Bearhug – Part 2

Creative Commons License

by DCH Park

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

Bear Hug by terren in Virginia https://www.flickr.com/photos/8136496@N05/2257963106/

He looked around. He was at work. He remembered this job. It was from several years ago. He was wearing a suit and tie and talking with a friend from school. They were in grad school together. They were both working as part time consultants in one of the prestigious firms downtown. They both had the same title but he had been in the job longer and had more responsibility.

Keith, his friend, had just told him his hourly rate. It was almost double his own rate. He hadn’t asked for the information. Keith had just volunteered it.

At a loss for words, he thought back to the interview process. He had submitted his resume and gone through several interviews – all standard for graduate students looking for part time work. The company had made an offer which was a little better than the going rate. He’d accepted, thinking that he was doing well. Now Keith had told him that he had been offered almost twice as much to do the same job. It didn’t seem right.

“That much? Really?”

“Yeah. Their idea of ‘fair compensation’ is really whacked. I thought you should know.”

“Thanks,” his head was still reeling. He had heard of this sort of thing but he hadn’t knowingly encountered it before. Here it was in “white collar America.” The only thing that he could put his finger on to “account” for the difference was race. That didn’t seem germane but the difference was something to consider. He wondered what else they were hiding from him. Then a thought occurred to him. How well did he know Keith? Maybe Keith was lying to him so that he would say something and get into trouble.

On the other hand, if Keith hadn’t been lying, he didn’t want to say anything that might hurt his friend. He wondered if secrecy benefited anyone in the end. Wasn’t transparency better?

Keith asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” he responded.

The sense of injustice and indignity still burned in him. He remembered the incident clearly, feeling immersed in it all over again. At the same time, he watched it unfold as if it was happening to someone else. He was in it at the same time he was outside of it, watching the tableau unfold. Did his attachment to his emotions keep his memory alive somehow?

He wondered if there was anything else to remember. He opened himself to whatever else there might be. Suddenly the scene changed.

He found himself in a corridor on a bright day wearing different clothes. Instead of a suit, he wore jeans, a loose, cotton shirt open at the collar, and sneakers. He could also see straps and feel them digging into his shoulders. He was in high school. It was the end of the day and buses were lined up waiting for kids. There was shouting and energetic bustling and rushing about.

In contrast to the noise made by the kids, the buses stood in a silent row. He left the corridor and walked out to his bus. The books in his pack dug into his back, threatening to pull him over. The image of him bending backwards under the weight of his pack kept playing through his mind…

The books were dense and bulky and heavy – too heavy and bulky to carry them all under his arm but he needed them all for his homework. That was why he needed the backpack. Nevertheless there were kids who didn’t seem to have many books at all. How did they do it, he wondered.

He found his bus, climbed into it, went to a seat about three-quarters of the way back from which he could watch most of the activity, and sat down. He thought about putting his pack on the seat next to him but thought better of it and put it on the floor, between his feet, instead.

He surreptitiously looked at the floor before he lowered his pack the last inch. He always wondered if the floor was clean and what had been thrown on it. This one looked clean. The school bus always did. Nevertheless, he speculated on what might have been spilled or thrown on the floor and what might be in the grit that he always expected to find there and never did.

Thoughts about the floor left him almost as soon as he felt the nylon fabric of the backpack come to rest. He knew that although the bus would fill up to capacity before it left, many kids lived within a mile of the school and would be getting off soon. There would be plenty of free seats shortly.

He watched the other kids climbing onto the bus with a sense of uninvolved interest, the way an anthropologist might people-watch. He noted the fashions they wore and how what they wore and how much energy they put into their appearance seemed to be dictated by what they considered important. He idly mused about using those differences to bring people closer together rather than to define and vilify an out-group. This led him to feel into the nature of vilification. How does one vilify? What does it mean to vilify? Does it change things? Is there a difference between what someone else does to you and what you do to yourself?

Soon enough, the bus was filled, the doors were closed, and it rolled off with all the others. It kept its place in line to the edge of the school property and then turned left at the corner while the one behind it went in a different direction. The bus went down the main street for a short distance and then turned right to go to its first stop.

About halfway up the hill, it stopped on a quiet street to let several kids off. The leaves of trees from opposite sides of the street mingled overhead as their branches merged, making a dappled tunnel that the bus rolled down. It made several more stops as it wended its way through the neighborhood emerging on the other side of the hill. It turned right onto a major road and traveled a short distance before turning left into another neighborhood.

The bus was less than half full when it made the turn, making it easy to see everyone left. There was a girl sitting a few seats ahead of him and across the aisle. Her jet black hair bobbed and bounced with the bus and her head movements. He couldn’t see her face but he was sure it was her. She was sharing her seat with another girl. The two of them sat on a lone island in a sea of empty seats. She was chatting away with her friend, apparently oblivious to the bus and hadn’t noticed him or maybe she had and thought it wasn’t worth acknowledging him.

He gazed at her and imagined touching her hair. He remembered trying to begin a conversation with her many times. He had tried to be sincere and show her that he thought about things deeply and strove for original thoughts. He indicated that he appreciated originality and creativity and asked her what she thought but she didn’t appreciate that. It only seemed to make her laugh more.

Once he had worked up the courage to slip a poem of his into her locker between classes. Later he found her reading the poem aloud to her friends. She saw him and pointed him out, laughing. He melted back into the rushing hallway, feeling confused.

He stopped himself and felt into his memory again. It wasn’t shame, anger, fear, or numbness that he felt. It was confusion. This surprised him. Perhaps his emotion had changed, perhaps he felt something different in retrospect than what he did at the time, but this was the feeling he’d brought back. He decided to accept his feelings for what they were and continue his exploration of what came up.

He felt into why he was confused. He sought to feel the whole thing, not just the most poignant parts of what he felt. He realized that he couldn’t feel the whole thing as long as he was focused on part of the whole so he opened himself to all of the confusion. He watched himself feel one thing after another. It was curious to witness himself feeling it and feel it at the same time. But he was vast, even if he only thought about himself that way in jest.

His goal was to get beyond the emotion so he could see what else it brought up and the quickest, maybe the only, way to the other side was to go through it. Without getting beyond the emotion, he knew, anything that came up would probably be incomplete or misleading. Interestingly, witnessing himself feel was enough. It allowed him to feel the whole thing.

Once he got past the image of the dark-haired girl and what it brought up, he found himself walking through a mall with a different former girlfriend. It was long after grad school and they had been living together for several years. They had met in a different city and she had followed him when he moved. That had been several years earlier. Now, she was in the midst of breaking up with him.

“So on a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate him?”

She protested, “I’m not very good with numbers!”

“I understand,” he pushed. “What would you say? What’s the first number that comes to mind when you think of him?”

“Eleven!” She smiled when she said it and a glowing warmth vibrated in her eyes and her voice.

Bearhug saw all this and felt the change in her energy. “What would you say I am?”

“I’m not good at numbers!”

“Just say it.”

“Six.”

He was expecting an eight, considering her obvious infatuation. Maybe she would rate him a seven, he thought, but rating him a six seemed cruel. He didn’t even think it was true. He guessed that she would have rated him higher when they first met or when she left her friends and home to be with him. They walked in silence for a while.

He remembered when they had first met. They were both tutors in their graduate programs, he in math, she in English and writing. She had seemed so poised and exotic, with her helmet of straight black hair and chocolate skin, that he had literally found it hard to breathe. He wooed her with flowers, books, and poetry. At one point, he left her a single red rose with a card that said, “For you, an American Beauty.”

Now she was characterizing him to be half as attractive as someone whom she had met in the remedial reading class she taught at the local college. His brain had been damaged chemically when he was a fetus and as an adult he was mildly retarded. This was the person whom she swooned over.

He let the tide of anger and rejection wash over him. Would he always be rejected and betrayed by the ones he loved? Was he missing something? Was there some clue or combination of hints that indicated that someone was trustworthy?

He took a deep breath as that emotion receded like the waves he used to dive under. He floated in the calm between waves. It was like the pause between breaths.

He suddenly recalled a scene in the middle of winter. There was a trace of snow on the ground and patches of ice were on the roadway. He was standing at the corner, waiting for his bus. He was in the first year of high school. There were several other kids at the bus stop, including the dark-haired girl, though he hadn’t spoken to her yet in this memory.

Most of the kids were known for smoking, drinking, having sex, and other forms of rebellion. Their clothing was either too revealing or tended toward the black leather and blue jean motorcycle-hood-look in spite of the relatively well-off suburban neighborhood they lived in. Each of the kids stood in the cold alone, apart from the others. They didn’t talk. They stuffed their hands into their pockets and instinctively tried to present as small an area as possible to the cold. The smokers puffed on their cigarettes to warm their faces. Each one suffered separately, waiting for the bus and its heat to arrive.

Bearhug looked at this scene and thought that it was silly and unnecessary. He gathered a small pile of wood chips and sticks from the occasional detritus that lined the road and chose his spot on the curving curb so that the slight wind blew through it but not too much. He leaned some of the smaller sticks against the curb. Ignoring the scoffing and laughter from the other kids, he produced a lighter from his pocket, turned the flame setting on high, and held the flame beneath the little lean-to.

As the smaller sticks caught and he fed gradually larger pieces to the fire, it gave off warmth in a cheery little circle. The scoffing ceased immediately and the other kids crowded around the fire, extending their hands to warm them. Several kids stood around the little fire while one crouched down to feed it. The fire cracked and danced, as fires do, warming them all against the winter’s cold reach.

When the bus finally came, the other kids vanished into its crowded warmth without any acknowledgment or word of thanks, leaving Bearhug alone with the fire. The bus driver waited silently and watched him through the open door. Bearhug stamped the fire out, trusting that any remaining embers would die on the cold asphalt, turned, and climbed up into the bus. The driver pulled a silver handle and the doors swung closed behind him, sealing him in with the dim shadows of the bus.

Bearhug found himself floating in darkness. The next image came almost immediately. It felt different. He was inside the house. He knew without looking that it was nighttime and it was cold outside. He was a young child of 6 or 7. He could smell the pine in the air. They had a huge Christmas tree and all sorts of decorations about the front of the house. The tree itself had lines of lights, bulbs, tinsel icicles, candy canes, and strings of popcorn on it. A big blanket was spread on the floor under the tree, though it was empty.

Food was plentiful, which wasn’t out of the ordinary, but the types of food were different. They had a bucket full of nuts which had a center stalk with holes for a nutcracker and several nut picks to stand up in. When the bucket came out over the holidays, it never seemed to empty no matter how many nuts he ate. Candies appeared in abundance. There were hard candies of various types and flavors, chocolate, and sesame candies made of honey and sesame seeds. He remembered sucking a candy cane down to a sharp point once. He poked himself on the tongue with that sharp point.

Generally it was a happy time but several times each year his mother roasted chestnuts in the oven. He remembered how the smell of them would permeate the whole house and linger. It was horrible. He remembered the sensation of being cut by the smell. It would lay him open, starting at his nose and cutting through flesh and bone relentlessly until he was a raw, twitching nerve. It cut over and over like a thin paper razor that didn’t cut deeply but didn’t stop cutting so that cut after cut penetrated deeper and deeper. It kept going until the constant annoyance was all that he could think of and then it would cut some more.

“Mom, I hate chestnuts!”

He couldn’t remember his mother ever saying anything in response but he could picture her smiling. She continued to roast chestnuts several times each holiday season and she ate them with relish. She didn’t care that he suffered. Perhaps she didn’t believe him. Perhaps she thought that he was lying to control her actions. At any rate, she didn’t change her behavior to eliminate the smell. It almost seemed like she did the opposite.

Eventually, he gave up saying anything or trying to let her know how much the smell of roasting chestnuts bothered him. It had always been a part of the holidays for him. He couldn’t remember a childhood holiday when he didn’t feel physically ill from the smell of chestnuts.

Eating them seemed like a minor pleasure for his mother while he felt as if the smell sliced through his head and drove nails through his brain. He accepted that his mother didn’t care how he felt or didn’t hear him of believe him and that he had to suffer. His protests had no effect on her. He couldn’t remember a time before his mother tortured him with the chestnut smell. There was no single memory but he had a constant feeling of frustration and not being loved or trusted or taken care of. There was a constant sense that he had been let down – not in every part of his life, but in some part of his life, perhaps a hidden part. It had become part of the background of his life. It was the chorus that framed everything else.

When he realized that, the feeling he experienced became himself. He was witnessing himself feel and what he felt was himself. His mother had undeniably done things but what they meant and what he accepted into his view of the world and of himself were up to him.

He had blamed her for victimizing him but maybe she was a victim, too. Based on various things that he had learned about her life after she’d died, he suspected that was true. She’d been deeply scarred by the war and events that preceded it. She’d been torn away from her own parents by the war. Perhaps the torture was her way of making him strong. Perhaps it was an act of love…

In seeing her as another wounded being rather than as a heartless victimizer, his view of her shifted. He saw the divine love in her and that inspired the divine in himself. He saw and responded to the divine person, not to her actions or his own expectations.

He brought the strength, courage, and understanding from his adult self into the pain and frustration perpetuated by his younger self. By honestly noting and acknowledging the pain and frustration, he accepted them. And by accepting them, by hearing them, they were transformed into what they were – wounds that cried out for acceptance and love. And he had that acceptance and love in abundance. That was the gift of his divine self. In this way, the pain and frustration were transcended but the energy and exuberance of youth were retained.

He returned to the clearing and saw that he was alone. He didn’t see his friend anywhere. He felt at peace. He sat in the clearing and enjoyed the forest and the feeling within him. The sense of frustration was gone. More importantly, the thing that had been hanging over his head didn’t seem to be there any longer. He hadn’t even noticed it was there until it was gone. He felt more complete than he had in a long time and knew that over time he would grow to feel even more complete. He stretched and yawned. He stood up and staggered a step or two noting with some surprise that he felt no tingling or tiredness. On the contrary, he felt energized. He felt lighter and more at ease.

He looked around and saw a path right in front of him that hadn’t been there before – at least he hadn’t seen it. He remembered his original intention to go into town. It looked like the new path was going in the right direction so he followed it. He walked with his eyes open. The fairy city was still present – he could see it whenever he closed his eyes – but it receded into the background. He didn’t know how long he had been in the forest and he wanted to get to the public library before it closed. He must have walked most of the way into town because he only had a little more to go. The weather turned cold again and he stopped to retrieve his warm outer clothing. He came out of the woods suddenly on a quiet side street he had never been down before but the familiar bustle of the town was visible a few blocks over. The sky had cleared and the sun shone brightly overhead.

He headed into town, thinking about his adventure as he walked, hands in his pockets. It was like a hall of mirrors. He remembered stepping between two mirrors once and becoming part of the infinite regress between them. There had been a slight bend to the line of reflections, as if they were sitting on a curve. He let that memory evaporate as he walked on and then recalled playing in the water at the beach as a child. He had swirled and tumbled with the rolling waves. He would let his body go limp and relaxed in the water as waves pushed him into shore.

Remarkably, by relaxing his muscles and letting go of his will, he always flowed with the water back to shore, though it probably looked pretty bad and he always got water and sand in his ears. He smiled remembering. Sometimes his neck or back would make a loud cracking noise like something was breaking as the water bent him into various shapes but he would always be unhurt and his muscles felt looser afterward. He never hit bottom, at least not hard enough to do any damage.

He knew that he wasn’t done. But he sensed that whatever emotions were next were still too tightly wound up – like tangles in a ball of string – but with time, patience, and witnessing awareness, he knew they would relax like a new flower opens in the spring or a seed softens in water.

#

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Bearhug – Part 2″ by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Sand Gets In-Between Your Toes

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by DCH Park

By Skip willits (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but it must’ve been a Saturday or Sunday. I used to work a nine-to-five job back then and I remember spending the whole day with you. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t the weekend.”

Jefferson was listening to his father. It was getting late in the afternoon. The sunlight on the floor was decidedly angled and creating shadows that stretched halfway across the room. He looked at the window. He couldn’t see the sun yet but it would probably shine through the glass soon. He shifted slightly so that when it did it wouldn’t shine in his eyes.

“My boss wouldn’t have allowed that…” His father was still talking. “It’s funny though. I can remember spending time with you like it was yesterday. Even from something like this, from when you were a little, tiny person, but I can’t even remember his name…”

After a moment, he continued, “You’d think if I remembered anything, it’d be his name…” He thought about it, losing sight of the here and now.

“Hm. I guess that’s as good an indication as any of what’s really important. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend with someone or trying to do something. The things you remember, the things that’re important, stand out. They come back easily and clearly, even if they only occupy a single moment in time.”

They sat in silence as that unfolded. Henry’s eyes glinted a tiny bit. They were facing each other in a drawing room. Their over-stuffed chairs were soft and inviting. Jefferson saw his dad run his hand over the upholstery of the chair arm, admiring its texture. He noticed that he was rubbing his hand over the upholstery, too. How long had that been going on?

He noticed the smell that lingered over the place. It was like a palpable thing that had, for reasons of its own, moved into the house; an invisible resident of the house, always present, never seen. His dad didn’t seem to notice.

He supposed that every living thing had to have its own smell. After all, bloodhounds had to smell something and there were two people living in the house now – his father and step-mother. Did he have a smell? He supposed that he had to. That thought bothered him. “What about that weekend, dad? What stands out for you?”

“Hm…” Henry let the conversation dangle as he rummaged through his memories. He was silent for so long that Jefferson almost said something but just as he was about to speak up, Henry continued. “Sand. I remember sand. And the smell of the ocean. What do you remember?”

“I don’t remember anything of that day.”

“Yeah, I guess you were about 1½. Probably too young. It was before we moved across country. We were still in New York. I don’t know where your mother was that day. I guess I was already doing things alone with you, even though she and I were years away from the divorce.”

He paused. The divorce had been a sore subject once, but that had been a long time ago. Henry was fine now. He had been for a long time. He had gotten used to the fact that his first marriage had failed. In fact, that failure was a vital part of his growth. The divorce itself was a part of a healing process that had led to many important insights for him. It was an early part of the process but it was an important part.

For reasons of his own, though, Jefferson had been angry. He’d nursed a grudge for a long time – long after his parents’ divorce was final. He’d fed it and it had grown. As it grew, it seemed to consume him. He’d let it grow to the point that it threatened to eclipse his whole life. But that was over now. Maybe the anger was a necessary part of his growth. Either way, Jefferson had gotten to the point where he was constantly amazed with how life unfolded.

“Anyway,” Henry went on, “we were living in New York City and I took it into my head for some reason to take you to the beach. I don’t think you’d ever seen the ocean before. I didn’t bother trying to explain it. I just said that we were going someplace special and that you would enjoy it. That was enough. That was enough for you.” Henry’s voice trailed off.

“You had complete faith in me.” He was quiet for a long time.

“You used to love water. Any water, really, but especially moving water. Do you still?”

“I don’t know.” said Jefferson. “I hadn’t really thought about it.” He thought about it. Henry waited.

“… but I notice now that I don’t associate movement with water. When I think of water, there may be waves but the body of water is still. I have to remind myself that there’s movement.

“When I think of movement I picture people dancing across a dance floor or machinery moving – or their parts, anyway. Solid things. I don’t picture moving water.”

“Maybe that’s why moving water was so fascinating for you.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“You used to stare contentedly at a river or a lake. You wouldn’t budge. You could stare at it for hours. The larger the body of water was, the more fascination it seemed to hold for you. Maybe it was the promise it seemed to carry.

“You could gaze at a fountain forever. I remember pushing you through a mall in a stroller and coming across a fountain. We watched the fountain for a while. When I tried to leave, you complained. You didn’t want to leave! You were so disappointed.” He trailed off again, remembering the baby Jefferson used to be. After a moment he continued.

“So anyway, on that day we drove to Jones Beach. At least I think it was Jones Beach…

“It was late enough in the season that the beach was pretty much deserted. I remember a boardwalk. It was still fairly new back then.

“When you caught your first sight of the ocean, you stood transfixed. You were young enough that you didn’t have many words, yet, but I could feel your wonder. It seemed like you’d never guessed that there could be so much water in the world.

“You just stared at the waves and the vastness of the water. As I recall, you finally moved only because you wanted to stay with me.

“Together we crossed the parking lot and stepped onto the boardwalk. It curved to the right, out onto the beach and around the building where they sold snacks and drinks but the building was closed.

“We must have walked over a mile out along the boardwalk. You were a little guy, so that was a long way for you but you weren’t tired. You almost danced along, watching the water.

“After a while I noticed that the sand had gotten into your shoes and socks. I sat you down on the next bench that we passed with your legs pointing straight out. Even so, your ankles just cleared the edge of the bench. I took your shoes off and they were tiny in my hand. I knocked them against the bench. Then I took off your socks, turned them inside-out, and shook the sand out of the little loops and fibers. Then, after turning them back, I brushed your feet off, tops and bottoms but mostly the soles of your feet. I remember the feel of your feet in my hand.

“I even went between your little toes and into the crevice between your toes and the balls of your feet to make sure no sand remained. Then I pulled your socks and shoes back on before you hopped down.

“You smiled at me and watched me, the water completely forgotten. After that, you wanted to sit down on every bench we passed. You even got sand in your socks deliberately.” Henry smiled, remembering. He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “It was an extraordinary moment that we shared together although you don’t remember it. I never told anyone about it before…

“…it’s been a private memory. I wasn’t hiding it from anyone. It was just something that only I held…”

He sat silently and then said with a sigh, “I never thought about it that way before – as something private or just mine. I’ve only ever been aware of the care it showed. Of the amount of care that we both had for each other. I don’t know if you knew how much you empowered my life…

He caught himself, lost in the rush of emotions. All of his airways suddenly seemed too small and his tongue rolled to the back of his mouth but his mouth was dry. Nevertheless he made several swallowing motions to release the tension. When his throat relaxed enough for him to continue, Henry concluded, “…I liked it, too.” A tiny tear formed in the corner of one eye. Henry wiped it away.

They sat together for a while, each one seeing his own silent world yet each one keeping the other company. Then Henry said, “I can’t remember the walk back or the drive home but I remember walking along the boardwalk with you and you wanting to sit down on every bench we passed and give me your feet. I remember cleaning your feet.”

After a while Jefferson said, “Thanks, Dad. I never knew.”

Then he said, “Brooke is waiting for me. I said that I would meet her.”

He got up and headed for the door. He called over his shoulder, “I’ll see you next time!” Then he was gone.

Henry sat in his chair and savored the evening. At last he got up and padded through the door and down the hall. He entered the kitchen and switched on the light. The dogs were both in their crate, eagerly sitting up and vigorously wagging their tails. It was time for their walk and they knew it.

“Okay, okay, you guys. I haven’t forgotten.” Henry opened the door to the crate and they exploded out and bounded to the door. Chuckling, he followed and grabbed their leashes and the little strap-on rosin bag that they used to carry treats and bags.

Helen would be home soon. He clipped the leashes to their collars and followed them out into the gathering night. He smiled into the dark as they went on their walk together.

###

© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Sand Gets In-Between Your Toes” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Driving

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by DCH Park

cockpit-220116_1280The sun shone brightly as Henry drove down the highway alone. Four lanes of busy traffic stretched to the distance before and behind him and four more lanes were on the other side. The median strip was wide and grassy. It dipped in the middle and guard rails ran on either side. Looking up, he saw that the whole “big sky” was a light blue dome that stretched from one horizon to the other.

The wind rushed past Henry’s car as it raced with others on the road. He watched as the patterns made by the speeding cars changed and danced. They were never static. They always changed, like a living thing. The whole time, some cars would enter and others would leave, no doubt to go to their various destinations, but the patterns on the highway remained. Henry pictured an ameboid blob flowing through different shapes, pulsing rhythmically as it traveled down the road.

Nearby cars zoomed along while faraway things seemed much slower. The distant mountains seemed to barely move at all. The car before him was a late model Audi – a low-slung sports sedan – that had been with him for the last several exits. He absently noted that the Audi’s tail lights were shining at him but it was bright out and they were on the highway with traffic moving well. There was no reason the Audi should have its tail lights on.

The driver looked like a young person, so it seemed unlikely that forgetfulness was a factor. He looked around at the other cars. None of them had their lights on. He double-checked his own display panel to be safe. His lights were off, too.

Then he remembered the sun. He mentally conked himself on the forehead with the heel of his hand. No doubt, the sun was shining into the Audi’s tail lights and that’s what he was seeing, he thought. He pictured the sun hovering somewhere behind the Audi and causing its tail lights to glow.

He filed that little mystery in the “solved” column and proceeded to re-submerge himself into the flow of traffic, feeling warmed by the glow of his own cleverness. Just as he was about to forget the Audi, it went under an overpass. Something about it stuck out. It didn’t seem right somehow but he couldn’t put his finger on what was bothering him.

Luckily, they were passing through one of the many small towns along the way so he didn’t have long to wait for the next overpass. This time, he was watching the Audi’s behavior closely.

He watched as its shadow disappeared into the much larger shadow of the overpass. Then, as the tail-end of the Audi went into the shadow, too, he saw it! The tail lights of the Audi continued to shine even after the car had gone into shadow. The rest of the car was dark so the glow couldn’t be from the sun shining on it!

The tail lights continued to glow for a few car lengths and didn’t go out until the Audi was almost halfway through the shadow. This behavior, as small and quiet as it seemed to be, had incredible significance. This thing had not behaved as he had expected it to. Something totally new or unexpected (or both) was going on!

He felt like a great scientist discovering a fundamental property of existence. He had studied how those scientists had noticed and developed their creative insights. He had emulated their habits, hoping to perceive a breakthrough himself, someday. He had practiced being open to what was there and observing things so that he would be ready to catch a clue from the Universe, whatever that clue might be. Even something small and easily overlooked could lead to an important insight.

He reminded himself that he could never know ahead of time when something might come up or what it might be. He continued to follow the Audi and watched as it passed into the shadow of another overpass. He confirmed that the tail lights continued to glow even after the rest of the car was shrouded in shadow. He spent a moment appreciating how pretty the bright glow of the tail lights were in the dimness of the overpass.

What was going on, he wondered. He went over everything he remembered in his mind. He knew there were certain things that were outside of his conscious awareness. Nevertheless, some things stood out. He noticed some things more readily than others. They seemed more significant. He’d noticed in the past that such hunches generally paid off so he had trained himself to pay attention to them. He had trained himself to notice patterns. It wasn’t a matter of cataloging huge numbers of separate facts. Things fit together into patterns. Those patterns defined the movements of things and how they related to one another. They could be used to predict what would happen next. It wasn’t about noticing individual facts. It was about noticing the patterns. After a while, noticing them became second nature, like walking across a room.

The patterns also made it easier to notice when something didn’t fit. When something behaved in a way that was surprising or unexpected, when it didn’t fit the pattern, it was certain that something was up. The exciting thing was that this observation about the glowing tail lights was real and consistent. The Audi’s tail lights continued to shine in the shadow so it couldn’t be from the sun shining on the car. That meant that either the theory that led to the expectation was wrong or something was misunderstood, or both. Something didn’t follow the pattern or the pattern was misunderstood somehow. Either way, something interesting was going on.

For a moment, anything was possible. Henry imagined that everything he thought he knew about shadows and sunlight was trashed in favor of a whole new pattern of thought. The highway and car disappeared and Henry found himself traveling through a stream of possibility, a river of inchoate potential, not yet formed by choice or observation.

Then the vision was gone. The two cars were just about to come out of the shadow of an overpass. Henry noted that the Audi passed out of the shadow and back into the sunlight but its tail lights didn’t shine. That lasted for a beat or two then suddenly they did shine.

This puzzled him as they continued down the road and then the Audi went under another overpass. He watched the tail lights continue to glow and then go out and then noticed that he had entered the shadow, too. A strange possibility percolated in his mind as he watched the Audi emerge from the shadow, its tail lights dark, only to glow again as he emerged back into the sunlight.

He puzzled over this for a moment then hit upon a geometry that was different from what he was expecting and easily twice as complicated but the new geometry did explain the shining tail lights and the behavior of the shadows.

He followed the examples of the great scientists whom he had studied and made a prediction to test his new understanding. He predicted from the new geometry, which angle the sun would be at. Sure enough, it was where he predicted it would be.

The sun was in front of the car. There was no way that it could have shined into the tail lights of the Audi. The sun must have shined into his own headlights, bounced forward into the Audi’s tail lights, and then back to him.

He basked for a while in his changed intuition, felt humbled by the grandness and complexity of everyday experience, and marveled that as small as he was, he was complex enough to understand and wonder at the wide Universe, all while he continued on to his destination. The Audi stayed with him until he exited the highway to get his son.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Driving” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Remembrance of Times Past

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by DCH Park

yorkshire-terrier-171701_1280Charlie Girl was Fitzwilly’s pack mate. Along with their three humans, they formed a pack. It was small, but it was good. Fitzwilly was also known (at least to himself) as Doggie Chi. Those who knew him as Fitzwilly didn’t necessarily recognize him as Doggie Chi. It wasn’t impossible to know him as both but he didn’t push his Doggie Chi identity. It wasn’t that he was trying to separate them. It was just that most people saw Fitzwilly as being very different from Doggie Chi. They saw them as two separate beings, even though they weren’t.

That was often the way of assumptions, he knew, especially hidden ones or ones that aren’t seen or looked for. Things became obvious (or hidden) in support of those assumptions. Trying wasn’t necessary. Things just happened, although practice might be needed at first. Nevertheless, Fitzwilly didn’t see himself as two separate beings. A busy day of playing fetch, eating grass, and sniffing butts seemed to be in perfect alignment with the transcendence and wisdom of Doggie Chi but people tended not to see it that way.

“People are weird,” he thought to himself, not for the first time.

He laid on his cushion in the sun and watched the youngster, Charlie Girl, sniff around the fence for the hundredth time today. Sometimes she would pounce on the ball and chase after it – that he could understand – but sniffing the fence around their enclosure was beyond him.

Maybe it was because he was so much older – he was almost five and she was only two. Maybe his advanced age accounted for his different attitude. After all, he wasn’t a puppy anymore, but he had never sniffed around a fence, either. Fitzwilly suspected that more than sniffing was going on. He suspected the differences between them. They were both in the same pack but they had differences that sometimes seemed to outweigh the similarities.

For one thing, Charlie Girl was much bigger than Fitzwilly was. He didn’t weigh more than ten pounds. She had to be about thirty-five pounds or more. He was a pure bred Yorky from a breeder. She was a mutt from the animal shelter, probably a Whippet-Pit Bull mix – what one of their humans sometimes called a “Bull Whippet.”

She was definitely pretty, with the sleek lines, long legs, and deep chest of the Whippet line and the bigger head, broader face, and soulful eyes of her Pit Bull heritage. She was fast, too. She’d only met one other dog who could even keep up with her and that had been a full blood Grey Hound.

Her favorite game seemed to be to goad other dogs into chasing her around the dog run and then to take off, easily out distancing them with her speed. She really loved running. She bounced along with a goofy smile on her face and wind of her own making blowing through her ears and short hair. Sometimes she ran when no one else was around, just for the joy of running.

In his mind, Fitzwilly thought of Charley Girl as “The Puppy Wonder.” It was a bit wordy, but it captured her true essence. She wasn’t a puppy anymore but her enthusiasm was very puppy-like. It was undiminished. When something got her excited, she had the uncanny ability to share her excitement so that others got excited just by watching her.

She wasn’t jaded, either. Many of the things that had excited her as a puppy excited her as an adult. Her love of running was an example. That she was part Whippet might be part of it, but she never seemed happier than when she was running free at the park or running circuits around the house.

She was beautiful at such times. She wasn’t ugly at other times by a long stretch, but watching her enjoy the simple act of running was freeing. Just by watching her people felt like they could run, too. They felt like they could fly.

She was like that. Not for the first time, he noticed that her infectious enthusiasm was winning. People and other dogs wanted to help her because of it. They behaved as if the more they helped her, the happier they would be themselves, as if their happiness and hers were linked somehow.

Fitzwilly snapped back to the present moment. Charlie Girl wasn’t sniffing around the fence anymore. Instead, she was creeping up on the ball as if it was some unsuspecting prey. She pounced on it, trapping it between her forepaws, butt in the air, tail wagging. That tail literally whipped through the air. It was a dangerous weapon and although Charlie Girl didn’t see it as such, Fitzwilly had learned to avoid that tail the hard way.

Fitzwilly lounged in the heat of the sun, his head between his paws, ears erect. He turned them forward and back, like a wolf’s ears, to follow different sounds. His ears and his eyes showed the only movement. He appeared to be dozing but he was actually alert. He thought again about the name he’d given Charlie Girl – “The Puppy Wonder.” It seemed to fit. She was definitely a puppy. At least she was compared to him. He looked at her again. She was contentedly chewing on the ball. He remembered her energy and liveliness. She took joy in the smallest things. Everything was a wonder for her. Of course it was, he reminded himself. She still had the exuberance of a puppy. A thought came to him – was that the source of her power? Was she powerful because of her exuberance?

He thought about it. It seemed natural and right somehow. It was also ironic because most folks got the idea that in order to “grow up” it is necessary to become serious and boring but not Charley Girl. She was just as joyful as she was when she was younger. Her joy was irrepressible and it made folks smile. Was she a joy because everything she experienced was a joy? Everything was a wonder? Did pure joy lead to power?

If so, that implied that power didn’t result in happiness, rather, happiness led to power. He realized that the age-old question of whether love or fear was better, was merely another way to ask the same question. The use of fear supposed that there was no connection. If there were truly no connection, it would make sense to try to get even a tiny bit more joy out of a situation even if it meant that another suffered mightily. If things were truly separate, it would only make sense to increase personal happiness at anyone else’s expense. No one else’s suffering would matter.

But life and reality indicate otherwise. They indicate that everyone is connected. In order to inspire others, it is necessary to recognize and honor connections. It as simple as that. That’s what sharing joy can do. In fact, joy wants to be shared. It’s paradoxically made bigger when it’s given away. The Puppy Wonder makes people happy and that inspires them to help her. Helping her makes them happier.

He mulled it over. He thought about true joy. He felt into the quiet unfolding of self and how it forms a conduit through which the unknown passes into the familiar. He felt into that process of passing into the familiar. He noticed how it acts and what it touches and changes and how it is changed itself. He remembered the power of joy. He had seen it change lives. It had affected his own life and he was richer for it.

When he first met Charley Girl he had been miserable and depressed most of the time. He had been brought all the way across the country to a strange house full of strange smells and a puppy with a tail. He laid about back then, almost never ate, and projected an air of general sadness. He managed to be miserable on the trip cross country and felt isolated in this strange, new house. But all the new things made it hard to be depressed and the puppy was irrepressible.

She was easily three times his size and could squash him if he wasn’t careful. He soon learned that she certainly wasn’t careful so he had to be. She sat anywhere. And that tail! The ghost of a smile flitted across his face and then it was gone.

The Puppy Wonder felt genuine joy in everything. She was happy upon seeing another, making a new friend, or the erratic flight of a butterfly. She didn’t judge anyone. She felt joy in them. And she shared that joy, too. It wasn’t just that she was happy. Her happiness was infectious. And as it spread, it naturally increased. That was how she inspired people to help her.

One day, he noticed that she always got more praise than he did, in spite of the fact that he was smaller and cuter. Passersby would begin by cooing over them both. Sometimes they would make louder noises over him initially. This was especially true of the women and girls for some reason. But Charley Girl got praise, too. As soon as he started barking to draw more attention to himself, he was forced to the ground or his mouth was held shut.

Maybe the humans didn’t want to hear it explained to them. Maybe they objected to all the barking. But for whatever reason they reacted badly when he chastised them for praising Charley Girl. Nevertheless he didn’t stop barking. He was compelled to redress this injustice somehow. He couldn’t let it go so he kept barking but his angry protests didn’t seem to matter. They kept praising Charley Girl.

One person they walked by most mornings wore a uniform and had dog treats in her pocket. Whenever she was there, they would stop on the corner and greet her. Charlie Girl would sit quietly, watch her with those big eyes, tail wagging, and get a treat, which she would crunch and gobble down immediately. He would stand his ground and bark and bark and bark until his human forced his head down and he would never get a treat.

It seemed to go on this way forever. Each day they would stop to say, “Hi.” Charley Girl would sit quietly with her tail wagging and get a treat. He would bark at her, calling attention to himself, and get nothing.

Then, one day, he decided to try something different. He was tired of watching Charley Girl get all the praise and the treat. He sat and quietly wagged his stubby tail just like Charley Girl. It worked! He got a treat, too!

That was interesting. It didn’t change his attitude with everyone. He still barked at them, especially when he felt insecure and wanted to assert himself. But this one person with the treats didn’t react well to the barking. Instead, she seemed to respond to a silent greeting.

He decided that this person with the treats was OK but that didn’t change how he treated others. He used his excellent memory to recall that she was special whenever he saw her and treated her differently. He remembered that she was OK, a friend. The others continued to be treated as if they were threatening strangers instead of friends.

Granted, he wasn’t always castigating them for their own good. It was a big city, full of strange people, and he was a little dog. The humans towered over him. He could be forgiven for barking at them occasionally, he thought. He was just telling them to back off and respect his space. Did it matter that he was barking out of fear? Did it matter that he barked much more often than “occasionally”?

A bird flew into their yard and landed for a moment on a branch. He was bright and chipper and very formal looking. His little bird head wagged from side to side in rapid movements as he surveyed the yard. Then he flew off again. Fitzwilly didn’t bother moving from his spot. Charlie Girl never even noticed.

One time, they were walking with one of their humans along some trails in the park. No one was around, so the human took them off of their leashes. They came across a dead bird on one of the little wooden bridges that the trail went over. Charlie Girl sniffed at it and ran off. Fitzwilly took more time with the bird.

It was squashed flat and mostly dry but surely there would be some muddy moisture in it to make smells, he thought. Being a rat dog by lineage wasn’t easy. It gave him a natural tendency to fight nasty rats. That tendency didn’t go away just because there were no rats to fight. Anyone or anything strange would do. That’s why he would often bark at people – at least, that was his excuse.

That was also why he grew his hair long. Without it, he looked like a tiny Chihuahua. With it he looked bigger and fiercer. It provided good protection from imagined teeth and claws.

That aura of fierceness was also created by the way he smelled. Completely separate from the fact that rats, his ancestral enemy, often smelled pretty bad, so the way he smelled could provide camouflage, he liked smelling bad. When he smelled like soap and flowers, he didn’t smell like himself, at least not the self he wanted to be. He didn’t smell fierce. When he did smell bad, he fancied that he smelled fierce.

So he had literally jumped in excitement when he came across the dead bird. He ran up to it and rubbed his face in it, thoroughly mashing the smell into his fur. His human predictably ran up, hands waving in the air, and yelled to get him to move away from the carcass. He ran off before the human could touch him, but not before he had rubbed in a good smell.

He trotted off happily while his human grumbled something about having to wash him.

After a while, he noticed that Charley Girl was following a pattern. She would stop – sometimes it was at a tree or some other plant, sometimes at a big rock or a pile of dirt – and sniff it curiously. She would keep sniffing until their human caught up with her or something else had captured her attention. Then she would normally run off, tail wagging.

What did Charlie Girl enjoy so much, Fitzwilly wondered. He went up to a plant that she had smelled and tried it. He watched her to see what she was doing. She was at another plant, smelling it before taking off again. He sniffed at his plant. He marveled at what he smelled. It was like the whole world opened up to him. He smelled earth and leaves and the rain from a day ago or so. He could smell how long ago it had rained. He smelled the moisture. He smelled something else, too. He smelled the plant. He could smell if it piqued his curiosity or not. He could smell if he wanted to eat it or not.

He had had no idea! He marveled at how powerful and sensitive his nose was. He smelled some more. He moved his nose around the plant to get different angles. There was something else. What was it? He sniffed at it, trying to figure out what he smelled.

Then he suddenly got it. Urine! He smelled urine! Other dogs had passed this way and they had left their urine behind. They had left their whole life stories behind in their urine! He could sniff their urine and tell. He could smell what they’d eaten and how old they were and how healthy they were. He could smell if they were tired or not or if their feet hurt. He could smell if they were big or small. He could smell their attitudes – if they felt friendly or afraid or isolated. He could tell so much by the smell.

The wooded path suddenly took on a different dimension. It was as if it was suddenly deeper. It seemed to glow and sparkle with various colors, many of which he’d never seen or even imagined existed before. The path opened up before him in a wholly different way. He had so many options available to him. All he had to do was choose something and sniff.

Part of him cried for those who could never smell things this way. Part of him lamented that he’d spent so long not smelling things, that he’d spent his whole life up until then in a flat, grey, two-dimensional world, devoid of smell. But mostly he was overwhelmed by the sense of possibility. He vibrated with it.

He laid on his cushion in the sun and remembered with fondness his first discovery and early forays into the wider doggie world. He didn’t move from his cushion. The sun shining down was too warm and delicious. He remembered the simple power of taking joy in life and what it had brought him in his life and he smiled.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Remembrance of Times Past” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Feeding Time

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by DCH Park

doggy-635408_1280Fitzwilly and Charley Girl came back inside with their person. It was morning time and they had just gone outside to relieve themselves. It was still dark out but the cold air hadn’t penetrated their cloaks of warmth, yet. They were still toasty in their cores. That was a benefit of being speedy. Now it was time for food!

As soon as their leashes were unsnapped, they happily scampered to the crate in the kitchen. Charley Girl was the bigger of the two and she was part Whippet, so she generally got there first. Sometimes on a turn she ran so fast that her body went one way while her paws went another and she hit the ground but that never slowed her down much. In fact, Fitzwilly wasn’t even sure she felt the hits. She always seemed to scramble to her feet right away and run off. For his part, Fitzwilly was a Yorkshire Terrier but he was plucky. He didn’t give up, not that he would over such a short distance.

Once they got there, they climbed inside, turned around, and laid down on the blankets, waiting for their person to feed them. He was maddeningly slow. Sometimes he was slower than at others though Fitzwilly wasn’t sure why. It was clear that he moved at human speed, not dog speed. He slowly walked from the door to their crate, retrieved their bowls, and filled them with food. He didn’t know why the human took so long but he wished he would hurry up.

When the food was finally sitting in front of them, they had to wait again for the command to eat! It was torture to wait. He could smell the food. Fitzwilly occasionally looked up to see what the human was doing but mostly he watched the food. He could imagine how good it would taste and how it would feel in his stomach. He only glanced up to let the person know that he was waiting. It didn’t occur to Fitzwilly that the person was waiting for him to look up.

Once he began eating, he lost himself in his frenzy. He was consumed in a symphony of teeth and tongue and swallowing. He didn’t even waste time chewing, like Charley Girl did. He simply swallowed the food whole. He felt that it was important to eat everything he could as quickly as he could so that no other dog could. Never mind that he and Charley Girl had separate bowls and separate food and there was no other dog around. Nor did he know that there were dogs who had food in their bowls all the time and ate only intermittently. All that he saw was the food right in front of him.

After he gobbled his food and licked his bowl to get any crumbs, he made it a habit to inspect Charley Girl’s bowl, too. Usually there was nothing there but occasionally she would miss something or wouldn’t eat. Then he would feast, assuming the human didn’t remove the bowl before he was done.

He forgot himself completely when he ate. He wasn’t aware of anything but his food. He didn’t remember himself at all until after he was done. Only then did he become aware enough of himself again to have any hope of becoming Doggie Chi. He didn’t bite or growl or anything like that but he wasn’t conscious of himself, either.

Lying down afterwards, digesting his meal, he speculated on the difference between his own behavior and that of Charley Girl. Her behavior was not inconsistent with the exuberance of The Puppy Wonder but his behavior was most definitely different from the enlightened awareness of Doggie Chi.

Feeling full and satisfied, he laid his head down between his fore paws and his eyelids drooped. While his body dissolved into the familiar rhythms of sleep, he pondered the difference between the way he was when he ate and the practice of being aware that led to Doggie Chi. There were definitely two different practices. One focused on being aware. The other emphasized a particular goal and suppressed everything else.

The gathering sense of relaxation continued to mount. His thoughts slowed down as he did. Why did he descend into his animal nature at such times? Why did he forget himself? Was it just a habit? Wasn’t it natural for higher forms like dogs to evolve toward something finer, more divine?

He imagined his ideal dog, with soft fur, slim, strong tail, and keen nose, towering over other dogs. He imagined himself as that ideal dog and smiled to himself as sleep overcame him.

Some time later, he resurfaced into his final burst of wakefulness. He groggily continued his train of thought. He reminded himself that base animal behavior was completely concerned with getting food, shelter, and warmth – the things of survival. But surely he had progressed beyond that stage…

…hadn’t he?

As the last remnants of conscious awareness disappeared, he was left with this final question. No one, however, could say if he knew its context any longer.

Then he was sound asleep.

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© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.

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”Feeding Time” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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