There is a quiet place, a secret place, that is yours for restoration. There is a realness in the stillness. Go there, when you can; when you need to. It's safe. For me, it is the Other Side of the Trees.
An art to doing nothing … I’m learning about that art, the kind of nothing that counts for something. A friend from the west stopped by one night, burgers and nocturnal coffee. It was nice to “Be” hanging out, sipping black coffee. My friend’s face transitioned into a mix of contemplation and consternation, confessing that he had spent too much time with “Do”, over the previous two decades.
“I thought that was the only way to be. Dad told me that, ‘Work, son. Just work. Be the first one into the office. Be the last one to leave.’ And that is what I did, for years. Now, I’m so wiped out. I’ve lost my way. I don’t know how … to just be. I don’t know who I am supposed to be.”
It is not always pleasant, moving into stillness. How does one move into stillness? How does one practice the art of doing nothing … the kind of nothing that counts for something?
‘Been a Rembrandt fan for a while … twenty-five years, maybe? Light pulls me into the boat, a beautiful contrast between light and shadow. Colors, I can’t put words to. “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”, I have gravitated towards, over and over (and over). Light … amazingly beautiful … inside and outside of the waves, port side, shadow on the starboard. The story. Story is beautiful; story is jagged, painful; story is redemptive. Guys, in the thick of it, fear intense, emanating beyond the boat. I see myself on the boat, in the storm, terrified. Fortunately, the storms pass, the waters subside. Three hundred years later (1990), art thieves stole the painting from an art museum in Boston, one of many, totaling approximately $500 million dollars in estimated value. It was the most costly theft of art known. “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” has never been recovered. The art thieves, never apprehended. Life, complicated. Beauty in a storm? Art, so sacred … stolen by thieves in the night?
I reflect on the years I’ve accumulated. Of the many vignettes, memories, scenarios, I recall a theme pondered and talked about countless times: men, to do the right thing. Several factors have always traveled along with this issue, through the generations; one of those factors being shorterm gratification compared with longterm gratification; another cause being fatigue (mental and physical); and yet another, problematic rationalization versus clarity of thought connected to good ethics, honorable character. So, the original thought, “Men, To Do The Right Thing”, leads into these factors.
Shorterm gratification. In the realm of relationships and marriage, shorterm gratification can lead to trust broken, betrayal, lies. Sounds harsh, yes? But, not uncommon. Here is a, possibly, oversimplified picture of what this looks like is. Two individuals are in a relationship; they have a few arguments over a short period of time; one of the individuals chooses to experience being with someone (seemingly) immediately fulfilling, no (visible) complications, (all in secrecy). Eventually, the truth comes out and the unfatihful one has a choice to make.
Fatigue and clarity of thought. In the context of a relationship, where a man becomes mentally and physically fatigued over a period of time (caused by any number of catalysts), resulting in his diminishing attention to his wife and her needs. His apathy slowly increases in proportion to his diminishing level of attention to his wife. Here is my question: will this man recognize what is happening and make crucial changes to avoid further pain to his marriage? What makes this a difficult situation is the power of negative momentum. My own paraphrased definition of the Law Inertia is this: “An object in motion will continue unless acted upon by an external force.” So, what will be the external force, for this man, to keep him from going downhill, inevitably crashing with great chaos.
Lastly, I consider rationalization and clarity of thought. By the way, I truly believe that all three of these areas overlap, to differing degrees. Here is where my mind goes, with rationalization. I think about the workplace. A man is intensely pressured by his supervisor to increase his numbers reflecting a higher level of productivity. His coworkers do not seem to be having any difficulty. So, the man in question asks one of his coworkers to help him think through what needs to happen to get his numbers up, where they need to be. The coworker shows him some “shortcuts”, and points out some steps that “the other guys don’t waste their time on. There is some distinction about what is policy and what the rest of the team is doing, he chooses the latter, to get on board with what works, regardless of policy. In this context several factors are at play: rationalization, fatigue, and the shorterm gratification.
When / if a man comes to a fork in the road where he realizes he chose unwisely, either the man fully embraces his mistake, or he glosses over, minimizes, dismisses, rationalizes. The good news is that one can learn from his “bad call”, and then press on, keeping in mind that he does not want to repeat his mistake. The bad news is that one can become, gradually, more submerged in his pattern of bad choices. His conscious becomes a bit more numb, his focus changes towards the shorterm gratification, the rationalization process, moving away from clarity of thought. Some believe that our world is moving faster; not in the sense of physics, but in the way we process information, the higher expectations placed on all of us, and the higher costs for (almost) everything. True, should not go into a rationalization mode, and say there is an excuse for our breakdown in choices. Having said that, I believe the … higher velocity … brings real challenges to howe live, and what we do. I have known too many men over the years who have lost their marriages and/or their careers because of bad choices. This week, I found myself thinking about the pain these men and their wives have gone through, in these situations. My heart, truly goes out for them. It is a wake-up call for, to do my best to make wise choices.
It’s been a good-tough week. From a weathered paperback, essays on spirituality and encouragement, I read in the back, a page I had forgotten about: a few thoughts, a few dates. “October 3rd 1993. Arrived in Antarctica” …
We came on an Air Force cargo jet … equipped with massive skis. (The picture shows a cargo plane with “big skis”, like the ones our cargo jet used). October 3rd of ’93 was the beginning of a five-month season of work for the National Science Foundation. My residence at Willy Field on Ross Ice Shelf, the ice runway for incoming / outgoing planes, was where I cooked breakfast for scientists, US Navy personnel, and support staff (about 8,000 eggs by the time I left). “February 22nd of 1994, last day on the ice.” On that day, I had jumped on a Navy C-130, with those uncomfortable nylon mesh-strap seats, and left Antarctica. Nine hours later, we touched down at a New Zealand Air Force base, Christchurch, New Zealand. For the first time in five months I experienced rain, and nights, and seeing children, older people, dogs, green grass, restaurants, natural fragrances in the air, colors. “March 8th 1994,left New Zealand for Denver” … reluctantly. “March 22nd 1994, left Denver for the South, to see my parents for a bit.” So, it just worked out that way, one month, after my last day on “the Ice” (February 22nd), I flew out of Denver March 22nd, to a small place in the South to spend a week with my parents. “October of 1994, I met my wife to be.”
A year after I got off “the Ice”, February 1995, I proposed to my future bride. “June of 1995, Married a princess.” After all this reflection, I am aware of my presence in the “here-and-now” … the present … today, in fact. And I found my self thinking of two pieces in life we deal with: 1) reflection on our stories / journeys; and 2) where we are at, right now. In my time of working with people, many of whom struggle with these two pieces, I have asked the question, “What do we know to be true?”. I’m throwing that out to any who are visiting the Other Side of the Trees, perusing this post. I believe the answers to “What do we know to be true?” are quite different. Here is what I have come up with.
My story is not yet finished.
My story is still being written.
My story (specific elements) needs to be told (to the right people, at the right time, in the right context).
I need to hear the stories of others.
I have the capacity to love; the choice to love well; and I face the reality that I do not always love well.
I have journeys ahead; or, shall I say … the journey continues.
I need good, encouraging, safe, relationships in my life.
I have hope … but, similar to love, I do not always hope “well”.
I have something to offer; and I have a great amount to learn.
I need vision; I need goals; I need enthusiasm; I need wisdom – – – not just intelligence.
And, lastly for today, I am here.
Well, enough said, for now. I always write more that I should, more than I intended. I hope this finds you all experiencing peace, joy, and good health.
“What she knows of the blue-blood set she learned not through birthright, not even through wealth, but through osmosis.”
“He neverstudiesbutlearns byosmosis.”
“Livingin Paris, helearnedFrenchslangbyosmosis.”
Yes. I have the right word, osmosis. Bookish osmosis brings words, ideas, sentences into the heart and mind, from books, held close (my theory). I am nudged in my psyche and my passion, when I think of writers who may have experienced bookish osmosis: Annie Proulx, Anton Chekov, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, Daniel Silva, Maya Angelou, Tim Cahill, John le Carre, CS Lewis, William Blake, Brad Thor, Douglas Adams, Nelson Demille, Craig Johnson, Vince Flynn … and Keith Richards; George Orwell; Anthony Burgess (see photos, below).
My “book-eyes” are bigger than the hours of the day. My desire for good books, transcendent characters, kick-ass plots, great stories, goes beyond what is realistic. And that, my fellow bloggers, is why I am holding out for bookish osmosis.
I woke up this morning, a good place to start. In my goings, my comings, my interactions, I am asked that profound question that has been lurking close by, since the dinosaurs: “How are you doing today?”
Me: “How ‘you doin’?”
Others: “I’m doin’ good. How you doin’?” (Just like the commercial, with a New York accent – “How You Doin’? I’m Doin’ Good. How You Doin’?”)
Me: “Well, I woke up, this morning. That suggested that it was going to be a good day.”
I have a theory: most people know, that on some level, it is good to wake up. Not everyone wakes up. This morning, when sleep slipped away, I thought of my grieving. Anyone who has (miraculously) read any of my posts might know that my dad finished up his race (a metaphor for his life), last year, 2016, June. The grieving process has, seemingly,not been, successful. Some say that this kind of loss involves a lengthy process, longer than a year and four months. And yet, I’ve been on the other side of the forest from joy, from victory, from strength, from my dreams … Get the picture? The weariness of grief shows up in more ways than one: the darkness, the sadness, lack of motivation, the loss of dreams. Evenings, the fatigue may hit like a freight train. I don’t think this is as simple as I would like it to be. Is your grieving over? To think, that there is more life, a different life, just over the horizon. That is a good thought. Some of you have already reached that point. Don’t stop: I’m right behind you.
‘Couple of Oreos in the night after a disruptive dream. I could not quite remember the details. The Oreos were amazing. A son, undisputedly handsome with a good, a noble, heart, intelligent, awareness of his world sharper than a sword, gifted in a way that he did not ask for, bringing him intermittent sorrow, coexisting with joy, a sense of humor, robust imagination, warrior spirit. I had my share of wounds, lost at times in a world that moves much faster than I can grasp, my own creativity I cannot get to, I look for trails but they are unfairly elusive. I found myself grieving for a man who was and is a legend, who loved well, lived well, laughed well, my friend and my dad. But none of the dream was a dream. Reality has a great deal of mystery, at times.
I was walking with a woman, swirled in beauty with blonde hair and with unfathomable wisdom, a saint of a mother with the spunk to tell me when I was wrong, who married me in spite of me and my wounds and groaner jokes. Two younger ones looked up to me with love and respect, and I was confused by that: a daughter with eyes that can see into the depths of the journey, the hearts and souls of others; my son who creates so many things, his laughs radiate outward and inward toward others. I stood in Scotland at the castle Dunnotar, and at the Loch Ness hoping for a glimpse of Nessie, the Loch Ness “monster”. I walked along the ice road between McMurdo Station and Willy Field (camp) in Antarctica. I sat in the Christchurch Cathedral, putting together some pieces, there at the Christchurch Square. But the dream was not a dream. They are sparkling realities and memories I keep close.
I stumbled out of slumber; resistance, prolific (an exaggeration). No turning back. Onward. Life moves toward the finish line, while some still live in the past, keeping a strong focus on memories, life in the rear-view mirror. I struggle at times, embracing present and future, vigilantly keeping the past at bay. I grieve for the loss of my dad, who honorably crossed that profound finish line in June of 2016; ten months have passed. I remember so much about my dad, the adventures; the pain of what I missed out on, important words unsaid. I shake my head with frustration: the grieving has gone on for just shy of a year. I want to wrap this up, move onward from my dad, let him enjoy the great festival of freedom and joy, released from this jaded world.
Even with my intent to be present, in the “here-and-now”, images, people, memories, drift in from the past. Intrigue. Curiosity. Recently, I stumbled across a picture of an Inupiat family in Noatak, Alaska. A good-looking family, from 1929. The Inupiat are in northern / northwestern Alaska, and part of the Northwest Territories. Inupiat traditional territory spanned Norton Sound on the Bering Sea to the Canada-United States border.
Noatak sits on the west bank of the Noatak River, 55 miles north of Kotzebue, 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle. This is the only settlement on the 396 mile-long Noatak River, just west of the 66-million acre Noatak National Preserve. Noatak was a fishing and hunting camp in the 19th century, evolving into a permanent settlement. In 1880, the census listed the site as Noatagamut: “inland river people.” A post office was established in 1940. So, you could probably send a letter there if you felt so inclined.
A beautiful woman, a radiant mother, exuding a quiet, authentic, joy. The man, with an enigmatic mix of confidence, strength, and peace. The little one, surrounded by fur and love. Below, a photograph, an Inupiat group heading out to fish in their kayaks, the same year, 1929, by the same photographer, also in Noatak. I wonder if the Inupiat man (above), is one of the Noatak kayak-fishermen ( below)?
I revisit stories and individuals in the past. I draw strength from them. Going back “there” empowers me to move forward, onward. C.S. Lewis’s words resonate:
Some parts of the stories, I do not know. I visit the lives of sojourners who have gone before us, highlighting mystery. Mystery is very much alive, all over: the mystery of how love works, how love looks; how to find meaning and joy in our circumstances and our stories; gazing into a ravishing sunset; seeing a harvest moon arise, especially when one is not expecting it; and the Northern Lights. Within this tension between reflections on the past and returning to the present and the future, I am there. The grieving process … mysteriously … continues, longer than what I would like. The grieving process continues beyond my timetable; I want to know more about the mystery of the man, my father; and the memories. My cell phone still shows me the current time. My heart continues to beat. My breathing continues. The future is around the bend, and I cannot hold it back. I live in the present, and I ride it like a wild bull. I hold on for the ride of my life.
April, I walked into the trees, climbed up on a rock, belted out a song and a high spirited howl of joy. Spring was (cautiously) emerging! Winter was waiting in the wings until our guard was down.
By May, winter left town. Summer came too soon, pushing spring out. An injustice, Spring had flown the coop, way too early. Seasons can be harsh, unfair, fickle. Indeed, spring had slipped out the back, Jack. In the “here-and-now”, leaves are turning their colors, gradually gliding downward. A one-time dusting of snow came, September. Other than that, we are holding on to fall as long as we can. I am in another season: I am pushing through a few barriers of resistance. Any of us, at any given time, may find ourselves in such a place; our awareness tells us that change is important; but the change is delayed.
The delay comes out of our reluctance to change; the reluctance comes because there is a “pay-off”. We are getting something we want from that which needs to change. To break through the barriers of a difficult season: I need a blend of specific, trustworthy, wise, supportive, and sensitive individuals to walk with; and I need some time to “sit in” a desert place of pain, to think through the process, the motives for wanting to leave what is familiar, and the implications of stepping into (again) the unknown. What will change look like? Peace be with you, sojourning bloggers. Keep writing.