Today I made a pile of rocks with my kiddo for an hour. It was a three inch square pile of little tiny rocks.
Today I developed a photo of a partially focused tree. It was a forgettable moment that moved me, the photo.
A good day.
I spent the night in jail and looked at the walls and I wondered how I would eat the food for years and days and days on end. From the perspective of day one (and only one) it was inedible. Down the road I would savor it in order to stay alive, I know. I am not so proud as to go hungry, but the thought of it, one day one and only one, was demoralizing.
In jail, the lights don’t go off, which over the course of time, would be a sinister torture. By the course of time, I am thinking, anything more than two “nights”. There was a camera watching my cell in my cell. I wondered how wide the angle on the lens was. I wondered how many holes were in the acoustic tiling in the ceiling. I wondered what the guards talked about as I watched my cellie pace like a puma, twenty and stuck already in probation violations and stacked charges and no help. He asked for my free three minute phone card. I gave it to him. It had about 30 seconds left. His father was in prison for life and had been for his whole life. I felt through that math and tried to combine those numbers with the aching heart of a boy, fatherless and there is not an equation for that and now his son paces.
This is easy for me. One night. I made a mistake and can pay my debt, but this is real. This place is not to be brushed with, these people and their cameras and their books have long memories. There is little mercy for brushing up to this barnacled arm of the government.
In the same way that chronically hospitalized people have a vocabulary and know the vocabulary somewhat of the people who watch over them, the people in jail know vocabularies. “I’m here on theft three, arraigned by the same s.o.b. judge, cop didn’t show and they still stiffed me until she could fit it into her schedule.” etc.
There are no flowers sent to jail, like there are at the hospital. No bouquets, nothing lovely. The phone is the one lifeline and calls are dollars/minute and no one there seems to have a nickel to shine on a dime. It is loud and bright and there is no moment of privacy ever. If the cell door opens, the cell has to empty and when the cell door closes, the cell is full again.
I left there, walked out, un-cuffed and free and felt grateful and I tried to feel into real time there and I despaired. I could find no good thing might come of time there for me or anyone else, but I don’t know everything, about me or anyone else. Maybe there is some good thing. But if there is it would come by way of the camel squeezing through the eye of a needle. I am sitting now looking back on that single awful night in that hole while I watch the tide take the detritus off the beach as the ocean slips itself back into itself and I am listening to jazz, to Dexter Gordon, and I know that we humans have made agreements with each other about how we will act and how, if we don’t act a certain way, we have agreed to lock each other up in crazy little cells, maybe even kill each other. It won’t help. Killing you won’t prevent me from finding the grace or the evil within me. It just kills you. And in another lesser but also real way, endless prison sentences fail to achieve what they set out to do, on average. There are people I don’t want to be around and want around my son, but the system, overall, feels bottom heavy and hopeless. Maybe they should at least allow some flowers in there once in a while.
I am thinking about the tide and watching it now, again, for several days. We are about 60 feet above the tideline in a house on the Oregon coast and I can see the ocean moving from above. I know there is a still moment between neap and ebb, but I can’t see it. I look for it and then get distracted for a minute and what was coming in is now retreating. It is not violent but it is relentless.
We spent the day dropping crab pots in to the Nehalem River’s mouth where it meets the ocean. The crabs ride the tide in and the pots fill. The ocean rumbles in to the river and, like Listerine it washed out the mouth. After a little while the pendulum swung, the river pushed out the water to the sea, the crabs were gone and we pulled our pots and went home.
What if the water didn’t move? I think I would want it to, but I wouldn’t know the difference. Unmoving water is called stagnant, a word not nearly as lovely as neap or ebb. Swamp, bog vs ocean, estuary. No contest. I’m resting in the motion.
This is one of the first poems I ever wrote. I was twelve
I wandered down the line between the sand and sea.
The moon’s tide receded around my ankles, gently, incessantly pulling me.
It was nighttime, and I was beckoned to the sea. The invitation was brief. I could easily have walked straight into the foam.
Maybe I did.
In that brief moment I understood the rhythm of the water and stars and night laboring to birth another day — just as when watching a sparrow fly, I can sometimes mobilize one beat of its wings, hold the magic and glory of flight, but just a single beat — then
it’s just a picture of a bird.
I was one with the sand and the sea. There was no more line.
I have four words for my son
for his learning. These are springboards.
They (you know, “them”) will teach him how to read and add/subtract
in those rooms.
After that (before that really, as in right now), this, these:
If he has a question he will read and learn. If he needs to count, he will add and subtract or he will do differential equations if his passion leads him there, if his desire to be a loving man, and curious, leads him there. He will take risks if I don’t snuff his daring. He will be led around his by life, (un)leashed to his passion…
if we (me and Rose, and you, his village – we need you, you know!) have anything to say about it.
I have read that the distractions and addictions we play with are the branches and leaves of a tree. The trunk of the tree is called codependence, a ridiculous word with no relationship by meaning to the word that makes it up. The sinister root of the addiction tree is shame. You can look up addiction tree on google and you will find many ads for rehab centers that have the diagram to see. The tree gets a bad rap, I think, even though the metaphor might be useful. Codependence. It’s an annoying word. What it tries to convey is that the person who is riddled with and rooted in shame looks outward for some sense of his own worth, which is not forthcoming out there, because it is inherent anyway. Anyway, when that fails, all the shiny leaves start to look good, and are good, for a while. Who knows, maybe they are good for a long time or forever. Let’s not judge.
As a kid I often stood in receding waters at the sand bars staring out at the straight line separating the Gulf of Mexico from the bleached blue sky. Faded clouds, baked in the relentless heat, not even white, coloroless, lolled along in the distance. At my feet the undertow drew me out hypnotically, pleasantly, ominously.
technical note: I am working on improving the shoddy quality of the photo uploads to wordpress. Hopefully you will start to see an improvement in sharpness.
We pass from water to air through
the pause, before the go, a cusp.
Then, a channel to the open world,
like the cracking of a nut,
and timeless starts counting.
But what about “before”?
We move, I‘ll say it again, nowhere, from less than,
to, perfect zero, and then relentless, un-mattering
counting: moments, the days. Each counting,
a reminder of our separateness: this day then that;
this moment, not that.
It would be too much, the crushing loneliness, but for
the reminders, like you son, that we pass not from
the day to night; we live and move from light
Bin Laden was killed today, almost ten years after the towers fell. I wonder how important he still is to the network that he is connected to. Did the root get pulled today or was it a pruning? In any case, I felt relieved that he is gone.
In medicine it is often true that we think we have done the right thing, made a good decision or discovered a great treatment, but later, after all the consequences are known, we find that we did not know enough and that we couldn‘t know enough. I think sometimes our premise is off to begin with. Western medicine, which is what I practice, does not take a systems view of our bodies. Even saying the word body does not take in to account that a person is more than her body. The system runs infinitely deeper and wider. We are more than our bodies. We are more than our thoughts. Our thoughts are not really even our mind. My self looks at itself and knows the thoughts I think are running through me the way the Deschutes River runs through town. My friend Jodi says that her mind is simply something that thinks. Thinking is what it does, but it is not her – and she cannot quiet the mind, any more than she can stop the river from flowing. The medicine I practice does not take any of this in to account most of the time. It can‘t. We are not smart enough.
After much long experience we have learned some things that are usually useful. It is good to tie off a blood vessel that is bleeding, for instance. But even that can be tricky. If that blood vessel happens to be one of the vessels that feeds the lungs (there are two) and you suddenly make all the blood go to other lung, it creates a flood to the remaining lung and the patient can drown. Stopping the bleeding (good) was potentially fatal (not so good). This is an extreme example, but I was involved in a case in which it almost happened.
A young woman was shot in the chest by her husband and the vessel to her right lung was gaping. Our only choice was to tie off the vessel. She miraculously survived, and a decade later sent me an amazing letter of what her life had become. She went in to the criminal justice system and was working to protect women from abusive partners. The treatment for the near-fatal shooting should also have been fatal, but it wasn‘t. Sometimes, trying to the right thing to treat a problem, doesn‘t turn out well. That is a complication, and they are complicated, and humbling. Nothing points out the limits of what I know as a doctor as quickly as a complication does.
I can‘t see the forest connected to the trees that I operate on. I strain my eyes and still can only see this little, injured branch. About the best I can do is to remember that every person is connected to innumerable people and, in fact, connected to me.
What kind of meddling will I justify today?
When will I end the reluctant (and gorgeous) silence this day started with?
Who will I fail to hear? See? Know?
What story will I cogitate to keep it about me?
How long will I hold my breath?
What fear will I swallow with my lunch?
What will I forget in order to sleep tonight?
I live mostly fairly on the space I have.
I create something every day.
I am passionate, curious and able.
I connect in spite of the odds.
The balance still falls in favor of making the morning tea.