delible ink

passing thoughts

Thanksgiving II

I am thankful.

That was her subject.

With her body she quoted Stephen King.*

No body has ever moved me the way hers did.

Hers does.

She does.

* When it was done and I went to sleep, I lay awake and listened to the clock on your nightstand and the wind outside and understood that I was really home, that in bed with you was home, and something that had been getting close in the dark was suddenly gone. It could not stay. It had been banished. It knew how to come back, I was sure of that, but it could not stay and I could really go to sleep. My heart cracked with gratitude. I think it was the first gratitude I’ve ever really known. I lay there beside you and the tears rolled down the sides of my face and onto the pillow. I loved you then and I love you now and I have loved you every second in between. I don’t care if you understand me. Understanding is vastly overrated, but nobody ever gets enough safety. I’ve never forgotten how safe I felt with that thing gone out of the darkness.

Thanksgiving I

“Great weekend so far,” he wrote. “Hope yours has been as well.”

“Today,” I responded, “I ran with my gal along trails of yellow leaves. That’s all the weekend I need.”

I am thankful.

Foreteller of the vernal ides, Wise harbinger of spheres and tides*

There is a day each winter when the sky shifts and a hint of new life returns, if not to the land, then at least to the brain. We celebrate the solstice and the equinox, but this day in mid-February goes unnamed and unnoted, except, as far as I can tell, by me.

So writes Kimberley Noble today, at February’s apex.  For her, spring cascades from today (or hereabouts) and the gravity of the day, over the years, has had a profound effect on the trajectory of Ms. Noble’s life.  Biased by her own experience, perhaps – and not wrongly – she suggests the ides of February it is a seasonal send-off that more of us would do well to notice.

I notice.  I noticed.

I have met many a Canadian who shares with me a certain lowness that strikes at the high point of the summer, on the solstice.  For Northerners that longest day is a both birthright and a celebration earned through the trying days of winter.   But it is also the first day on an inexorable slide towards darkness, and so carries with it amidst the revelry a moment of sadness.  Conversely, in the depth of that cold night, on or about December 21st, when the sun’s wealth is at its most scarce, an ecliptic sliver of light pokes through the consciousness – an augury of happiness and the lengthening rays in weeks and months to come.

Nonetheless, though reason can find a gift in the darkness of the winter solstice, human emotion is guided more by what it sees clearly in the present.  And so it is some time before we truly believe that winter might soon be coming to an end.

That time was yesterday.

Through my west-facing windows, the summer’s evening sun washes through my house, the interior evenings painted on the walls in gold and red.  Migratory colours absent through the winter grey.  Colours that last night, while sitting at my kitchen counter-top facing away, alighted briefly on my cheek.  Their first evening’s return to their Northern home.

Wishing to mark the homecoming I grabbed my camera and ran for the backyard, training my lens on the branches of my favourite tree, my dogwood, as though only now in the vernal light was it possible that its buds would come out of hibernation.  Focused once, and pressed the shutter.  Faced west, caught the sun in my face for a moment, reframed but 27 seconds later and…the light had passed.

The briefest visit, but the clearest evidence:

…the glimmer of a lighter sky that [is] the most memorable part of the season in which the top of the planet spins away from the sun and we are left to find our own path through the darkness, until we are spun back into the light once again.

Well put, Ms. Noble.  And noted by at least one other than yourself.

——————————–

* R.W. Emerson

final moments | autumn light | backyard

A late night, lingering and tired.  Morning comes, the house empty and quiet.  Shuffle outside, downstairs, grab the newspaper. Through still-squinting eyes, look up and address the Day already well along down the road.  Feel the welcome returned against my cheeks, if a little chilled with disappointment at my tardiness.  Back up the stairs.  Settle into a chair.  And blink.  So quickly!  Through west-facing windows evening is rushing in like bullion, catching me unawares. 

Why, Day, I ask, are you leaving so soon?

Soon? She replies, belying her exasperation. I’ve been waiting for you for hours, just outside the door.

But why didn’t you knock?

Knock?  Why would I? I’ve no interest in asking to come inside to your world of keystrokes and calendar alerts!  It’s you, Son, who has been missing out; you who should have knocked at my door. But no matter – come, it’s not too late, I’ll hold the final scene.  Walk with me through your backyard, and I’ll leave you with a glimpse of what you’ve been missing...

collecting passion

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, sitting in the cramped, common aspect of the modern traveler, I’m reading Milan Kundera’s Identity. Through his mediums, the great literary alchemist is ruminating on death, boredom and occupations (though not, necessarily, as my listing of them in series here might suggest, as synonyms of one another).

As I read, gifted music fills my ears. Oliver Swain, a little-known folk musician, is covering an iconic Bruce Springsteen song. Not covering, gilding. I sit enriched by the warm sunlight of this gold.

Today we’re all alike, all of us bound together by our shared apathy towards our work. That very apathy has become a passion. The one great collective passion of our time.

Swain’s music seeps, with its gravity, from my ears down into my heart. From my heart his song pulses through my body. Needing only one sense, in that moment, I close my eyes.

…the old occupations, at least most of them, were unthinkable without a passionate involvement: the peasants in love with their land; my grandfather, the magician of beautiful tables; the shoemakers who knew every villager’s feet by heart; the woodsmen; the gardeners; probably even the soldiers killed with passion back then. The meaning of life wasn’t an issue, it was there with them, quite naturally, in their workshops, in their fields.

Oliver’s lack of apathy, his singular passion, rushes through my bloodstream, flushes my skin, implodes my eardrums, opens my eyes.

/sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, edgy and dull/
/and put a six-foot valley through the middle of my soul/

I’m on fire.

Oliver Swain – I’m On Fire

remembering…

…my grans, all of them, who faced the fear of uncertainty and mortality, on foreign lands and domestic soil.

…the grandfather I never knew, taken not by war but by a failing heart.

…the grandfather I knew, left battered and stricken for the remainder of his days. Screaming out in the night at horrors left seared in his mind. A stoic, though, living hard and long. Until the personal disease – not the social disease of war – that we fight this month did to him what anti-tank artillery could not.

…the two young boys, sitting in the front row of the movie theatre, laughing at the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.

…my sadness and disgust.

…my understanding in that moment of why we must all never forget.

…that it is not war we remember, but the lives lived and lost, the fear and bravery, the humanity of our brothers and sisters, far away in geography and our own understanding, who to this day step into harm’s way.

…that most of us don’t know the restlessness of lying down at night with our own mortality.

…to understand.

…to share that understanding with those that come after us, further removed from the past.

…to remember. Always.

~

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

- John McCrae

for gavin

[Another friend's story has come to an end.  Too soon.  She looked mighty as she migrated throughout the apartment, settling rarely, when she did in her brief dormancy suggesting of adventures innumerable, unread pages so many that the very prospect wore you down.  She wouldn't be shelved.  Wouldn't rest.  Wouldn't abide it.  Yet now she sleeps.  And now - again - I'm struggling to find the words to write my own epilogue at the end of a novella that should have been a tome.  I search for words and, finding not new, I find these.  Another's.  (The memories are razors, my friend, still sharp as the day you left.)]

I apologize; you would have been disappointed.

One of your first lessons, so simple,

You said, “Just write.”

But I didn’t know how.

Worse, I didn’t even try.

Though I did look, I swear;

Searched within myself for something to say.

I found nothing.

Found only quiet hopes,

That silence could articulate an altered reality.

I waited in that silence for days,

Listening to the world around me,

Witnessing it speak in spectral colours,

Then sigh from day to night.

A comet, dancing low across the sky.

You were there in all of it

But you just sat quietly and smiled.

You offered me no words.

No hint of how to say good-bye.

my brother’s hands (redux)

[I posted this about a year ago on a previous blogging platform. Recently, I had the occasion to sing my brother's praises to a new friend. One of my favourite activities. Got me to reflecting about the dude and, coincidentally, I came across this. So here it is again. The words and sentiments only concreted with the passage of another year.]

Quiet night, Sarah Harmer through the pipes, a glass of Tuscan red to my left. A recognition of neglecting my ink and the plan to post a daily photo (daily original text a little too temporally ambitious these days). Check folders of recent shots and find this one. Choke up a little.

It’s late and I’m too far from creative, too long from honest to attempt an articulation of what my brother means to me. Your reveal is that we split at the wrong age and took some time finding each other again. And since have been creating connection in shared blood stained the colour of black ink.

My brother is salt – hard, course and pure. He works his fingers to the bone, his soul to the limit. His depth cannot be measured with the tape on his belt.

He’s about to come in from the rain and embark on a new path, persuing the career of teacher to match his inherent skill. He will succeed at this as he has addressed everything life has handed him: full in the face, unwavering, the strongest of the strong.

Your big brother is in your corner, M. No towel necessary, no words. I’m just here to watch.

And smile. So proud.

ela

Scene 1

I haven’t run in months, but I recall the last time I tried. Underscore tried. My heart just wasn’t into it. Wasn’t up for it. Couldn’t do it.

So I started going around in circles. Started spinning towards a former life. Bee-lining towards past and future at the same time. For reasons not understood, I couldn’t run, but I could ride.

I have felt, through the process, reborn.

Scene 2

She, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to be born.

Had made up her mind that she wanted to stay a little longer. Wanted to stay in that place of comfort. Surrounded in the most complete way by mother’s loving embrace.

Mum, though, knew better, knew that the moon had spun nine times and it was now time for a straight line into a new world.

But something was twisted. Fate was crooked. Time was bent upon itself and the clock ticked too many times.

And when she arrived, all was silent.

Scene 3

My phone rang in the dark of night, no voice on the other end of the line, only tears dripping words careening in bursts to an abrupt stop in my ears.

“The baby’s not coming.

She’s in distress.

There’s no heart beat.

They’re rushing ____ in for an emergency c-section.

I don’t know what’s happening.

They’ve revived her, but she’s on life support.

They don’t know if she can survive off the resuscitator.

Even if she can, they don’t think there’s going to be any brain activity.

We’re not allowed to hold her.”

Scene 4

A day later we’d bridged the gap of geography and I was holding my friend close, the strength of my grip belying how useless I felt. He’d cried his eyes dry in those 24 hours. He’d aged a decade. He’d watched his dreams extinguished in a short stretch of cruel hours. And I hadn’t a clue what to say or do to make it better.

So we ran.

Scene 5

We’ve always run. We ran into each other. Our shoes have tied us over the years into a shared experience, a shared set of values, a shared love for one another. We’ve run in earnest, we’ve run angry, we’ve run – so often – like children that age left behind. Heads thrown back, mad zig-zags tracing our route through streets and trails, laughter left like bread crumbs to mark our way.

Running, in short, is the force that brought us together and the glue that’s held us there. Though life often these days seems to be trying to pull us apart.

Scene 6

I haven’t run in months, but I recall the last time I tried. I had no plans to try again soon as I make a habit of not running headlong into heartbreak. But heartbreak met my dear friend at the door. And the only way to leave this pain behind was at a run.

Epilogue

She put all the doctors on their heels and has left them shaking their heads in wonder. She got off that respirator in no time flat. Spent three horrible days on ice in the intensive care unit, the discomfort of reduced temperature designed to minimize other stresses. She’s giving every indication of awareness and cognition. She’s home now with her parents. She’s a miracle.

Friendships born of sport are also a miracle. Something about that shared – it seems so trivial compared to the past few days – suffering we do out on the roads and trails, the common experience that leaves our bodies humming at a resonance frequency drawing us closer together and holding us there. Something that transcends words. So useful when words won’t come and, if they do, seem so empty.

That run we took amidst suffering, amongst friends, was supposed to be a gift from me to him, a distraction of footfalls to drown out the pessimistic words of those that thought they knew better. But it was also a gift to me, a reminder of what had been pulled from my grasp and then, by my choice, been left behind. Certainly a far more minor miracle, but through all this riding I’ve been doing in recent weeks, our short outing the other day told me that miraculously my running has come back to me. I won’t let it go again. I’ll fight to keep it. I’ll fight for the friends that it has given to me.

Just as dear Ela will fight for – and win – the life she deserves.

spring frost

These words came to me, not from me, but when they struck me deep in my organs I needed to spread the impact. I’ve changed a word or two for reasons of the author’s privacy.

~

I’ve been gone, as you know, looking for time away to recalibrate.  Instead, I found myself drawn to the resonant frequency of my mother and played her my best rendition of the dutiful son.  There was another sound while I was there: the telephone ringing with the offer of the Golden Ticket. You’ll recall I told you I assumed that that show had also already left town.

So I went for a hike to think things through.

For some reason, the sun was shining in an uncharacteristic way and I looked across the Sound to Peaks in the Olympics that I had summited many summers ago – Mt. Constance, Mt. Mystery, Mt. Deception – fitting names for my meditation.  Still just Spring and clad in an abundance of snow.

I know that world – of snow washed pure in the thin air – a sterile environment.  I recall the steady crunch of crampons and ice axes in the hard pack.  And the long glissade down after so much effort to gain so much height.

And I thought of the path chosen and how many years I spent trying to find that road through the woods.  And now having found it, I reckoned that it would be very difficult to glimpse it should I go astray again.

So I was polite in my refusal…”If you had called me even a few short months ago, my response may well have been different, but I have made some choices…”  declining the Ticket, the different elevation it would provide, and the not so splendid isolation.

And so onto the road less chosen.  Eschewing financial security for the adventure of saving the planet one small case at a time.

Keep on trekking, my friend.

How many of us recognize the right path when it opens up before us?  How many see it again, many miles down the road, looping to rejoin, offering another chance at its adventures? How many have closed their eyes at this point?  Or turned them downwards, seeing only the step next taken…

Keep on searching, my friends.