Mike slid his shoes onto his feet. He took the round dial and tightened up the wire-like laces. Mike pulled his bike off the back of his car. He stepped over the bike. Mike took his shoe and pressed the cleat into the pedal. It made a very pleasant snap and click as the shoe secured itself to the pedal. He repeated this motion on the left hand side. The snap and click meant it was time to ride. Mike stood up and felt his entire body engage the crank and then the bike pushed forward with caged ferocity. He did this with the left side, too. Then, Mike turned left and went up the concrete bridge. Mike looked off to the west and saw the mountains. The sun beginning its slow descent showed him he had an hour and a half to ride before the sun set. Mike shifted higher as he started to descend into a pine covered expanse. John rode over the reddish pine needles. He took a sharp turn to the right. Mike pedaled into a clearing and then over to a swampy patch where leopard frogs could be heard all around. The asphalt trail turned left and then into a clearing with deer all around. Mike turned right onto the road and pedaled quickly out of the park. He hit a long flat stretch and then turned a sharp right before he wound up into the tree covered hills. He found himself propelling up the hills with ease. He turned right to get in an extra climb, one with more pitch but a rest in the middle where he shifted higher, stood up for a second, and then shifted higher again to gain some speed for the final ascent. Mike, again, pedaled up with ease. His breathing was in time with the cadence in which he pedaled. He moved in concert with the bike and the bike moved in concert with him. He descended the hill and let the bike glide as the trees seemed to whir beside him. It felt as if he were silently flying through the forest at the speed and silence of an owl or hawk. Mike continued to ride on the flat. He drank water, a bunch of water, as more for the feeling than the relief that it gave him. As Mike pedaled on, effortlessly, he thought he might as well ride well past dark. The cicadas accompanied the subtle sounds of the bike as it wheeled into the night.
Hidden worlds exist. Others intrude upon them easily. They can break the spell that allows us to enter into an almost inaccessible world. Immediately, the inhabitants and furniture of that world disappear when an intruder appears. Secret worlds are tenuous. They first stand heavy in air. Then they fly, weightless in wind, unseen, until they unfurl out in a myriad of colors and make themselves known triumphantly. Though the stuff of dreams, these secret worlds impact us more than can be imagined. Secret worlds inspire us all to create and to live and to worship and stand in awe.
One of the worst feelings is to be thrust out of a hidden world where all is green and flowing, where all is in harmony. It is poor luck to be kicked out of a world where the water flows just so you can drink. I fall into worlds many times each day. Some, moss lined and soft, provide a bed, liqueurs potent, intoxicating, foliate, brumal, fern twisted, laden with edible fruit, Naiads attending. Others, brimming, flowing over gold chalice, invigorate, press and flex into cascading rivulets and punch bowl water drops. Here, I run, fly, jump and slam into rock and fire, lava and mountain. I dive into realms unknown and fathom the depths. Here, I breathe water and drink fire. I eat stone and rest in flight.
The rain fell early. The drops sounded punctuated as they hit the tarp. Exclamation point, then comma, then period, the drops rang. We sat, huddled underneath the tarp gathering the gear to make coffee. Buddy grabbed the grounds. He banged the press against his knee. Trap fired up the little stove. He boiled water as the undulated coils sped the process. Buddy poured the boiling water into the press. Elk brought the cups, rubber folding types. Elk poured the coffee. The group drank.
Did that really happen last night?
Did anyone really get hurt?
They pulled that one guy out of the woods.
He got smashed hard. His head was gushing blood.
The girls were all screaming. Theie guys shouldn't have messed with those country kids.
They said that one kid played football.
Fixing fence is is harder than playing football.
That's true. You don't play fixing fence as a game.
Those country kids let the girls ride their horses and the college boys started calling the farm kids illiterate.
You wouldn't tell them that.
Well, those city kids got their asses kicked.
We we are all lucky the college kids didn't have a gun in a backpack.
The farm kids had the guns but that doesn't matter. They didn't need them.
This kid, Lachlan, is straightforward. He knows what he wants. Food, burping, diaper change, hold me, put me to sleep, repeat. When Lachlan cries, there is a reason. When he is happy, there is a reason.
I've heard that a kid's personality carries on with age. If that is so, Lachlan knows what he wants. He is decisive. He is unconcealed. I find this refreshing. I figure a bold attitude will save Lachlan time and wasted emotion, will esteem him amongst his peers and allow him to flourish in a world where most are unsure. If a unswerving attitude is coupled with a penchant for taking care of those feeling thrust out of life then I figure Whitney and I have done our jobs as parents.
What is a man? Simply, he stands boldly for himself and others, for justice. He does not exclude. He executes grace above all. He will be guided by the moment at hand and not allow strictures to guide him. He will prize doing the right thing over laws and teachings of adults. He will please the good rather than the wishes of adults in power. He will give without counting the cost. He will earn without counting the work. He will not be a man of a book but a man of action in time of need and a man of passive contemplation in times of silence and reflection and in times where anger flares.
For my daughters, I expect the same attributes. For the question really is "What is a human?"
I strive to be a man. As it goes, executing grace above all has proven to be the best thing I can do every day. When I have let forgiveness reign I have seen myself grow. I have seen character rise within me and others. I have rejected hate.
The real heroes work outside the corridors of power. Everyday, they serve the people immediately around them. They are outnumbered so they never represent the democratic majority. They care when others hate. They exercise freedom whether there are laws or not to protect or hinder them. They spend more time at home, with their family, than they do at work or assembling to woo supporters. They are men and women who change the world from the ground. They are not elected. They rise and grow where they are planted giving shade and relief to others.
Someday, the majority of people will be heroes. They will rise above and beyond the book and serve the living. I see it when the outcast are drawn into the fold. I see it when false society collapses and it replaced by a living community, meeting over meals and drinks, inviting others who have no home. I see it when people give without counting the cost. I see it when people offer grace above all and thereby fulfill and render pointless the law.
In the American delusion, men do not stay home with their children. Mothers are urged back to work quickly. People work instead of spending time with their families. They outsource all their parenting to schools and organizations while they focus on other things. On the other hand, parents act as constant hovering consciences and overbearing safety nets.
Let's live in the neighborhood that has kids who play outside. Let's be the family that plays outside and builds ball fields in backyards. Let's be the parent's that teach their kids to apologize after accidentally breaking out a window with a baseball. Let's play pick up ball in the streets and be alive, really alive. Let's be fit and strong people longing to live fully, deliberately.
The post midnight before Lachlan was born we had a scare. Whitney awoke. Lachlan sat still in the womb. He, uncharacteristically tired, sat motionless. We, upon a few words of deliberation, a few drinks of caffeine and numerous attempts to jostle him, drove to the hospital. There is no feeling more unsettling. Purportedly, Hemingway won ten dollars on a bet that he could write a novel in six words, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
Long story short, it proved to be false alarm. Whitney got strapped into some machinery. The nurse detected a heartbeat. We laughed a lot. As she was in the awkwardly constructed gown, bolted into a few sensors we judged it as a trial run. When it was time, we were much more relaxed to check in and get prepped for baby. Whitney and I begged the nurse, to no avail, to let us just stay and move forward in the birthing process via inducement. We induced for the sake of avoiding a cesarean section. Nature is not kind. Most of the time, we all stay alive by an infinite amount of grace that must be more powerful than nature, that must bend nature back into a place where there is less enmity between its forces and all its inhabitants.
As the birthing process seems to be the primary topic of conversations for moms in general I will let the story be told by the prime source of bardic labor tradition, Whitney. What I will include is some rather early photos of the boy, timely plucked.
Shortly after my parents left town my mom had a terrible heart attack that nearly took her life. The heart attack nearly said, "Goodbye life. Hello death. Whereas there is something that shouts louder, God, who proclaims the good news, "Goodbye natural life. Hello life eternal. You will be joined with the Spirit that enlivens all things." Yet, it was not her time to go. It would've been, no matter that it is as natural as the rain, horrible.
Lachlan's story was a happy ending to a pregnancy and a stellar beginning to a life out here this wonder filled, strange and loud world. For parents, interrupted sleep, constant attention and the stark realization that a life must be tended at all times mark the beginning of parenthood. Vigilance never leaves parents. It lives, metamorphic and strong. A young woman once asked, "Have you almost left your baby somewhere when you were going somewhere?" It seemed such a strange question. Although, once kids get older it is easier to leave them behind or for children to think "I don't need you". Independence is not due to forgetting, but the general wandering tendency of children, adults young and old. Hence, there are three movies called Home Alone that prove to be the fleeting and dissipating dream of a young person. The reality sets in, pointed, "My parents do everything." Life is pretty easy in the house, under the watch of parents. Utter independence as a goal is lonely. Self-reliance, although important, fails to see that life exists, precariously, on a tendril. A life well-lived evokes the words, "I love you mom and dad. Will you move closer?" Someday, as we begin to make our exit, we will all be able to accept the deepest meaning of these words. We will be finally welcomed home.
Never steal the magic from children. Only children can fit through the narrow door, the small place in the wardrobe. They alone can possess and hold the sacred fire of wonder.
Belief will never die when a hidden truth awakens. Wonder, in the form of nostalgia, will transform an adult.
The adult can touch the wonder for a moment but it burns away quickly each time.
Children live immersed in magic.
Adults see magic echoed in nostalgia.
Dear Santa, Thank you!
There comes a time when a child sits at the crossroads of wonder and the observable facts.
Here is Santa's reply:
I thought about you asking if I am real. I looked at my hands, wriggled them around and got back to writing. For you see, Psalm, I must live. The magic in this world is very tender and it is hard to see but it is very strong. You will always keep this deep magic strong in your heart. May it always be as strong as it is in you now.
I asked my elves to look at your heart and they reported back to me that it is made of gold. There is only one other girl in the world with a golden heart and she changed the world. You will do the same.
I was two weeks late. Whitney was right on time. Whitney wants Lachlan to be early. However much pregnancy tea and pineapples are consumed the kid is going to make his way into this world in his own style. I figure we all wish our children could find life easy to navigate. It seems that our existence should be normal to the universe and to God. Instead, life is more like one fragile thread hanging in the midst of infinite space. Our fate is unknown. Although, an ideal that we misname "normal" is what we expect to happen. When the impossible ideal does not happen we tear our clothes in grief and cry to heaven, "God! Why?" It seems more likely that we should expect it all to break. Then, when things actually happen as they should in our fairy tale expectation we should be utterly speechless and filled with wonder that we had a normal birth, a normal childhood, a normal marriage, a normal career, a normal family and finally a normal death. The miracle hangs by a thread, minuscule and tenuous. The thread is cut over and over in our lives yet it catches mid fall each time. We find ourselves falling by a thin thread. Who knows? Our little Lachlan might have the most normal life, be a great All-American kid, get a scholarship, be a champion, get a great job and grow up to be all that one expects. In many ways, I got to do a lot of those things but from the inside the story is much murkier, textured, arduous and tinged by luck and chance than I'd ever admit. Anything that I've achieved is not through my own moxie. My perseverance played a part but the real hero is that thread catching and fraying on hard edges. With the complete improbability of chance making life happen I know it's all a gift. The gift may look perfect, be hurt a bit or may not even arrive. Yet, there is another chance, another time, another life, another round in this infinite existence we see hurtling before us. So, here we are, with this strong, beautiful baby boy ready to make his entrance. Lachlan is already surrounded by so much love. His life here will be full. He will thrive. He will be extraordinary. He will be a man who contends. He will live by the same thread that we all look to for its thin resilience. He will be awed, like us all, by the mystery of this infinite, beautiful, fleeting life.
My dad operates an organic garden not because it is trendy. It is the right way to grow a garden. Simply put, why would you put weed killer or bug spray on your food? It seems like a bad topping. Spraying chemicals on your food or your yard is simply harmful. If you are skeptical about the benefits of eating organic foods then go ahead and drink some of that weed killer in your garage. Gardening and doing yard without chemicals is simply good stewardship of the land.
Inside our house, egg nog pouring in a moose mug, cookies baking in the oven, tree trimmed, music playing, Christmas seems eminent. Outside, tee shirts and shorts everywhere, children jumping on pogo sticks, playing summer games, Christmas seems distant. We even got so hot while playing we went to Mylo to get ice cream.
Last night we ate a winter stew, freshly cooked bread and cookies. Everyone, full of holiday cheer, went to bed. I awoke to a noise, a loud splashing sound in the girls room followed by moaning. Christmas cheer was in the air and on the floor. It didn't smell as festive this time. I sent Psalm to the bathroom, cleaned up a bucket full of Christmas cheer and disinfected the house with scrubbing, spraying and some cussing.
Paradoxically, life brings us Christmas with Easter out of mind. Rarely, do we think of the cross when we see the baby Jesus. It's morbid. Summer and winter clash. Christmas is in our hearts but not in our weather. Festivity and sickness run so quickly together. When we sing Joy To The World Herod lurks. When the Christ is born the escape to Egypt is planned.
The path is set from Bethlehem to the cross. Christmas is not White. It is rife with protest, injustice, illness, stress and war. The longing for a family and togetherness is many times not all Bing Crosby and Danny Kay dancing with two beautiful sisters. Christmas is not redemption for a tired, old, shell shocked war hero. It may be marred, for a soldier, by loneliness and the reality of being obsolete, put out to pasture. The Hollywood show always leaves and sometimes the snow never comes to Vermont, falls on queue, right when Bing starts crooning White Christmas.
Oftentimes, Christmas clashes with the general smell of death, festivity splashed on the floor. In this time, it is all the more important to, "Go! Tell it on the mountain! Jesus Christ is born!'
Who else is going to clean up all this barf?