of condensation beginning to journey down the side of the hard-plastic water cup where the square cubes of ice seem to joust for position.

Johnny studies the sturdy plastic menu with an intensity usually reserved for things of much greater comport than the overwhelming selection of egg and hash-brown combinations pictured. Melissa twirls her pen over the yellow pad, “Melissa” isn’t really her name but the faded tag had been carelessly left behind attached to the uniform shirt her manager had tossed her way that first day seven months ago and she had never bothered to change it. She had long settled on answering to hey girl, you, or just about anything else – Melissa would do.

“I think I’ll have the ham and cheese omelet, grits, and raisin toast dark,” Johnny finally intones carefully replacing the menu in the metal brackets next to the napkins, bottle of Texas Pete and stacks of foil jelly containers. It was a serious decision he thinks to himself, everyone knew breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

Melissa nods with equal seriousness, “Yes sir coming right up,” she answers not bothering to write it down, Johnny has ordered exactly the same meal every morning since she started, and who knows for how long before that. “Ham and Cheese plate, grits on the side, raisin well,” she hollers at the cook…

Memories from a Georgia Cotton Field…

The bracken and small trees have overgrown the banks and begun to cover the top of the berm if you look closely you can still see the glint of steel tracks embedded in the coarse grass, the creosote ties have splintered and rotted no longer holding the rails in tight straight lines. The cotton fields extend on either side for hundreds of acres the red Georgia dirt baking in the late September sun – the bolls now dry and brown have split, their sharp claws clinging to the silky puffs loathe to give them up. The memories of a lonesome steam whistle mingle with the sharp cracks of the whips and the soft moans that linger in the quiet stillness of a fading afternoon.

Adelaide wipes her brow with the back of a hand, her mahogany skin’s a crisscross pattern of scars and creases never quite healed from the hundred sharp cuts the bolls inflict – the shadow of the overseer approaches and she bends back to her task hurrying forward hoping to avoid sharp sting of the leather through her thin cotton dress. She steals a glance over, Billy still lay where he had fallen, no amount of whipping was going to raise him up and they’d left him as an example to the rest of them, the men would bury him later but not now no now was for pickin’ 200 pounds didn’t come easy the second time through a field.

The green machines lumber along voraciously scavenging the white puffs in front of them, small strays play across the ground in their wake as they march forward. Along the tree line long bales wrapped tight in plastic keep the cotton from escaping, large enough to fill a tractor trailer they wait patiently for the long bed trucks to carry them onward. Gone are the picking bags, the cotton baskets at field’s end, the crack of the overseer’s whip – but the cotton remains and the soft glint of a steel track – and the memories of another day…

Author’s Note: I was traveling through Georgia this past weekend, past many a cotton field and old train bed… they spoke to me of times long past, but not forgotten.

Wonderin’

I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
Got Tom Petty playin’ the stories we could tell

I cant find the words to splain the way I’m feeling
And I don’t know how to stop starin at the ceiling

So the tears fall and the memories keep flowin’
And there aint nothing for it but to keep goin’

Cause I sit here wonderin if the worlds gone to hell
While Tom Petty’s playin’ the stories we could tell

Reflection on impermanence…

It can be hard to see from inside ourselves, but your life is your masterpiece and yes we are only fleeting and embody the very essence of impermanence, but in that short time we create, oh do we create and those creations have the power of permanence, they influence, they are love, hate, joy, sorrow and each one leaves a mark on those around us… that small ripple multiplies, its passed on and becomes part of the collective consciousness of those we interact with… so don’t focus too much on the moment for it is only that – a moment, but take solace in the masterpiece that you are…

Thoughts on Irma – The Aftermath

*This is a five part piece – I encourage you to start with “Thoughts on Irma #1” and read forward… JC 

It’s been three days since Irma turned North and hit our little town dead center, about half of us have our power restored, a few stores and restaurants are opening back up, but normal still seems a fair bit off. There are long lines at the few gas stations that have fuel and those that fled early are unable to return for fear of running out before making it home. On every street the steady whir of chainsaws fills the air from dawn till dusk and the scent of fresh cut wood is inescapable. The piles of limbs and brush line the avenues and side streets, growing in stature as the once mighty oaks fall to the blade, some as much five or six feet across having seen hundreds of years – now lie dead in the unblinking sun. Leaves cover the ground and streets like fall in New England – an unexpected blanket of green.

As evening approaches folks start to return to their homes, grills are fired up, candles lit, and the rhythmic chatter of a generator punctuates the still air. It’s hot and humid, the air lies heavy and still – not even a hint of breeze as if the wind had exhausted itself earlier and now is slumbering somewhere far from here. It’s not quiet but the sounds are all different, no TVs, no music, even the traffic has disappeared – they have been replaced with the hoot of a hunting owl, laughter from a few doors down, the tireless chirp of the lake frogs, and the stray bark of a lonely hound.  News is exchanged on the sidewalk and the interaction of neighbors harkens back to an earlier and simpler time.

Life is already moving on, the inescapable pace of today’s society can’t and won’t wait for our emotions, anxiety, understanding to catch up. It’s going to take time to fully process this experience, we talk about it – sharing the memory, the feelings, coming to grips with this brush against our mostly ignored mortality.  Today we hung the pictures back up and moved the porch furniture back into position – symbols of normalcy. The electric is back on – something we celebrate with embarrassed restraint as there are so many still waiting. Tomorrow will bring a trip to the grocery store to replace the provisions that have spoiled in the unforgiving heat and life’s mundane routines will begin reasserting themselves.

I imagine it will take weeks to fully restore all power, services, and cleanse the landscape of wreckage and in that time we will exchange our stories of that night and come to grip with our personal lists of would have, should have, could have – but the reality is our psyche will only allow a tepid remembrance lest we live on trapped by the understanding of our insignificance.

Thoughts on IRMA #4

Dawn is finally breaking – grey streaks begin to penetrate the darkness. The wind is still present, but reminds me of the summer thunderstorms of my childhood, not the incessant fury of last night. I am sure analogies will abound today – our 24 hour news media trying to convey the experience and those mavens of disaster over at The Weather Channel with their hundreds of campaigns under their belts explaining to us just how it was. I understand, but the reality is so much different than their LL Bean protected forays into the “heart of the storm”.

It would take pages and pages to capture what last night was like – I honestly can’t imagine what a CAT 3, 4, or 5 might be like. The wind and rain had picked up its intensity around midnight, I hadn’t contemplated it being able to get much worse than it was – I lacked context, but that’s no longer the case. We lost power around 1AM about the time the eye wall was approaching our town, our neighborhood, our house.  You see on the TV it’s just a dot on a map, but the reality is it’s the four walls and the person next to you – and the fury and ferocity isn’t directed anywhere else – its personal.

The battering gusts of wind had been coming in waves for what seemed like hours, each subsequent rotation with increasing intensity – until it all blended together into a singular focused battering ram, which is when the power went out creating all consuming inky black. I understand with much greater clarity now the destructive power of wind like this – it’s an unstoppable force – there is a constancy that is maddening in its consistency. I think that may be the most difficult part to deal with emotionally – the simple fact that at the height of things there simply is no break, no where you can escape to, no way to stop it – and it is everywhere for hours…

We lay in bed in the dark holding hands, I’m not ashamed to say it was terrifying – if the power of nature doesn’t intimidate you – well you simply haven’t been paying attention and the arrogance of humanity has penetrated your being. The winds song is the background beat, the bass track if you will it sets the tone for everything else. Now layer in the creaks and groans of the house – you truly have to experience it to understand, but it seems like it is going to come apart around you – the percussion of blowing transformers, falling trees and debris clattering off the windows round out this symphony of destruction that has no intermission. We exchange fitful attempts at sleep finally settling into a semi-conscious state that seems almost dreamlike.

I must have drifted off at some point, because the winds had died down and the windows were no longer rattling, greeted by the soft grey of the coming dawn I began to fill the coolers with whatever food could be salvaged from the fridge and freezer hoping the ice would hold us long enough for the power to come back. Its already getting warm and the day promises no escape from the heat and the unblinking sun that is Florida in the summer. I’m already missing my morning coffee and the prospect for a cold glass of ice tea is pretty bleak. Soon the calls and text messages will come in earnest from those scattered all over the country waiting to hear that all are safe, the check-in with local family, friends and neighbors will follow shortly after. It may take days or even weeks for some to return to normal – air conditioning, carefully manicured yards, the erasure of impending anxiety – but the experience can’t be expunged – the greater understanding of how truly insignificant and powerless we are as mother nature decides our fate with no concern for our opinion or preparation…

Thoughts on IRMA #3

The weather started deteriorating around noon today as we watched Irma come across the keys and head north toward us. The benefits or modern technology, weather radar, social media and the wall to wall news coverage is obvious – prepare, prepare, prepare – but on the other hand nothing ratchets up the anxiety like watching the slow march of an inevitable disaster. No question being informed and prepared is the better option, but it takes an emotional toll. The calls, texts and messages from friends and family continue to pour in, they are watching the same coverage we are – geography goes out the window at times like this, Florida is a big state – but we live in Florida and that’s enough.

A couple of interesting observations today though: it’s a strange experience taking down your pictures, wrapping them in plastic and boxing them up. Backing up your computers, debating what to pack and store in the center of the house and what to leave in place. It’s like moving but being told you can only take what can fit in three or four boxes and oh we are leaving in six hours so hurry up. Then there is the network of folks that develops around you in these situations, the folks you know, long time friends, and neighbors – all of us sharing in an experience none of us would have willingly chosen to be part of, but the “check-ins” and messages of support go a long way toward dispelling that feeling of isolation being locked up in your house creates.

I took a walk around the house late this afternoon between rain bands, checking and rechecking – wishing I had tightened that gutter up, probably should have trimmed that tree back – an inner monologue of should have dones, too late now to do anything about, it will be what it will be. A final check with the kids, “are you sure you don’t want to come stay here?” They have their own homes, pictures, fears, and plans – I understand but still wish they were here so I could know for sure they were okay. My two boys on the West coast stay in constant communication, I’m sure worried and feeling helpless to do anything.  The family has decided on hourly updates via group text, it’s a poor substitute for having everyone together, but measurably better than not knowing.

Dark has fallen now, the wizards at the Weather Channel are discussing whether there is an eye or a center of rotation – neither choice changes the forecast of 100MPH winds in the next few hours. The wind and rain have picked up substantially and you can’t avoid the eerie whistle and staccato of the driving rain against the windows, the shadows cast by the streets lights undulate through the windows strange patterns cast by the wildly swaying trees. The band of storms is moving so quickly the thunder seems to roll across the horizon from right to left creating a strange symphonic effect. The thought of this elevating in intensity is disconcerting, but the experts say the worst of it should be here within the next few hours…