Peace comes to me in the evening. The harsh sunlight, while comfortable, is not comforting. With twilight comes the silhouette of the mountains against the western sky. Light blue fades to cobalt and the planets wink into sight. The brisk air refreshes my body and clears my mind, bringing in the scent of wood stoves and frosted pine needles. My soul settles in and I can reflect on my life; making plans for the future that would otherwise dissipate in the light of day. I’m in control of my destiny for those brief hours between dusk and daylight. I’m at ease with who I am, and who I will be. Nightfall shelters my dreams and strengthens my spirit, bracing me against the battering waves that will come with the dawn.
Every December I look over the graveyard of last year’s resolutions. It’s strewn with the headstones of good deeds gone awry. A resolution to volunteer at the soup kitchen turned into an effort to learn how to make soup for myself. A resolution to go outside for fresh air led to more time indoors, googling places to hike. A resolution to watch less TV, turned into day-long binges of Netflix on the computer. Finally, I resolved to give that man on the the corner a dollar or two, but at the moment of truth remembered that I needed that money to buy ingredients for soup. The headstones of Resolution Cemetery are monuments to my selfishness and confirmation of my weakness.
This year I’ll be more careful, making resolutions that I can’t twist and morph into something detestable. Maybe I’ll resolve to walk past the gym on my way to the bar, and think to myself, “Good for them, getting in shape on a Monday afternoon. I’m proud of those strangers!” Or maybe I’ll stand in front of the low-fat selection of ice cream at the grocery store and resolve never to but that stuff, ever. Yes, I think this time next year there’ll be fewer gravestones in the resolution cemetery to mock my efforts. It’s going to be a great year!
Such hubris! To live under the illusion that we know what tomorrow will bring. Making plans and preparing for a future that is as mythical and imaginary as the streets of Atlantis. We model in our minds what tomorrow may entail, we make our best guess based on what happened yesterday and the day before that, but it’s only a guess.
Some spend days, weeks, a lifetime planning meticulously for a future that cannot be known. A job interview, a career move, a first date; they all are planned with the assumption that human behavior is a constant, like gravity or the speed of light. They all are planned with the assumption that yesterday is an accurate template for tomorrow. They all are planned with a dose of naivety and a splash of ignorance. “The best laid plans of mice and men…”
If we hold our breath, if we don’t make any sudden movements, then life tomorrow may be a replica of today. But an errant step to the left or to the right, forward or backward, and tomorrow is nothing like we expected. If tomorrow was known, then he wouldn’t have gotten on that plane, and she wouldn’t have gone to school that day. If tomorrow was known, then he would be excited to wake up and start his day; after all, the sooner he could bump into her while fumbling for his keys, the sooner they could start their lives together.
Everything that happens in the next moment, in the next hour, day, or year, is the greatest unknown. Our plans are arrogant because we assume that tomorrow already exists, and that we control it. But tomorrow doesn’t exist, not yet. And when it does blink into existence in front of our very eyes, it’s not what we expected at all. We use words like fate, destiny, or luck to explain why our best laid plans were either destroyed or salvaged.
But there is liberation in the unknown. Our futures are not predetermined, no matter how much we plan for them. Go forward into the dawn of tomorrow without hesitation, knowing that yesterday is merely a ghost, and tomorrow is a figment of our imagination. The only reality, the only thing that is known for certain, is this moment. Embrace it!
The pouring rain was not welcome. I didn’t invite it. But it came for me anyway; the cold gloom mirrored my spirit. The rain ceased and the clouds parted ways, satisfied with what they had done. The sun descended out of sight, releasing a deluge of orange to fill the sky; a triumphant monument to hope. The crescent moon peers through the heavy haze; hinting that my spirit will rise again.
A Keyboard in the Void
The life support system was only designed for eight years, but it had been twelve since the orb departed from the docking position. Something had gone terribly wrong five years ago, and Rem knew it. She had powered down every conceivable system to conserve energy. Every breath was a cloud of frozen steam that hung in front of her frosted eyelids. When the stale air burned her lungs she knew it was time to give the heat a short five second burst. She could only hope that someone or something would pluck her out of the painful darkness, but she only had days at most.
As she drifted through the nothingness, Rem began to remember things. Like that afternoon, fifteen years earlier; an otherwise forgettable day, except for that odd, yet delightful man. She remembered that the gaunt and awkward technician approached her in the reading room of the training center. He looked around the room sheepishly, until finding the courage to make eye contact with Rem, if only briefly. Looking at the ground mostly, but with a quick glance or two up at the ceiling, he spoke with an impossibly soft tone. Rem strained to hear him and leaned closer until she could make out his message.
“I convinced him…convinced him to do it.”
“Convinced who? To do what?” She asked in a calm and reassuring tone.
“The boss man…to put in the keyboard, of course.” He grew more comfortable and made more eye contact with Rem, shoving his hands into the pockets of his filthy gray jumpsuit. “I know how you like to write the old fashioned way…” His face became flush as he realized he had revealed too much about his admiration for the explorer. “And you can send messages out by just hitting the blue button…it probably won’t go nowhere, but at least it’ll feel like you’re writing to someone.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you…um…”
“Yes, of course, Douglas; thank you. I don’t know where I’d be without a good keyboard. It is a good keyboard, right?”
“Of course, of course…I picked it out myself. Every key works…the apostrophe sticks a bit…but it works if you tap it a few times…sorry.” He put his chin closer to his chest, ashamed.
“That’s no problem. Apostrophes are as obsolete as keyboards. Thank you for that.” She smiled broadly and made sure she met his eyes, with a slight bow while bending her neck. He felt the urge to smile, but could only manage a smirk that caused the side of his face to wrinkle, revealing his age and too many years of toil on the job. With a sharp nod, he quickly shuffled out of the room without a goodbye, remembering that he needed to be somewhere ten minutes ago.
Rem could barely manage a grin from her frozen mouth, but the memory of Douglas forced it. Her keyboard had died two years ago, but not before she could write hundreds of pages about her journey, hitting that blue button after every entry, yet knowing that the words wouldn’t reach anyone. She opened the ancient laptop one last time, typing on the keyboard without any words appearing on the screen. But suddenly, a sentence blinked into existence. Her fingers quickly, reflexively, sprung off of the keys, worried that she’d delete the words; words that weren’t hers.
“We’re on our way! My apostrophe works by the way…you see?”
“Douglas!” She gasped out in a gravely, half frozen voice. She never thought she’d be so happy to read the words from such an awkward little man. Gratitude wasn’t the right word to describe how she felt for being plucked from the void.
“A simple thank you is good enough.” Douglas said softly while squinting at the back wall. Rem grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a hard kiss on each cheek. She reached back and picked up her keyboard from the table and shoved it into Douglas’ chest, holding back a smile, “Now fix the apostrophe and get it back to me on Thursday.”
“Thursday?…” He knew he could do it by Tuesday, but he hesitated, a little unsure about what to say.
“Yes, Thursday…Thanksgiving. Don’t bother bringing anything, other than the keyboard. The Company is providing everything!”
Douglas hadn’t been to a Thanksgiving since…well, he didn’t know when. Instead of shuffling out of the room, he nodded at Rem and walked with a bounce, thankful that he had a friend. Or maybe she was his boss, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. But he was happy for the first time in ages.
The steam from my coffee lets me know what kind of day I’ll have. A couple of swirling wafts to the right and it’ll be a day filled with mundane drudgery and vapid conversations. A serpentine pillar straight up, dissipating by the edge of the lamp, and I know my wit will be in full gear, drawing laughs and invitations to a happy hour that I never intend to attend. But a gathering of steam that remains at the base of the coffee, lingering like a mist, now that’s when I know the day will get interesting; like seeing Sasquatch ride by on a unicorn kind of interesting.
Today is different though. The rising column of steam reaches the rim of the cup and then is whisked away in every direction. What kind of twisted prognostication is this? I could see Elvis at the bus stop, only to have a disappointing conversation about his gospel years. Or maybe I’ll be the one to ride a unicorn into work this time. Only time will tell, but the distant sound of hooves on the street makes me optimistic.
It Never Gets Old
At 104 he had many interviews. The local news, the Today Show, CNN, PBS, you name it. They all ask the same thing in the same contrived tone: “What’s your secret to long life?” They’re used to getting the same nonsensical answers: “I don’t touch alcohol” or “I have two shots of whiskey every morning and two at night”, “I’ve never smoked in my life” or “I smoke six cigars a day”. The segments always end with an unimaginative comment and a transition to the real news story of the day, “I hope I look that good when I’m his age! Speaking of looking good, let’s go to Sam on location with a pig named Daisy who knows how to spell her name with noodles!”
Even though his answer was different and more thoughtful than the others, he was lumped in with the rest of the “filler” stories. Regardless, the annual interviews gave him the opportunity to see a new place and witness some fantastic sights along the way.
His secret wasn’t a secret, nor was it a revelation. It was quite simple really, almost embarrisingly so. When he was 46 and three days old, not a day younger, he noticed a bird with a highly unusual song that put a smile on his face. It was the first of many new discoveries. The next day, he stepped out of the house at dawn and noticed a shade of orange in the clouds that he’d never seen before, he couldn’t look away! Each day from then on out, he noticed something new and beautiful. He didn’t seek it out, but with every new discovery he realized that life was never mundane, each day brought something new. Even that morning on his way to the interview with Channel 5 Action News at 5, he glanced down and saw a small beetle walking across the sidewalk. It had an impossibly bright iridescent shell; it shimmered bright green in the early morning light. He swore that it had a small speck of moss growing on it’s shell. It reminded him of his trip into the Olympic Mountains seven decades earlier; that trip that made him feel free for the first time. He smiled, and even laughed a little. “Now I’ve almost seen everything, almost.” He went to bed that night excited to see what new things he’d spy the following day, his 105th birthday; he wouldn’t be disappointed.
Toward a New Life
The tide brings me ever closer to shore. A slow process of back and forth; the promises of things to come, and then a slow drift back into the open rift. Eventually and with certainty, the rolling waves will push me onto the shores of a new life. Promising and foreboding all at once, but welcomed none the less
It begins with a large block, imperfect, bulky, and unwieldy. Clumsy clanks of the chisel and hammer. Chunks, shards, and excess ugliness fall to the ground. A paragraph here, a passage there. More precise aiming, smaller pieces break away revealing a familiar shape, but not quite recognizable. A transformed sentence, or a different phrase. Less force and more detail; revisiting the more careless hits and making the shape more detailed. A smaller chisel is used to make the curves and crevasses; the eyes and mind can flow. A changed word, or a comma added. Rough edges polished, now it is clear that something has been created. The detail and continuity of shape are now admired rather than observed. Beguiling, inspirational, emotional, a piece of art for the mind to explore and contemplate; a new perspective, or a comfortable affirmation. Written work can take many shapes and forms, but there is no doubt that writing is an art, no different than a sculpture. Whether abstract or familiar. The finished piece is admired, appreciated, and valued: Not by all, but by those that matter.
The Devil is afraid of kittens. This revelation surprised him too. It was something in their eyes, something devious. Perhaps it was was because he knew what the kittens had seen. They know exactly what he did that day, that day in the snow. They had something on him, something dark and incriminating. First, a snow angel. He knew this was wrong on many levels, but he couldn't help it. He nearly giggled, but it was more of a nervous growl. And then, nearly a minute of catching snowflakes on his tongue. He didn't mean to stand there that long, but the falling snow was mesmerizing; it almost made him forget about his existential crisis. But he was ripped back into reality as he saw them watching. Oh yes, the kittens were watching from inside of the frosted windows. They witnessed his moment of weakness, his moment of innocence. They knew exactly what they had to do. But they needed to be patient and wait for the right moment. The Devil knew he was on barrowed time, but when and how he'd meet his demise, he didn't know. But the kittens knew, and he was terrified.