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I have attempted to chronicle each step in this journey of grief and healing. Each time I do, the openness of sharing it has been, I am told, of service to others. Each time, others have found it helpful. I have done my best to live openly, and lose openly, to the fullness of my ability and knowledge.

I wrote this about a week ago.

I posted it that night.

At least I thought I had posted it. I have never had trouble posting to my blog before, but this ended up, each time, in the Drafts folder. I asked my editor, who has access to my blog, for help.

He read it.  He said he was glad it seemed stuck as a draft. He was afraid that giving this voice might make it become so.

I erased it.

I have learned, through years of teaching and using narrative therapy, that the best way to move an emotional state out is to bring it out as fully as possible. Putting it into words, as fully, as accurately, with as much detail, emotion, and directness as possible, is one of the best ways to do that. It also means it is then outside, not being repeated in one’s head, all day, all night, on and on.

My editor showed it to my psychologist. Dr. Sarah Arnett. She explained to him that writing about it or talking about it, was far from dangerous: not talking about it was the danger. And, as scary as it is, people who feel this way must be allowed to talk about it. Not told it is wrong. Not given trite reasons to go on or have clichés foisted upon them, not told they have so much to live for, not told there are people who would miss them. They know this. But none of that helps. They need to give voice to the sorrow, or the anger, so it can come out.

My friend Joyce, she got it. She and I laughed one evening over the ways we’d end it. How we could do it without it looking like we had any real part in it. It was good to know someone understood.

So here it is. After checking with the kids, letting them know it was OK, here it is.

Maybe reading this, more people will know it is OK to listen, without fear, to a friend or loved one who feels this way. It is not a plan. It is a feeling. It is loss and longing and anger and sorrow looking for cessation, surcease, palliation. It is not life that wants the end, but the pain.

Maybe reading this, more people who feel this way will know it is OK to say it, to write it, instead of letting it grow inside, instead of letting it eat one up, take over. Instead of doing it.


The moon doesn’t change as I walk. It doesn’t move. Not perceptibly. The wind pushes steadily in the direction of the incoming waves so that I must push back to keep myself at the shoreline.  A little struggle, a bit of resistance, friction, is good, if it is tangible. If it is clear.

I know, over time, the moon will rise. I can watch it as much as I like, but I’ll never perceive the movement. Yet, over time, move it will, higher and higher, then set again, and be gone.

Over the last two years, if I look back, I can see where I’ve been, what has changed. The pace is, perhaps, glacial. But I think, at last, it, too, is setting. I don’t want to watch it anymore.

I have a good life. A wonderful life. I have been the luckiest of men. I have, in the real sense of what one needs, wanted for nothing. I want for nothing now. I am surrounded by goodness and love. A splendid family, children anyone would be proud off, friends anyone would be blessed with. I was married for nearly thirty years to the most wonderful of women. There is nothing wrong. But I don’t want it.

I don’t want to linger anymore. I don’t want to just wait for the day I can see her again, or discover there is nothing to see, but rest, and darkness and nothingness. I can wait around, and just be. But there seems little reason. No motivation.

I know my friends, my family will differ with this, but the last year and a half has proven life goes on, that things happen, and we continue. I’m just choosing that I don’t wish too. My kids are off and fine and my wife is gone. So, no need.

I promised her I’d go and be happy. It may be the only promise to her I didn’t keep. I’m trying to. Leaving feels more like keeping it than the intangible struggle of the day to day. The struggle to be, to  find reasons to wake up.

I don’t want to hear about the little pleasures. I know about them. Flowers. Hugs, sunrises.  But the last few nights, I have had dreams: sitting and talking with my Lee. All night, just talking, like the best friends we are. And that is all I can want.

I promised her, as well, I’d not join a monastery. That I’d not become a Buddhist monk. I’ll keep that promise. I promised I’d not allow myself to spend my life alone. But I am a shy creature, and do not venture out by myself, do not mingle, meet, join, talk to people I don’t know. I don’t party or partake or parlay or participate in things social. So I am left with a second promise it appears I cannot keep.

Being alone is not a problem. Lack of contact, feeling isolated—that is. I can feel it. And to not feel it, I have to deny it.

I don’t want to deaden anything with alcohol, or take pills. I don’t want to not feel. But it seems most feelings are disappearing on their own. And I am left with…what?  A sad nostalgia of belonging to a place and person not here. A feeling for which English has no word.

I’m going day by day. Making plans for the very near future only.  Living today for what I need to do today. Tomorrow will be for today. The next day will be for today. Only today. Give me a task, I’ll do it. Why not? For now.

Real plans I have none. No goals. Nothing to aspire to.  And I have no real plans to end anything, but each night, I wonder, how do I not wake when the sun rises? How can my sleep be one from which I do not wake? How can my dream go on and on?

Suicide is not illegal. Only doing something to oneself that is obviously designed to lead to termination in the very short term. One may not poison oneself with a vial but one may with chemicals, knowing that time is all it takes. One may not do without food or water, but one may choose things which will hasten one’s end. One may not leap but one may walk too close. And one may slip.

I am taking excellent care of myself. I may be in the best shape of my life. And getting better. My life is simple. I do nothing that may immediately lead to my leaving. I do nothing that anyone can look at, can point to, can identify as a cause, of it being my fault. So I exercise, eat well, rest. But neither do I do anything to prolong my stay.  I no longer put on my seat belt. I am careless. I pay little attention. Most of the time, I am just thinking, how much more sweet to sleep.

I have no plan. Just opportunity.

I grew tired of people saying things were God’s will, that it was time, that there is a plan. Fine, I say, then. If something happens, it happens. It was a plan. Whatever happens, if I was supposed to take some strange comfort in there having been a plan for my wife’s hideous, painful death, then those who believe such can feel the same way about whatever happens next as well.

I don’t want anyone to suffer. And I was told, over and over, not to case so much about others that I let myself suffer as a result.  OK. Now I’m listening.

I was told I wasn’t needed by others as much as I thought. That I could live my life for myself, for my own desires. I said don’t try to convince me of that. I said it would be a bad day if ever I believed that.   Now, I believe it.

I’m tired of it. I just want it to end. The day-to-day drudge of just waiting until I see her again. I used to feel that tomorrow would be fine, or next week, next year, or forty years. It didn’t matter. But now it does. I wasn’t meant to do this by myself and I want out.

I have cancelled my appointments. I don’t need them. No doctors. No psychologist. Let the appointments be for someone for whom they will be of some use. Someone who wants to stay.

I asked my daughter once, after she tried to take her own life, to promise she would not hurt herself. She said she could not make that kind of promise. I understood. I never asked again.  My psychologist asked me to promise I would not hurt myself.  I could not make that promise.

Sometime, soon, I can hope, emotion and opportunity will come together, for a moment.

Tomorrow I will go for a walk. Next week, I have a call to make, and a book I might put together. That is the extent of my life’s plans.

The moon tonight is full. I can look at it all night, and it will never seem to change. It will be like that, forever. Or so it seems. And that is enough.

2/27/2013

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2013 in Culture, Family, philosophy, psychology, Social, Suicide, Writing

 

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Yom Kippur as Manifest in an Approaching Dorsal Fin

It is Yom Kippur. A Monday. I have taken the day off work to walk, meditate, think. I have taken the day off work so I could go to temple the night before and not worry about the time, the hour, how late it was getting, when I would need to get up.

We asked our friends to go with us. In our back yard, playing with clay, our conversation set on cognates and religion. I mentioned the Buddha of compassion, Amitabha, and the other name for him, Amida. How the Amidah is the name of a prayer of compassion during Yom Kippur. How it relates to the fruit, almonds, as the ancient Hebrews saw the almond as a symbol for watchfulness, promises and redemption. How the part of the brain which we know to be the seat of our ability to see things in a global, compassionate way is called the amygdala, from the Greek ‘amugdale,’ meaning almond. Craig started talking about the Kol Nidre prayer and, being Craig, translated it for us and we sat, transfixed, as often we do listening to Craig. Lee, Evanne, Beth and I, listening to Craig.

Of course we listen to Craig. He, translator of dead languages. He, who juggles biblical text back and forth from language to language, from meaning to meaning as though the passages are but palm-sized bean bags. He, of the three books of translations. Yes, we listen when he speaks.

As we talked, we discovered he had never been to temple, had never actually listened to the Kol Nidre. Neither had Beth nor Evanne and that, of course, was not a surprise, growing up in the Midwest: Ohio and Nebraska, Methodist. Right then, we asked if they’d like to go with us this Yom Kippur, to the Kol Nidre service; the only one we go to.

They were surprised. Craig said he was honoured. Evanne agreed with a clear look of shock on her face. Beth asked if we’re sure it was ok and told us how special it was to be asked; how appreciated it was.

That was months ago. We asked the small, local temple if we could come and bring three guests. No problem. May we have their names and do they have any departed they would like Yizkor candles for? Yes. We were set to go.

Erev Yom Kippur arrives. Lee is under the weather and cannot go. She asks that I go anyway and I resist but she does not want to disappoint our friends.

Evanne worries whether she should have her hair covered. Beth is concerned she looks like a ‘goy.’ Lee tells her, jokingly, that she should proudly announce she is a shiksa. I suggest against it and let them know it is an honor that they are going and the congregation would be overjoyed they are there.

They are worried. No need to dress well; not for this congregation. But they do and Beth’s heels put her so high above me she has to bend over and I must tip myself up on my toes to kiss her on the cheek.

Both wear black, notice their shoes are made of leather, point out they have worn black and now discover the color of the holy day is white. No-one will be following all these rules. No-one will notice.

Evanne, married, wears a scarf on her head, long and flowing, tied into her hair, nearly as long, nearly to her thighs. She could be Golda and Tevye’s shorter, forgotten daughter. She could be from the shtetle. No-one will guess she isn’t Jewish. Beth actually looks Jewish and no-one tells her this. How to explain what that looks like?

Craig fits in perfectly but is wearing shoes for the first time in, perhaps, more than a year. I offer him one of my tallit (prayer shawls) and a kipa I think will fit him well, gold and silver. He tells me he is honoured to be invited and I am privileged to give him my tallis to wear.

We arrive, are greeted, take prayerbooks and I search for a large print version, find one, enter, find a place in the pews close to the front. Myself, Evanne, Beth and Craig. I leave space to my right, where Lee would sit, where I would be able to see her.

We talk, discuss translation, Craig notices the Kol Nidre is not translated literally and, a game of telephone, shows me the text clues by showing Beth who shows Evanne who shows me, differences in font, serif versus sans serif, that tell a careful reader what is a translation and what is a paraphrase.

This congregation, Mateh Chaim, has, as yet, no home. And, yet, we have been welcomed even though we swell their ranks and available room. Even though there are non-Jews among us who need not be here. The congregation is growing and hopes to have one, but there is, in thoughtful congregations, a balance between the need for a building and the needs of community; the understanding an edifice takes money many of the people here tonight don’t have. It is the only congregation in Palm Bay. It meets tonight in a Methodist church. Behind the portable ark, containing the Torah, is a twenty-foot cross. It is not the building that makes a congregation.

I do not mind this so much. We talk, quietly, as we would before any service. Evanne tells us she is glad to see me misbehaving as usual as it puts her at ease.

Misbehaving? I ask. She answers I have said ‘ass’ twice since sitting down in the pews. She says it like this: “You said a-$-$ twice since sitting your a-$-$ down.” Silly. Anglo Saxon not allowed for a Methodist?

I think, momentarily, of our Yom Kippur in North Carolina. We were alone. No-one around us had an understanding. I listened to Kol Nidre on Internet Radio.

Joel Fleishman had a similar experience on the television program Northern Exposure in an episode called “Shofar, So Good” (1994) when, on Yom Kippur, he was visited by Rabbi Schulman. Our program opens with Joel, physician to Cicely, Alaska, carbo-loading in preparation for his day of fasting. He is attempting to explain Yom Kippur to the ever-interested residents as they eat at The Brick, the inn and tavern, and has little success. This is mostly because he has only a tenuous, superficial understanding himself. He knows the words, he knows the rules and proscriptions, takes care to keep the fast, not wash, not to care for personal convenience, to give the day up to feeling keenly, sharply one’s place in the world and relationship to God and our fellows. He sees the holiday as a noun with a set of rules, not a verb with a set of tools. To Joel, it is no longer a living tradition and he does not know what to do with it. On top of this, he is lonely for those who know his tradition.

Our Good Doctor Joel, while in the midst of his fast, was visited by the Good Rabbi Schulman who, as surprised as Joel, was lifted by a shaft of light and deposited in Cicely to help Joel understand what Yom Kippur is really about and Dr. Fleishman begins the process of making amends. It is a journey, a Hebrew Dickensian vision quest, which starts with the Good Rabbi occupying the space of the top head of a totem pole. Jews, after all, are tribal too.

Not too surprisingly, the members of the cast who understand Yom Kippur best are the shamans.

But I am not alone and I revel in this. Craig tells us the history of the Kol Nidre. The actual translation, the ‘Kol Nidre Controversy’ surrounding just what the proper place and ramification of the prayer is.

Kol Nidre means “All Vows” and it absolves us of vows and promises made that we needed to make to survive but knew were wrong. It apologises and gives release from the many times we said Yes when we wanted to say No, but did not because our jobs, food on the table, roofs over our heads, our safety, our security meant we had to say one thing, do one thing, when another was what we knew was proper.

He explains, my teaching middle school is my Kol Nidre. My giving grades, requiring students to do what they have no desire to, that is my Kol Nidre. When I teach them to pass a test when they want to learn creativity. That is my Kol Nidre. When I do that which I must to put bring food and security, when I do not call those around me on their actions because I must protect my job, that is my Kol Nidre. When I do not, can not, must not act in accordance with my true self; my Kol Nidre. When I do something I must instead of write and create. Kol Nidre.

Evanne points out that is exactly what the abbot at the Thai Buddhist temple told me, that I was doing what I needed to and need only recognize that and the needs of fitting into our community and of survival and taken into account in the realm of Karma.

Yet, even those vows I take seriously. I uttered them. And so the Kol Nidre also protects us from ourselves; we make this prayer because we take vows so seriously we consider ourselves bound even if we make them under duress or in times of stress when we are not thinking straight.

The Rabbi, Fred Natkin, walks up to the bima (stage) and we look around. No fashion show here. Women in pants, men in dungarees, vests. Hats instead of kipas. I have done this as well as it is more comfortable, does not fall off, shades my eyes when reading. Many women have Tallit and that is a sure sign of a rather liberal welcoming congregation.

The service starts and it is with great participation of the congregation, coming up to the bima, sitting down again after hugs and kisses. Always each moment, each prayer ends with hugs and kisses among all those on the bima. Evanne asks me if this is important. Among many liberal congregations, this is common, important, this contact and affection. I say it is a fitting way to end a prayer to love each other and who are we to argue, and I lean over and kiss Evanne on the cheek.

The congregation prays, meditates, responds, the rabbi sings, chants.

The time has come for the sermon. The rabbi speaks of science fiction. Reads a letter written by him to the neighbouring Moslem congregation offering aide and friendship after a shooting into the mosque this week. He is offering for the descendants of the two sons of Abraham, the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael, to make peace and fight together for justice. The Jewish high holy days and Ramadan started the same day. We have the same goals. The president of the congregation writes his thanks, appreciation and friendship in a letter to the newspaper, thanking the rabbi and congregation. He reminds us we must make the world the heaven we wish it to be. It is our job and what we are chosen to do. That we do not pray for peace, but pray to be peace. That Judaism is a religion of verbs. The prayers re-commence.

The Kol Nidre is sung. There are two tunes for this prayer. I was taught by a rabbi there is magic in the tunes themselves, in the music, so, if one does not know the words, hum, dai de dai, la la la, and that is good and will do the trick. But I want to sing and this is the other tune, the one Lee knows. It is the Sephardic tune, I believe, the one from the Mid-East and not the Ashkenazic tune of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. I do my best. Craig knows the words but does not sing, unfamiliar with the tune even more than I. Evanne, somehow, reads more loudly than others, seems to fit, sounds clear and I am frequently amazed by this.

More prayers, meditations, the Amidah and call for compassion. I feel this prayer as I did the Kol Nidre and look for my wife, see the empty space. I think of my own Yom Kippur Prayer. And when I have trouble following along, I recite it to myself:

We open our mouths to proclaim how beautiful the world is, how sweet life is and how dear to us you are, Lady, Mother of All Living.

We stand here today to remind ourselves that we are all part of this web of creation. We are all linked, so that what any of us do affects all of us, and that we are all responsible for the Earth, and each other. We have chosen to be here today as a symbol of our commitment, our awareness of this connection.

Even so, we forget our promises and our duties.

We gossip, we mock, we jeer.

We quarrel, we are unkind, we lie.

We neglect, we abuse, we betray.

We are cruel, we hate, we destroy.

We are careless, we are violent, we steal.

We are jealous, we oppress, we are xenophobic.

We are racist, we are sexist, we are homophobic.

We waste, we pollute, we are selfish.

We disregard the sufferings of others, we allow others to suffer for our ignorance and our pride.

We hurt each other willingly and unwillingly.

We betray each other with violence and with stealth.

And most of all, we resist the impulse to do what we know is good, and we do not resist the impulse to do what we know is bad.

All this we acknowledge to be true, and we do not blame the mirror if the reflection displeases.

Lady, help us to forgive each other for all we have done and help us to do better in the coming year. Bring us into harmony with the Earth and all Her ways.

So mote it be!

In this prayer, we admit we are not perfect and proclaim we will make good on our mistakes even if we are not aware we have made them. We all make such mistakes. Such is the friction, the dukkuh as the Tibetans call it, of life. And we must have the compassion for others to apologise, to make amends, person to person. If we do not, we cannot go into the new year. If they do not accept, the guilt is on their heads if, and only truly if, we have honestly done our best to make amends.

We must also have compassion for ourselves and the ways we have transgressed against ourselves. Such is the message of the Amidah and Kol Nidre; we can start over and do better. Such is the message from Amida, Amitabha.

And we are cognizant we have made mistakes we are unaware of individually. For these, we say a prayer and ask forgiveness not of God, but of each other and offer our forgiveness as well.

More meditations, kisses, hugs. The Mourner’s Kaddish and I quietly remind those with me this is what they gave those the names of the departed for. I think of those I have lost and feel keenly the empty space next to me, where my wife should be, and move slightly over more, closer to Evanne, leaving more room for my absent wife as though I was looking to be able to see her as I sang, but could not find her. I am missing her and think, sadly, at some point this space will be open, open and empty and not fillable. Thus says this prayer.

And with this, service ends. Craig mentions how so many of these prayers have been taken, nearly without change, for Christian services. Beth feels the continuity with the Methodist services she is familiar. We exit, putting our books back as we do, and head back to the house.

Lee greets us outside still not feeling well but wanting to be social to a degree. I am grateful, and tell my friends so, that I was able to go to temple with those I love even when my own dear was at home. I was able to share this evening with them, this prayer, this holy day. I am grateful to them and happy.

They had said it was an honour to be asked. That night they repeated their gratitude and surprise. It is I who am grateful. It is I who am honoured. It is I who am, again, surprised, amazed and smiling. I hold them both and say thank you, then smile as they drive away.

Today I stay home for Yom Kippur. I do not go to temple, however. I plan to write, run, walk, meditate, remain quiet.

I get ready to go to the beach. On days like this I am reminded of some of the perks to living in Florida. It is October and I am going for a run on the beach. My ancestors would already be cold, wearing thick coats and would have long collected the winter wood. I will be running by the waves wearing as little as I can get away with. I say to Lee, listening, that it is too hot to wear dungaree shorts, the only kind I have. I have two swimsuits, both old, hardly worn but seeming worn, nonetheless, elastics given up their ability to stretch, become brittle.

I have not purchased any in years and told myself I would not until my weight was down to where I wanted it. I might have to go back and revisit that idea. They were too small for years and I would not go to the beach. Now they are too big and are unfit, do not fit, I put on the one with the best elastic. My wife shakes her head. No? Why not? Does it have a lining? No. She tells me I have lost weight and that will lead to needing a lining if I am planning on going running. She does not want me to be uncomfortable or, worse, injure myself, telling me the fat I use to have kept some things in place and, without that weight, I’ll want that lining as I go jangling up and down. I put on the other suit and it falls off. It has a cord, I pull it tight. It still hangs a bit and I’ll need a new suit soon.

I go off to Melbourne Beach and leave everything, including my sandals, in the car. Keys, wallet, glasses. I put about fifty cents in the meter and get one hour and fifteen minutes for my coins. I did not take sunscreen so I leave my shirt on, planning to take it off if I get too hot.

It is bright, clear, brilliant and the beach is quiet and nearly empty. I head to the shoreline and walk, briskly, south.

I practice an exercise as I go called the Walk for Atonement. At-one-ment, removing separation. Becoming one with what is around me, with the world and all that is in it. With time and space. If we felt at one with all things, who would we, who could we, hurt?

What is our place in this world? What is our place, in context to all that is? I walk. With my steps, I contemplate spans of time. A day. What does a day feel like? What does it feel like to exist a day? A year. How does a year feel? Ten years. Can I feel ten years? How plastic I am. How much one can change in ten years.

I do this every year. From then to one hundred. This year, I add fifty years. Fifty years. I am approaching that and can feel it. It is not far beyond my span now and I can understand that in a personal context. One hundred years. What does that feel like? I have and had relatives nearly that old. One thousand years. I can understand this historically but what does it feel like? I am uncertain. My place in it is, or can be, nearly a tenth. But how much a part do I actually play? My grasp on it is tenuous. Ten thousand years. Again, historically, I have an idea. Personally, it is too vast, too long. I have no context. What is my place in that span of time? Nearly none. One hundred thousand? None. None at all. A million?

yomkippurshark_acnmAs I reach a million, I see something I have never seen but which is astonishingly familiar in the water a scant twenty feet from me: a triangular dorsal fin, a triangular tail fin, both moving gracefully in the water so close if I wanted to, if I were fool enough, I could walk out to it and barely have my calves half covered by ocean. This is amazingly close for a shark.

I stand and watch. This is an interruption in the flow of the meditation. Or is it? A shark comes so close as I contemplate a million years and this seems like a message. It feels like a hello from distance of time and I can see, now, what that million years looks like. I cannot go to it so it, instead, has come to me. Today.

I am aware of a person next to me, fewer than a few feet away. “Is that what I think it is?”

What else could he be asking? It is safe, I imagine, to answer in the affirmative. “Yes.”

“I was going to go swimming.”

“Still going to?”

“I just moved here. This is my first time at the beach. Are they out there all the time.”

“Are you asking me if there are always sharks out there or if death is always fewer than twenty feet away and swimming around us.”

He stares at me.

“The answer is yes to both. You’re just getting to see it today. Welcome to Florida. If you plan on hiking instead, remember, we’re the only state with all four kinds of venomous snakes.”

He walks off.

I continue my walk. With each step I think of a person I have wronged. I apologise. With the next step, I forgive myself as well. I do this until I can think of no more people but I am human and I must have hurt more people than I think by simply the act of living. I apologise, with each step, contemplating the many ways we hurt each other and never know it, cannot help it. And, when this is done, forgive myself.

As I continue to walk, I think of each person I know has hurt me. I forgive them. It no longer matters. In the span of time, what could it matter? If they have not admitted guilt, what does it matter? I forgive them. I forgive them all. If I have thought badly of them for the wrong they have done, for this, even, I apologise and forgive myself.

Why carry guilt? Why carry anger? Why carry a careless word? Of what use is it in the span of years? A million years and how long am I here? There is a shark in the water.

Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. Gone, gone. Beyond gone. Past beyond gone. There is enlightenment.

I start to run. Barefoot I pad the sand beneath me. Step by step following the mean line of the surf. If the waves come in further, I lift my legs higher, pull up my knees, splash as each sole descends. This varies my running, changes the muscles used, increases my activity.

With each footfall, I think of a year of my life. A year. Each time I pad the sand beneath me; grains millions of years in creation, millions in erosion. Each step, a year. I run out of years quickly, in a matter of half a minute. I think of my potential lifespan and run them out in another half minute.

I think then of the people I love and run them out, each step a year of life. My family, less than a minute each, like the blink in time they are, we are. My friends, a minute. I think of those I know, enjoy the company of, gone in minutes and I do this consecutively but I know it is all concurrent, all gone, more or less, in the steps it takes me to run out mine. I think of those I don’t like. All gone too. No different. All the same. We are a set of footprints. We wash away.

I wish all people happiness and the root of happiness. I wish all people freedom from suffering and the root of suffering. Even those I don’t like. Especially. Now, before I become invisible among the sands. Now, before I wash away.

I have run out of people. I have not run out of beach. I continue, watching the evannebirds skitter the foamline as I splash and make impressions which are instantly gone behind me as the tide washes out. I run and am not tired. How much further?

I expected to run for a few minutes. I thought, how long can I run before I need to turn back? How far can I go before I know I am half-spent and turn around to run back or all spent and must walk my way back? But neither point comes. I run.

I run easily, no pain, barely sweating, my heart slow, my breathing calm. It was not long ago I would run five minutes and be exhausted. I would run and walk and run and walk in alternate minutes. Now I am easy and feel free and comfortable, open. How long have I been running?

I choose a point in the distance; a home among the many but different in colour than most and decide to run to that, then turn around. On the return I can sense no reason to be heading back but my desire to return to my writing. Still, I am not tired, not worn, my breathing slow and full.

I see the salmon hued building that signals where I started. There is the boardwalk, invisible behind the sea oats and dunes. I run up to the ramp and there I stop.

Once to my car, I look at the meter. I have been gone more than an hour and a quarter and it flashes at me. I have run for much of that time. I have run for nearly an hour. It is not a marathon, but it is an amazement, an accomplishment and I have a sudden keen sense I have not eaten anything today but half a cup of milk. I am not fasting. I cannot fast. It is bad for my health and is, therefore, forbidden by Talmudic law. Certain people and people under certain conditions, according to the Talmud, may not fast. I have brought nothing by way of food with me and across the empty street is a Coldstone.

I get my things from the car, brush off my feet, put my sandals on, put another quarter into the meter and walk over. What could make this day more perfect than adding an ice cream?

There is a Starbucks, on one side of it and, on the other, Bizarro’s Pizza. There use to be café here Lee and I ate at once; had lunch with Jeannie, Joseph, and Connor on our first visit to Melbourne. It left with Frances, or Wilma or one of the September storms to visit in 2004. The building is still empty, partial.

I walk into Coldstone. It is slightly after twelve and it feels as though there have been few customers today. I ask the young lady behind the counter for plain ice cream with no fat and no sugar. They have ice cream with no flavouring; simply the taste of milk, crystalised, thick and solid. No sweetener. Why would milk need sugar? She is happy to oblige and what size? One cup. A small.

Would you like anything in that? No. Wait, yes.

Please, if you would, some almonds.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2006 in Culture, Religion, Social

 

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Day of the Manatees

US1 through southern and central Brevard County is an easy drive of sparse architecture and brilliant liquid beauty along the Indian River. The Indian River is wide and shallow, averaging three feet deep and often navigable by foot from the quarter mile to eight miles between bank to bank. Not a river at all, really, but a rod-straight saltwater sound, it is barely separated from the Atlantic by more than a spit of land.

Along the river are salt-marshes, inlets and coves and it was past one of those many coves I drove Saturday morning on my way from Palm Bay, five miles north, to pick up Evanne. That day we were making a kiln of coiled newspaper at my home, breaking into a bag of terracotta clay with about a dozen people to make runes, Tellstones, whatnots small in size. People were due at noon.

As I drove, the shoulder, commonly narrow enough only for an emergency stop, widened into a grass-filled clearing level with the lapping river. Only about forty feet deep and perhaps one hundred feet long, normally empty and affording a view of the wide river and the narrow division of land which broke the ocean and created the sound, today it was bordered, as the trees cleared, by an upright half-sheet of plywood asking, in large caution-orange paint, that we take home one of the many pit-bull puppies available. Behind it were parked what were certainly to be too many cars to be explained by free puppies. Against the shore were clumps of people – adults, children – with cameras, binoculars, pointing fingers off the bank at a space some thirty feet distant.

At fifty miles per hour I can’t see much. Cars, people, cameras and a boiling of water where they point. In the river’s tumult were dark shapes, significant in size, one breaking the surface of the water. While I cannot see what they are, by the time the tableau has taken its place behind me, as the car curves past the Honda dealership, I have figured out what they were; manatees.

I have been here a year. I have not seen a manatee though I hear about them and their friendly nature, their bad breath, the texture of their skin.

I speed up. I am but five minutes from Evanne’s and reach for my phone to call her, to ask her to be ready so, in the truck, we can go back, park, walk to the bank and, I hope, see my first manatees. The phone rings.

“Are we on for today? I figured we were because you said we were, but Jack said I should check.”

I was due to pick her up at eleven that morning. It was ten ‘till.

“I’m four minutes away. Can you be ready? I’ll explain when I get there but I don’t want to talk while I’m driving.”

I drive too fast. She is ready and gets into the truck.

“I think I passed a group of manatees right off the road. I think. I want to stop and see. We have about an hour. If people have to wait a bit for us, for this, they’ll have to wait.”

“Really? I’d love to see them.”

People rush so much. Everything, it seems, is on a time frame. For picking up Evanne on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, I chance not seeing the manatees. I drove by them. I think briefly of passing them by again; people are due at my house. I drive back quickly. Too quickly. Time again. This time I stop, pulling over the double-yellow line into the clearing and between two cars.

There is a whirlpool deep with dark silhouettes of bodies long and broad. I can see this through the windshield and open the glove-box to take out the binoculars, the monocular and we get out.

Approaching the water, I hand the binoculars to Evanne. “I asked for a discount on the binoculars, since I can use only one lens, but they just laughed. I don’t see why I should pay for something I can’t use. You turn this to focus.” She takes them out of the case, I twist the wheel between the lenses as she holds them. I take the monocular out of its case and stuff the vinyl into my back pocket. I put it to my right eye and point it out to the roil in the river.

We are two among a constantly renewing eight or ten people watching the spectacle in the water. Three manatees, it appears, one female and two male: mating season. We watch, one then the other, the one again. Breaching, tails slapping the surface, mist blowing from nostrils, grey backs above the water. At once it appears there is a jostling, it appears one has attacked another. We watch. We listen.

Perhaps the female has told one of the males she has had enough. Perhaps has had all she wants. Or one male has challenged, is ready to fight, been rebuked by the female. Then all is calm and they are taking turns again.

The sound skips over the water and mixes with, spurs on the chatter around us .

“It’s a manatee orgy.”

“Manatee gangbang.”

“She’s tired of them and wants a ciggy.”

Snickering, laughing. Rude comments.

I think to myself, talk to myself, I wonder at the anthropomorphizing. Why put them into a human frame? Have we done such a good job of it? After all, they’re the ones making love in the water, having sex in the river, taking turns, out in the open, no worries, no cares, procreating, playing (perhaps), not thinking of tomorrow, not yesterday, just now, in action and moment, life lived as present-tense verbs.

What’s our problem? We want to live, be healthy, or, at least, be comfortable while we live long. We want to live and live and live. Quantity over quality and tomorrow over the moment. We want to have things, more things, one more thing, then something else, another. More and more. We want shelter because we will be more comfortable, live longer if we are out of the cold, out of the heat, out of the sun. Longer, more, tomorrow, worry, next year, better place. Then, we look at the manatees in the river and give them our thoughts, our desires and our reactions when it is we who wish to feel like them, give up the home, live in the water, have sex on the shore, think of nothing and have only now. But for the fear, we would. But for fear of the end, we would. And so, we pretend they are like us as imagining we are them simply begs dissonance, wonder, confusion.

It is quarter ‘till twelve. Evanne reminds me we have people who will be waiting for us. I respond by going to my truck and getting my polarized sunshields – big enough to fit over my glasses. With these, I can cut out the reflection of the water, see through the surface. They are one more thing. I bring them back and hand them to Evanne. We pass them back and forth. Finally, binoculars, monocular are put away. I’m reminded it’s time to go and, back to the truck, we do just that.

We drive way from the water, out to US1, and, as we recross the double-yellow I can still see the swirling of the water in my mirror.

The afternoon comes, the company does as well. Stones are made, a kiln is built. I make a dinner of salmon and steak, both on the grill for hours now, lowly, slowly and vegetables cooked fast in a large, flame-surrounded wok.

Over dinner, Craig tells us about the park nearby, Goode Park, and the manatees. He lays on the dock, the one that floats. His hands lay in the water, waving gently and the manatees come to him and to have their bellies rubbed. Bellies rubbed? I have never heard of that. Manatees again.

I am to do a workshop that evening: a singing workshop. Old Aramaic chants. It is at Goode Park. I picked it because it was close by; six blocks away and I plan to walk there. Goode Park is on Turkey Creek, which connects to the Indian River.

Walk there we do. It is seven in the evening and the workshop starts at seven-thirty. It starts when I get there but I would not start late. I will start on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, and, if there are any, I chance not seeing the manatees.

I walk with Evanne and Valerie to the dock and, as we step, it moves beneath us. I see nothing but lay down on my belly, as do the ladies. I put my hands in the water and wave them in and out just under the surface. In and out. Nearly instantly, surprisingly, a nose, four inches across, breaks the surface, closed nostrils open, hot air expelled and it smells of old vegetables., eyes are wide, focused on my face. Eyes like mahogany shooters surrounded by grey flesh. A short-nose elephant in the water.

I reach over and pat the head. It is smooth, warm, comfortable. Round, firm, comforting. Another comes up, sleekly, quietly, graceful in way I have seldom seen and I am thinking how something so impossibly shaped, so ungainly on land could be the utter animation of grace and flow and while I am thinking this another sneaks up, unseen, unheard. So large and so quiet.

I pat it with both hands, rubbing either side of its head. As I do, it snuffles at my palms, left then right, opens its mouth, licks my fingers and moves forward placing its head once more between my hands.

It turns over, deftly, silently as I rub and my hands are on it’s belly: soft, muscular, warm and I rub it as long as it will have until it moves back and my hands are on it’s chest, its flippers are thick, nails large and tough and I can’t help but feel them and I hold its hand. Hand, so much like my hand, five nails, fingers joined by skin and cartilage but five fingers, five nails. A moment passes and the hand I’m holding places, easily moves, mine back onto its chest, making its desire well and clear; it wants its chest and neck rubbed.

It is raised from the water, belly and a portion of its side above the surface, visible. On the grey skin, in the flesh, are four yellow scars, at regular distances, at the same angle, nearly and inch wide and each about a foot long. I would see this again and again as the manatees would come up, each in turn, scars and scars.

And so, our bellies to the ground, theirs to the air, we rubbed them, as long as they would have, into the warm night.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2006 in Culture, Nature, Social

 

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