The Space Between

“The space between
Your heart and mine
Is the space we’ll fill with time
The space between…”

Dave Matthews Band

 

The week between Christmas and the new year is a wondrous time, a state of limbo and a nebulous preamble.

There are memories of things done and left undone, places visited, goals reached and projects unfinished. Loves gained and loves lost.

There are regrets about things that might have been. Could have. Should have. Would have. Might have. Needed to. Wanted to.

There is  bright hot anticipation, reflected in the two thousand six hundred eighty eight triangular Waterford crystals of a ball not yet dropped, one that in its slow, inexorable perpendicular slide to Times Square defines the space between one year and the next, one dashed hope and a myriad waiting dreams. At the top, three hundred sixty five days seem endless. At the bottom, with the tic of the first second of the first minute of the first hour of the infant year, we know that we will be doomed to meet here again, God willing, to bask in the reflected light of hope once more, one year hence.

Modern day Illuminati we are, striving to write something that we will never be able to read, build a structure that we will never inhabit and control a universe that will never bend to our collective will.

And yet, we are excited. We are hopeful. We make plans. We set goals. We dare to dream. While feeling wistful about the last grains of sand slipping into the bottom of the hourglass, we feel buoyed by the infinite possibilities of a new year.

2018 will be the next in a long progression of blank canvasses ready to be transformed.

We have only to pick up the pencil, the pen, the brush, the knife to craft words that incite, art that transforms, music that fills the soul.

We have only to connect, to form a bond, to fill that infinitesimal but incalculable space between hearts with something that will transcend time.

We have, only, to perfect the pristine new year by soiling it with life’s messy palette.

Welcome, 2018.

 

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Don’t

Don’t

The holiday season is upon us and I suppose I have to address it in some way, right? You are no doubt used to reading bulleted list articles about the ten things you need to do to make your Christmas bright or your Hanukkah happy or your new year fabulous. I’m not going to follow that usual template, but I’ll give you an article with a twist this season.

Don’t.

That’s right. Don’t.

Don’t expect that just because it’s holiday time that you and your family will suddenly get along, that problems in relationships will disappear, and that everybody will suddenly love everybody else. You may have been working on a better relationship with your mother or your spouse, or you may have been striving to set appropriate limits and boundaries with your sibling the entire year. Progress has been slow. You’ve been discouraged. Christmas Day rolls around and everyone expects to be thrown together in the same room with a turkey and some carols and act like nothing has ever been wrong. You will be sorely disappointed if you wait on the outcome. Be realistic. Be magnanimous. Just don’t expect to enter the kitchen, sample a turkey leg under the mistletoe and then sit down at the Cleaver’s dining room table.

Don’t overspend. What do you suppose your family and friends really expect from you in the way of a gift this holiday season? Now, if they are family or friends who know anything about you at all, they know your living situation, your line of work and can probably make an educated guess about your disposable income. If cousin Jimmy can surmise that your total holiday gift budget is three hundred dollars, should he really expect to see a thousand dollar iPhone under the tree from you? Do you think relatives would be happy knowing that you gave them gifts that will keep you in debt for the next nine months? No. Give freely and from the heart, but don’t go bankrupt doing so.

Don’t overeat. Today of all days, there will be food everywhere, on every table and every flat surface. Turkey, ham, veggies, bread, and more pies, cookies, cakes and candy than Will Ferrell could ever eat without help from the other elves. Just like money, food should be enjoyed, but in moderation. When you start to wonder if you’re more stuffed than the turkey, you’ve crossed the line. Push back.

Don’t over imbibe. Are you sensing a pattern here? Music, food, laughter, games, gift giving-all are wonderful parts of the holidays. Some may be enhanced by the addition of eggnog, cider, mulled wine, liqueurs or the distilled spirits of Christmas past. Just don’t overdo this part of your celebration either. Limit setting, common sense and rational use of alcohol if you are so inclined is key. Pick a designated reindeer at the start of the evening, or use the Uber credit that Uncle Ned gave you to get safely home from the party.

Don’t over schedule. Just like too much spending, food, or alcohol can put a damper on your celebratory mood, feeling constantly stressed and pressured to go go go can do the same. Keep a family calendar handy so that everyone knows the commitments that have been made. Schedule down time and breaks between traveling and parties and meals. If you drive a long distance, consider spending the night and coming back the next day instead of driving stuffed, tired, or intoxicated. (See the Designated Dasher and Uber reference above)

Don’t expect that others will make you happy. You’ve heard this one before. You are in charge of your own contentment, holidays and every day.

Don’t blame yourself for the ghosts of Christmas past. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all played the part of Scrooge, said things we didn’t mean and done things we regret. Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving, only if you keep gift wrapping it and tagging it with your own name under the tree.

Don’t rush things. Be mindful. Be in the moment. Holiday time is truly one of those times when we get the most out of the least, and when the most profound messages come through the soft tinkling of bells and the aromas that conjure up celebrations long past. Stop. Listen. Savor.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. That Santa hat on your head? Perfect. The ugly sweater with the battery powered lights? Go for it.

Don’t forget to play. My grandchildren have already taught me the lesson that sometimes the world is best seen from floor level while surrounded by Legos and Disney princesses.

Don’t forget the reason for the season. Whatever or whoever you celebrate, there should always be an underlying sense of joy and thanksgiving in our gathering and celebrating together.

Don’t try to substitute anything else for true happiness, contentment and peace.

I guess I did give you a reverse laundry list of sorts, didn’t I?

Don’t do these things, and your holiday season just might be merry and bright. I certainly wish that for you and your family and friends.

Happy holidays!

Alight

I saw  him again this evening in the back, probably the third or fourth time, always in the very early morning or just as dusk is coming.

I have floaters, so sometimes I see little black flits and flicks out of the corner of my eye, very annoying, very ubiquitous and persistent, but no, this was really him.

He darted down at a forty five degree angle from my right, then did a figure eight turn of sorts and went back from whence he came,  coming to rest on a branch blocked by another branch. I knew he was there. I couldn’t see him yet, but I knew he was there. It’s always amazing that the little guys rest at all, but rest they do. I waited.

Not a minute later he did another diagonal dive bombing run towards the single feeder to the left of the patio, which appears to be his favorite. There’s another one, fancier, with more flowery enticements all around, but no, the single one by the fence is just fine, thank you very much. He hovered, darted, hovered, darted, then landed on the red plastic lip of the feeder, looking left, then right, then left, then right, then quickly diving into the receptacle looking for the sweet, clear nectar there. In, out, in, in, in, and out again.

Satisfied, he lifted off seconds later, ruby throat and iridescent green body a magnificent tiny work of art. “God’s palette”, as one of my old high school friends would probably call the colors there. So tiny. So beautiful. Such a wondrous flying miracle of life.

He darted back to his previous perch to the right, behind the shelter of the covering branch, sat, waited, waited, then launched again. This time, he flew in a straight line across my field of vision, then seemingly stopped, a dead stop, in mid air. Not hovering, wings beating, looking from side to side, but stopped cold.

He had landed on the tiniest branch with the tiniest bare tip I have ever seen. I don’t know how he saw it or knew it was there, much less how he decided that he could go from sixty to zero, grab this tiny piece of dry, bare wood, and land on it. He did this once, twice, three times in between drinks from the nectar well.

I’m not sure why this affected me so profoundly today, but it did.

Seeing this tiny, colorful creature, in all his efficiency and speed and beauty, was profoundly moving in and of itself. To see one of these miniature birds in the wild, happily going about their business of flying and drinking and exploring and resting is something that makes you just stop and watch. It makes you happy.

Seeing him stop, on a dime, on a tiny branch that appeared to not be substantial enough to hold even his minuscule weight, and trust that he would not fall, that he could land there, made me pause. How did he know? How could he trust? What made him so sure that he would be safe there?

We go through our lives making plans, putting up fences and doors and locking things up and insuring things against loss and questioning everything and everybody. We are skeptical. We are cautious. We are…afraid.

Do you have something, someone, some belief in your life that is the tiny branch that you know without a shadow of a doubt will always hold you up? One that will always be there, that will never give way.? Do you trust that branch to be there for you, suspended in the middle of space, almost invisible to everyone else, but rock solid for you?

Nature teaches us so much, if we will only stop, look, listen, and learn. Some things are very, very difficult to understand, but not at all hard to do.

Who will you trust tomorrow?

Who will be there without fail when you find yourself suspended in midair and desperately needing a place to land?

Where will you alight?

Past and Future Tense

The Aiken county, South Carolina, motto is “Remembering the Past, Preparing for the Future.”

If you’ve read my blog very long at all, you know how much I love history. Through various stages and at various ages I have immersed myself (like a lot of American youngsters, I suppose) in reading everything I could get my hands on about the Vietnam War, the Second World War, and the Civil War, as well as the founding of the country another historical subjects. Oh, to be sure, I also was infatuated with dinosaurs, cars and electricity for a while, but I always did (and do) come back to history when I want to read about something that really interests me.

What is the allure of the past for us?

Is it thinking about the good old days, held forever in our minds like old sepia photographs of unsmiling relatives standing in front of wooden shacks, hats on their heads and straw between their teeth? Is it putting those relatives on pedestals, reveling in the stories of their five mile treks to school in the driven snow, barefoot, uphill? Is it idealization of times that we somehow think were simpler, more fun, happier?

Do we, maybe, worry that things will never be that good again, never could be that good again?

You know, thinking about the past is not all a bed of roses. It involves reliving losses, sometimes very painful early, traumatic, untimely, horrific, sad losses. We have all lost people, places and things that we have loved with unbridled passion. We have vivid memories of those people, places and things. These memories, especially as involves their loss, may be at once bright and happy and dismal and depressing.

We think fondly about the past, even long for it, pine for it. Some of us even go looking for it, really looking, trying to resurrect it. That is usually no more successful than resurrecting the body of a loved one long gone and buried in the churchyard of our youth. They live on in our minds, but they will never live on earth again.

We can learn from the past, surely we hope we can, but we cannot and should not obsess over it, replay it, rethink it, reengineer it. We cannot change it. We cannot and we should not. Like the Stephen King novel 11/22/63, if we decide to go back in time to change things, we may bite off more than we can chew and bring on consequences that are not foreseen. The past does not like to be changed and will sometimes fight actively against those who try to do so.

We cannot of course, completely see or predict the future either.

Both sides of this coin feel just as slippery to me as I finger it in my pocket, turning it over and over in my hand, between my thumb and fingers, trying to decide which side I’m actually feeling at any one time.

I’m thinking about all this more right now, of course because of several things.

I will have my sixtieth birthday in October. That doesn’t bother me at all, but it is a milestone and it does give one pause to reflect on six decades on the planet and what that means.

My fifth grandchild, a little girl, will be born in December of this year. She will be the first native born Coloradan in our family.

We have an administration running our country who seem to be obsessed with throwbacks, with going back to a largely manufacturing economy, resurrecting the coal industry, isolating us from the rest of the world, and launching big ships and subs, really big ones.

The facts?

I will have no more birthdays that begin with a three, four, or five. I can only go forward, God willing, to those that begin with six, seven, eight, and if I’m lucky, nine.

My granddaughter will come into a world that is once again struggling to define itself and its relationships. Will she be isolated in the American west against the majesty of the Rockies, or will she be hyperconnected with friends and work associates around the globe?

America cannot go backwards. We cannot provide enough jobs reviving archaic technologies and fuels. We cannot ignore science, technology that can be used to hurt us, or the friends who want to stand with us, not be rebuffed by us.

One of the most technically advanced, forward thinking cybersecurity facilities in the country is being built right now just a few miles down the hill from my home, on the Savannah River. My town remembers the past and all that it can teach us, but it is also moving forward to meet the challenges, threats and opportunities of the fast approaching future.

For the sake of my grandchildren, and all others, we must logically and reasonably anticipate the future, shape it, plan for it, structure it based on hard facts, and create a bright outcome for all of us.

The past calls for remembrance, but the future calls for action.

 

 

Precious Tableau

Four elderly women sit stiffly around a makeshift card table. An automatic battery operated card shuffler hums as it sorts multiple decks. The latest hand is completed and it’s time for a break. 

Bruce Springsteen sings overhead. 

One octogenarian, kyphotic, wearing glasses tethered by a gold chain, gold hoop earrings dangling, shuffles slowly toward the coffee bar. She comes back with an iced coffee and a cookie as big as her hand. 

One is checking her messages on her iPhone. The dings and dongs and pings are familiar to any pre-teen. 

One is “rushing” to a bathroom break behind a festooned aluminum walker, multi-flowered purse dangling. I think she’ll make it. She does. 

The fourth, the youngest of the group, stays behind just long enough to deal the next hand, update the scoring notebook, and organize the drawing and discard piles in their clear plastic holder at the center of the table. 

They chatter about grandchildren, the latest meal out at the restaurant down the sidewalk. The eat, they drink. They talk. They cough and hack. They sit silently, obviously enjoying each other’s company. 

They’ll return to the card table shortly to play the next hand. 

Gary Wright sings “My Love is Alive”. 

The world spins on, just as it should.