Swept Clean

The sign “Do Not Feed the Pidgeons” reflected the overall condition of the bus terminal. At 6:30 am, the quiet, slow pace of people waiting for connections, to begin their journey, or arrive at their destination, felt dingy even though it’s only a few blocks from Times Square. I walked by metal benches, one pole with a few sad-looking power outlets, and a bathroom with what appeared to be a permanent sign claiming it was being cleaned. Depressing enough to make me wish for first-class accommodations. Generally, I prefer to use public transportation, yet waiver when faced with grimy, disheartening conditions. At times like this I wonder, why do I want to engage with the grittier side of humanity? I readily admitted to myself that a warm cup of tea with a fresh-made omelet would be greatly appreciated yet decadent in this environment. After walking the entire length of the bus terminal, I made my way to the large number 30, where I began my one hour wait.

I was ready with my audiobook and a few snacks. One person, a young woman, was already waiting. She was gathering her items, including a blue/green guitar. After she arranged her bags, she sat and began to sing. I listened to my book while admiring her ease of singing solo in a bus terminal. The line began to grow and as departure time neared, she asked me to watch her belongings while she went to the restroom. When she returned I commented about her singing, and she offered to sing a song for me. The words and melody told a story of adoption, the foster system, tough love, and setting out on her own with one suitcase and a garbage bag. Her voice was strong and clear, confident with her ability to survive and thrive. I was reminded of the way mosaics and crystal sparkle as I felt the energy of her young, passionate voice. Our connection was in stark contrast to the dismal bus terminal and I wished the music had the power to sweep the port authority clean. I became aware of my own exhaustion from years of fighting to be heard, often as useless as the bathroom sign with the claim of being cleaned. Her voice, and song, filled me with promise, with the memory of spirit-filled purpose.  As her voice stilled, I knew, without a doubt, why I preferred to engage with the grittier, vulnerable side of humanity.

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Needing Half

What do I need becomes a different question when packing. Especially packing with the goal of only traveling with one personal item. Do I need four or five shirts? Will I have enough warm clothes for the northeast winter weather? Item by item, the packing puzzle is put together. As I decide what to bring and what to leave behind, I am aware that the restriction is one I have chosen. Well, chosen based on two things. One is my preference to be able to navigate airports, subways, and streets with minimal encumbrances. The other is the airline restrictions and charges. I’ve lived a simple life for many years due to circumstances, and gratefully now more out of choice. 

Living simply is something I am familiar with, and like most people, there is a part of me that would love to be pampered. The desire to live simply is stronger and as I pare down to the basic essentials for a three-week trip, I struggle with the spectrum of luxury and simplicity. Can I really live for three weeks without this blue shirt? Or my slipper socks? I look at the luggage that will ultimately fit under an airline seat and remove one more item that would be nice to have but clearly I can live without. It’s not as if I’m going to a remote place. I’m going to New York City where anything I need is available 24/7. What do I need for this trip? Really need? Will the experience of attending a Broadway play be different if I wore the same shirt from two days ago? Luxury or simplicity, do they need to be on different ends of the spectrum? I recall a suggestion about packing. Layout all you plan on taking and then remover half the items. What if I did that with other aspects of my life? What if I left out half the words packed inside my body? What would alter in my life if I lived in half of my home? 

When I finally zip up the luggage, knowing I will have one piece of luggage to contend with, filled with all I need, ease and lightness fill my body. Now, I’m ready to enjoy my trip, focusing on what I will do instead of what I have with me. 

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Co-exist

Driving into a National Park parking lot, I was immediately disturbed by what I saw. Vultures on cars, several cars, with the vultures tearing at the rubber seals on the roof of the cars. Definitely out of the ordinary behavior, at least in my experience. I felt helpless, not knowing what to do or how to stop the behavior. Several other people arrived and also looked with concern and horror as the birds went from car to car, then selecting one car that as a group they did their best to try and tear apart.

The scene was disturbing because of the aggressive and seemingly non-productive behavior of the scavenger birds. I couldn’t imagine any benefit for the birds. Here I was, in the Everglades, and the scene before me was completely unnatural and I couldn’t think of any way to stop the birds’ destruction act. I wasn’t even sure if it was safe to leave the car. Helpless and disturbed with a mix of concern for the safe co-existence of humans and nature, as if humans were not part of nature. At times like this, I often struggle to find solutions. I become lost in the chaos. I took a chance and went on with my plan to walk a short trail with the purpose of seeing wildlife.

Walking on the boardwalk through the wetlands I was treated to more pristine experiences with wildlife. A heron catching and eating a fish. I was mesmerized by a purple gallinule hopping on lily leaves. Anhingas spreading their wings to dry. Alligators sunning themselves. Trees covered with bromeliads. Every inch of the walkway was rich with life. The wildlife went on doing what they do, eat fish, stay warm and wait for feeding opportunities, or flowering. It’s not as though the animals were unaware of my presence, they simply didn’t change their behavior. For me, witnessing their lives, noticing the curve of the heron’s feathers, the flowers blooming in January, the gar staying in the shadows away from the heron, are privileges. I am aware I am an intruder and do my best to keep a respectful distance.

As I neared the end of the trail, my concern about leaving the car returned. I walked to the bathroom and noticed a sign. Surprised by the solution, and the resource, I felt foolish about feeling helpless. How often will I need to be reminded that I am not alone? Once more, I didn’t look closely enough, have enough awareness, to search for a solution to co-exist.

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Tired?

“Do you get tired of going on the same walk every day?” 

I replied “Do you get tired of your friends that you see every day? Although I do not take the same walk every day I regularly choose a familiar route. It’s an opportunity to notice the subtle changes. Every encounter offers a variety with a mix of nonconformity. One day I notice a new plant has sprung up. Another day I recognize erosion from recent rains. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by a new critter that has found its way into my usual terrain. No, I do not get tired of the same walk every day. Just like I do not get tired of my friends every day. Some days they are facing new struggles and other days new insights. Their laughter never tires and I never cease to learn from them. Being intimate with the same routine every day is like being with a recognizable friend, one who gives me comfort, who listens to my sadness, who reminds me of my dreams. I look forward to connecting with the familiar sacredness.”

“Does that mean you do not welcome changes?” 

I replied “I do my best to welcome change. Well, most of the time. Every day there are slight changes and there are ginormous changes, ranging from joy to sorrow. The reason I have the capability to welcome change is that every day I recognize the simple, small changes in the ordinary. From my friend’s laughter to the destruction of a forest, the changes can be taken in stride. It’s not easy to walk a familiar path every day. One step at a time I walk purposefully, appreciating the beauty revealed, and remember my dreams. Connecting with a familiar path every day reminds me I am not alone on this journey.”

UnCharacteristic

I did something uncharacteristic. It’s not something I could be jailed for, but it did result in a few scoldings, including from myself. Maybe I was tired, struggling with the holiday season, or supporting someone I love dearly, or just for no reason, I decided to repost a message on facebook. Even though I have been distancing myself from most social media I made a decision to engage in a form of communication I typically ignore. I learned a few lessons, ones I’ve probably already learned but were accentuated from this action.  First, I assumed that people are critical enough thinkers and able to make their own choices. If they did not want to be engaged they would not. I usually read past messages that ask for a specific response with a tinge of guilt involved. I might ask questions about the reason for the posting, to learn the need behind the message. The reposting reminded me of how often people, including me, forget to ask questions, to break through the assumptions and get to the heart of the matter. I also learned that most of the responses included a desire to have more accurate, personal communication. My venture into a communication format I characteristically ignore offered a reflection of how people know me together with their desire to have real communication. Would I prefer to have such significant communication in person? Definitely. I would be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the comments, words, and descriptions people shared. As a result of acting uncharacteristically, I learned about myself through the refection of others. Well, at least how they express their refection of me through a form of communication limited to social media. In this New Year, I might be a bit less characteristic and explore this global world with more gentleness and curiosity and less judgment and resistance.

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The Beast Within

A stuffed toy or a feathered bird. The difference is minimal to the nature of the beast. Chase, attack, conquer. It is simply what a cat will do.

The words are said, describing the harm. The response is defensive, attacking. The angry reciprocation is unchecked and discharged.

The cat crouches next to the window, ready to pounce yet aware of the physical barrier. The instructions are clear, don’t let the cat out, he will kill the birds.

I hear the words, the angry rejection of a different point of view. Battle lines of truth and anger are delineated. I notice the character spewing the words become narrow and limited. I lose sight of the humor and playfulness. All I witness is rage. The person I know has disappeared into the abyss of anger. I wish for clear instructions, keep away from judgment or individual will self-destruct. The individual is unable to distinguish between a different point of view and their personal perception of truth. Physically, I notice the veins expanding, face turning red, fists clenched, body ready to attack.

Muscles strong, eyes soft, standing firm. I reflect the anger, rage, and intolerance. The choice is defined; anger or accountability.

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Popular Meaning

Again, the words are repeated. The parrot is content to say the same thing over and over again. I am sure the bird doesn’t understand the meaning of the words. The sound is familiar and repeated. I wonder, is it comforting to use the same words and sounds over and over again?

Words, such as ‘mondegreen’ and ‘bafflegab’ have experienced both increased and decreased popularity over time. As the bird again repeats the same words I remind myself to notice overused words. Then, I wonder, what word(s) would I like to hear often, regularly, yet with meaning?

‘There’s no place like home’ is a common phrase and brings memories of red shoes and a dog named Toto even though it is from an 80-year-old movie. Merriam-Webster has officially added ‘bingeable’ and ‘hangry’ to its thousands of entries, one indication of how language evolves.

What word would I like to hear every day, often, repeated, with meaning? What word would I enjoy saying every day, inviting a deepening of the sound and meaning? The vibration and history of the words ‘amen’ ‘namaste’ and ‘aho’ have the ability to evoke a variety of feelings and comfort. Searching deeper, I consider a list of words and phrases that bring me joy, comfort, or inspiration. A smile forms on my face as the words surface and I know, unconditionally, what I want to hear each day.

‘What do you want?’

My body is refreshed when I recognize the words I want to say every day.

‘Yes, I can’

Thunder

I remember her saying “The angels are bowling” and thought, how silly and yet comforting. As the loud sound echoes through the mountains I remember my grandmother and imagine angels bowling in the clouds, laughing and competing with each other. Mostly, I thought of my grandmother. Victoria. The one I was named after. 

Another loud boom and my body jumps. Clearly, the thunder expects to be heard. I wonder, did my grandmother, who lived through WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, while raising a family, expect to be heard? 

I remember her voice being gentle, somewhat timid, yet often warning her husband to stop teasing us kids. He was like thunder, doing what he wanted, expecting to be heard. He loved to party and sing, she loved to cook and care for her family.

Lightening exposes the sky. Which is more dominant, thunder or lightning? Both warn of rain, potential deluge, flooding, and rock slides. Is it possible to determine which is stronger, or more forceful?

The storm passes, cleansing the sky, air and ground. I have not seen, heard or felt my grandparents in over 44 years. I wonder, did my grandmother, Victoria, expect me to remember her as sweetly as the smell of flowers after the rain?

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End-less Curiosity

I crave the grit and dryness. The smell of saltwater and the tightness of my skin after swimming in the ocean. When I was younger, much younger, I assumed everyone knew the ocean, swam in the saltwater, felt the waves. Learning that not everyone experienced the sand, blue horizon and moods of the tides, I was bewildered. Didn’t everyone have the same experiences? I could not imagine life without my feet regularly sinking into the sand with the movement of the ocean.

Being curious, I began to question life different from mine. If others never knew the ocean, what did they experience that was not familiar to me? What existed in this vast world that I didn’t know I wanted, yet? My curiosity is endless and every day, especially in this age of unlimited information, there is a growing list of knowledge I don’t know. Every day, I seem to know less and want to know more.

I feel the salt, smell the cleansing ocean, sink my feet into the sand and know, deeply, all I truly want is this precious moment.

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Bending Memories

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I am tempted to take my camera out of my backpack. Each scene unfolding before me is more stunning than the previous image. I hesitate, wanting to be present, to absorb the beauty surrounding me. At the same time, I want to capture the magic of nature. Two forces, existing together – being present in the moment and wanting to remember. 

 

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I know from experience, my memories are not always accurate. The past has a tendency to bend, fold and sometimes mutilate. 

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I notice the running water, the shape of the trees, the katydid with the incredibly long antenna and I feel the urge to hold that memory forever. I am also aware that by the time I take out my camera the scene before me will change, alter, constantly moving towards the next destination. 

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My desire for a sense of permanence is strong. I take out my camera, stand still, and look for angles, shapes, and beauty. I look for details, enduring qualities, raw yet temporary wonder. Each image changes me, reminding me of the force of change.

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In this moment, standing still, witnessing, capturing the wildness of nature, I am aware that memories of me will be as distilled as the light filtering through the trees. I wonder, will I remember who I am, as life quickly flows by?