Love in the Morning

Sunlight,

Slowly streaming, peering, through tree branches

Seeming reaching up and out to touch it

And be touched.

Dark shadespots, never-lasting, shift on forest-run

And up the stretching trunks,

To dance ‘cross leaves turned up to see the sun.

Water,

Reflecting morning back to bluing sky

Above, from fiery diamond-dance of light

Atop the waves.

The lake awakes as light turns trees of green to gold

And traps their images

In mirrored mere, quicksilver, green and cold.

Mist,

Wet, wraithlike trails of dew that do not seek

The morn, but rather gather, clutched, and drift,

And look to hide

Until, discovered by the sun’s relentless rays,

Surrender to the light

That thrusts elusive phantoms from its gaze.

Breezes,

Approaching shyly, coming on to shore,

From jigging o’er the watertops and waves

That lap the land.

With sighs they softly rise to stir the trees awake,

Then us, through mesh that screens

The out from in, and stubborn sleep from wake.

I stir,

And lying on the bed in my repose,

With eyes still closed, I draw a morning breath

Into my soul.

And then, eyes opening to the world dawning anew,

I also turn to see the morning sun…

And it is you.

Life and Death

Just what is it that makes life worth living, anyway?  Is there a universal, one-size-fits-all answer, or is the answer situational, dependent upon the circumstances in which we each find ourselves?

And what might that answer be?  Is it happiness?  Good health?  Sex?  Wealth?  Perhaps the ultimate aphrodisiac, power?  Or some combination of these?

The existentialists among us might claim the answer is personal fulfilment, harmony with the world around us, inner peace.  Alone though we are, they might say, we are nevertheless connected to others, but on our own terms.

The religious among us might declare life’s significance arises from a meaningful relationship with one’s creator, in whatever form that creator might be rendered.  At this point in time, however, they seem unable to reconcile their competing visions with everyone else’s.

The afflicted and dispossessed peoples of the world might proclaim that life, being an endless procession of hunger, thirst, and terror, is not worth living at all.  And who is any of us, never having experienced their realities, to disagree?

But let us suppose, cheerfully, that everyone we know has found ample reason to live, to carry on, to survive.  In the face, sometimes, of personal tragedy, severe illness, serious setbacks of whatever ilk, they have persevered, even prospered, and gladly proclaim life to be the greatest gift of all.  They are, from all appearances, joyful, optimistic, and strong.

I recognize myself among this happy crew.  Wanting for none of the necessities of life, surrounded by family who love me, blessed with friends who are supportive and caring, I rise each day with a positive outlook, sure this blissful state will continue for years to come.  To state the obvious, life is to be lived.

So what do I make of the current debate swirling around us about a person’s right to an assisted death when the time comes?  How do I square my belief in the meaning of life with a possible wish to end that life at some point?  Are these two concepts even compatible?

For me, it comes down to a fundamental, primal instinct that life exists beyond this earthly planet we inhabit.  The vast universe in which we float is, itself, alive—a pulsating burst of energy, ever-expanding, interminably large.  And an infinitely small fragment of that energy, in whatever form it manifests itself, is what powers life in me.  It is my life-source.  Some, more religious than I, might call it a soul.

So when my time is up, as surely it will be someday, I take it as an article of faith that my spark of life will rejoin the universe from which it sprang—still alive, still burning, but in a vastly different form.

universe1

Comforted by this belief, I do not fear death’s inevitability.  I do, however, harbour apprehensions about the manner in which that death might transpire.  Having been blessed, so far, to live a life worth living, I have no wish to spend whatever number of months or years in a diminished state, waiting helplessly for my life-source to reattach itself to that whence it came.

Perhaps I shall die suddenly one fine day.  Here one moment, gone in the next instant, no assistance required.  Still alive in the universe, to be sure, but departed from this realm.  I’d be happy about that—but not too soon, of course.

Lingering on, however, past the stage where my mortal coil can function properly, holds no attraction.  So I have come to the conclusion that I should be allowed and empowered to facilitate the escape of my spark of life from my failing body, and set it once again on its eternal journey in the universe.

The true meaning of life for me, it turns out, is the power, not to end it, but to release it from a failing, earthly body—freeing it to roam, as the poet, W. B. Yeats, once wrote, “…among a cloud of stars.”

 

Interstate Introspection

During the past three weeks, I’ve had occasion to drive on US interstate highways for more than forty-five hours.  Hours of enjoyment, heightened alert, and sheer terror.  That I survived is a tribute to my (ahem) considerable driving skills.

Safely home now, I’ve been reflecting on the experience.  Specifically, I’ve been trying to reconcile two things: the probable personality types of those who shared (and sometimes hogged) the roads with me, and their driving patterns.

First, a word about mine.  I tend to set the cruise-control at a speed appropriate to the driving conditions, perhaps a few miles over the limit, and cleave to the right-hand lane.  As I overtake slower traffic, I signal a lane change, pull out well in advance, and pass the car ahead.  All in keeping with my usual predisposition—conservative, logical, and risk-averse.

These are not traits I witnessed in some of the drivers around me.  If I might be classified as introvert/guardian/rational, many of those others would more likely be labelled as extravert/random/hysteric.

Some would overtake me, coming out of nowhere to sit right on my rear bumper within a matter of seconds, and then remain there.  Only when I began to overtake a large truck would they attempt to pass.  But at the same blinding speed with which they had overtaken me?  Oh, no.  Rather, at a glacial pace that would inevitably leave me boxed in, their car on the left, the truck in front, my knuckles gleaming white on the steering wheel.  Oblivious drivers.

Other drivers, going faster than I, would pass me, immediately pull in front of my car, and slow down.  When I soon pulled out to re-pass them, their speed would quickly increase—only to slow again when I pulled back in behind them.  At times, I felt that I was playing hop-scotch in my car—out, in, up, back, left, right.  Erratic drivers.

On occasion, I would find myself in a string of three or four cars, all gradually passing a slower-moving transport truck.  Inevitably, a speeding car would shoot up the right-hand lane and, without so much as a turn signal, dart in front of the car about to pass the truck.  Near-collisions were barely avoided as a string of brake lights flashed on.  Impetuous drivers.

There were numerous instances when I’d see cars in front of me, weaving from lane to lane, or even within a lane, for no apparent reason.  When I’d pass them, quickly so as to avoid a side-swipe, the cause would be immediately evident.  They were talking on their cellphones.  Distracted drivers.

All these inconsiderate, insensible, and narcissistic types do fit into one large category, however:  sociopaths.  No one matters to them but themselves.  Scofflaws, many of them, who drive the interstates as they please, heeding not even the most basic safety and common-sense rules of behaviour, caring not the slightest about those with whom they share the roads.

A plague on all their autos!

 

What, Me Fidget?

He’s a little boy, barely four years old, staring out of a portrait in pastels. Sitting erect on a stool, visible from the waist up, he wears a brown ball cap, perched slightly askew on his head. Coppery hair curls from under the cap, atop his ears and above his forehead. A brown woolen vest, sleeveless, covers what appears to be a white tee-shirt. His bare arms, somewhat chubby, end where his hands are clasped together in his lap.

His eyes—large, brown, quizzical—seem to follow the viewer from side to side, never wavering. His full lips are pursed, and his cheeks are round and pink.

He is as frightened as he can ever remember being.

portrait of boy

Invisible to the viewer of the portrait, but arrayed in front of the little boy on his perch, is a vast crowd of Christmas shoppers, some smiling, others pointing, all watching. In front of them, mere feet from the boy, sits the artist, a woman who posed him while his mother and grandmother watched. It is she who turns his cap sideways, removes his tie, tucks the collars of his dress shirt under his vest—much to the chagrin of his mother.

“Let’s try for a ruffian look,” she says, thinking of the little rascals in the movies.  “He’s too cute to be dressed up.”

His mother acquiesces, though none too thrilled, and cautions him about his role. He is to sit still, mind what the artist says, and not fidget. The artist repeats much of that, but adds that he should tell her if he gets tired. “Short rests are okay,” she says.

It’s alright for a time, the little boy unmoving, the artist sketching with her charcoal pencils and coloured pastels. His stool is on a platform, slightly raised above the main floor where the artist sits and the shoppers congregate. He can see his mother and grandmother, and their smiles reassure him. He is too timid to ask for a rest, but the artist takes one, perhaps twenty minutes into the sitting, and allows him to get off the stool.

During the break, his mother says, “Grandma and I are going to do a little shopping for a few minutes, but we’ll be back before the picture is finished.”

As the little boy’s brow furrows in concern, she adds, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. Just do what the lady tells you.  And don’t fidget.”

The second sitting is much harder for him, with no familiar face to focus on in the throng before him. What if they don’t come back in time? How will they find me?

His eyes constantly scan the crowd, searching, until the artist asks him to look directly at her. He does, but she is too focused on her work to give him the reassurance he craves. Glancing repeatedly at him, then at her work, she dabs colours on a canvas he cannot see.

But he doesn’t look away from her, and he doesn’t fidget.

That portrait of the little boy has hung in my home for more than forty years, passed on by my parents. And almost seventy years have flown since the little boy sat on his stool in front of those Christmas shoppers. When my own children were young, I used to look for similarities between them and the little boy—eyes, hair, expressions. And now I do the same with my grandchildren. Sometimes I see likenesses, other times I cannot.

On many an occasion, I have stood and looked into the little boy’s eyes, trying to recapture what it was like to be him. Not just on that day when the portrait was done, but during the days and years to follow, as he grew and passed into manhood.

I feel his eyes trailing me whenever I walk by, and I wonder what he would think if he could see himself now. Could he have had any idea that day what his future would hold?

Of course not.

Would he have had even an inkling of the man he would become, and of all that would befall him?

How could he?

Would he like me?

I hope so. I liked being him.

It strikes me now that he has never moved, not once in all those years. He sits as patiently and as immobile as on portrait-day, gazing steadily back at the viewer. Is he still waiting for his mother and grandmother to come back for him, I wonder? They’re gone now, long ago, and I wonder what he would think if he knew that.

The little boy is gone, too, I suppose, except from the portrait that hangs in my hall—and from my innermost soul, where he will always reside. Until I, too, am gone.

Fidget? Not likely.

Hugging

Hugging one another is one of the more pleasant things in life. There is precious little that can compare to being embraced by friends who hug you as if they mean it. I am very fortunate to know people like that.

Being a writer who creates fictional characters for my stories, I am, by necessity, a close observer of people I encounter. Their quirks, habits, tics, and proclivities invariably find their way into the personalities of my characters. That is what makes them come alive for the reader.

Over the course of countless such observations, I’ve devised a classification list for hugs. Each type depends on two things: the persons doing the hugging, and the context in which the hugging is occurring.

The least sincere hug, the social hug, might occur between two ladies dressed for a formal occasion, or between a lady and a man similarly attired. Each bends stiffly forward from the waist to allow a cheek to touch, ever so slightly, upon the other’s cheek. It’s as if they’re saying, “How lovely to see you, but don’t mess my hair!” I have witnessed many of these during intermissions at the opera, for example.

The next category is the sociable hug, exchanged between two people wishing to acknowledge each other more personally than with a handshake. Arms are placed on each other’s shoulders, or perhaps around waists, and right cheeks touch briefly, generally without a kiss. Nothing touches below the waist, especially if it’s two men.

The third type, the friendship hug, is very similar, except it’s the left cheeks that touch, thereby positioning each person in a ‘heart-over-heart’ posture, denoting a deeper, more personal relationship. These hugs last longer, and kisses on the cheek (or, more rarely, on the lips) often accompany them.

The fourth classification, the dance-hug, has three subsets, all set to music. The first might occur when someone is dancing with the boss’s spouse at an office party; lots of polite distance between them, even though they’re hugging in accepted ballroom style. The second is common among long-time friends, perhaps at a country-club affair, dancing with each other’s spouses; familiar contact, but nothing untoward.

A third subset may be seen when a caring couple is dancing; intimate contact, including below the waist, loving caresses, perhaps kissing or whispering in each other’s ears—all of it as if the dancers are oblivious to their surroundings, lost in the moment.

I have learned a lot about people’s relationships with each other by watching them on the dance floor.

A fifth type, the loving hug, might be witnessed at an airport, when family members or close friends are parting, or perhaps reuniting. Bodies seem to meld, kisses are fervent, hands run up and down each other’s frames, and the hugs are only reluctantly ended. Tears are frequent, either from sorrow at the parting or from joy at the return.

The final two categories, both called passion hugs, are similar to the fifth one, except for two significant differences. The sixth is almost identical, but conducted in a horizontal position, and seldom publicly. The seventh is the same as the sixth, except without clothing. I haven’t personally beheld other people in these hugging activities, but I do write about them in my books, anyway.

I never try to identify which type of hug I might be part of when it’s actually happening, of course; I simply enjoy the moment. A hug shared with the right person, at the right moment, can be an amazing source of renewal, support, affirmation, or joy. When fortunate enough to be in that situation, I always feel any sadness or doubts I may have been harbouring drain away, as happiness and assurance flow in.

I love people who hug me as if they mean it!

The Goodie Bag

Another birthday, the seventy-third since my actual day of birth, is looming.

There will be no celebrations to mark the occasion—no gathering of family and friends, no gifts, and most mercifully, no public rendition of that ubiquitous birthday song by a bored, yet dutiful, cadre of restaurant servers. Rather, the occasion will be marked only by a fond embrace from the one who has been alongside for all but the first twenty of those anniversaries.

It’s always been this way for me, I suppose, and definitely by choice. The last real celebration I remember was for my twenty-first, when my parents planned the party to honour the passage of their firstborn from boyhood to manhood. As if it had happened all at once on that given day.

The child is father of the man…, Wordsworth memorably observed in 1802, and so it has always seemed to me. But truth be told, I don’t believe, in all the years spent being a man since then, that I ever left the boy behind. He lurks behind the adult mask, only rarely emerging, as though fearing he’s no longer welcome. I search him out sometimes, if only to reassure him.

I don’t really remember that twenty-first celebration, of course, it having occurred more than fifty years ago. But I do have photographs to remind me of the momentous occasion—washed-out Kodachromes of people who meant the most to me back then—some gone now to their spiritual reward, others, like me, to adulthood.

My mother and dad grace several of the photos, beaming with parental pride (I’ve always chosen to assume), both decades younger than I am now. How can that be, I wonder, and where did those years go?

My siblings—a brother and three sisters—all stand with me in other pictures, our arms around each other, full of that relentless, youthful optimism that has not yet encountered the eroding onslaught of time. But it did assail us eventually, and we have survived.

A couple of close friends were present, both slightly older than I, and eminently wiser (or so I imagined, on account of their earlier entry into manhood). Regrettably, one of those relationships has not survived the passage of years, the result of indifference and lack of effort, I suspect, on both our parts. The other, however, remains a fast and true friend to this day—and he, too, like me now, is well-launched into his eighth decade. Imagine!

Most dear of all in those faded photos is my high school sweetheart of the time, smiling happily, if a tad uncertainly, still getting to know the large, somewhat strange family whose son she was keeping company with. On that day, we were still two years removed from the moment when she would accept my proposal of marriage, and she, I’m sure, had no idea right then that such a fate awaited her. Even I, it must be said, had only begun to suspect she might be the one. That longed-for wisdom prevailed, I suppose.

Anyway, that’s the last big celebration I recall. There were many so-called milestone birthdays along the way—the thirtieth (Never trust anyone over thirty!), the fortieth (Forty is the new thirty!), the fiftieth and sixtieth (the golden years, so dubbed by those who couldn’t avoid them), and even the seventieth (entry point to the last of the three stages of life: youth, adulthood, and You’re Looking Good!). But they never impacted momentously on me. They were just one more marker in a so-far-endless progression of years, gratefully attained, yet no more important than any of the others.

Among the most special greetings I receive each year are those from my two daughters, both of whom endearingly insist that I’m not old, I look terrific, and I’m every bit as good as I once was.

“Hmmm,” I tell them, “maybe I’m as good once as I ever was!”

For the past fourteen years, I’ve been blessed to hear from a younger set, my grandchildren, five in number, who cannot for the life of them understand why there isn’t a big party on my special day, with balloons, and cake, and lots of presents. Not to mention the goodie bags they get at their friends’ birthday parties.

“Don’t you like parties, Gramps?” one might ask.

“Don’t you have any friends, Grandpa?” pipes up another.

So I tell them I’ve had more birthdays than I have friends and family combined, and that on my birthday, I’m more than content just to have my grandchildren near, and loving me.

“Oh, we love you, Gramps,” they affirm. “But goodie bags are still a good idea, y’know.”

I do know. My goodie bag has been overflowing for seventy-three years.