I wake, alone, always alone, and wonder; why does it have to be like this?
I move slow, zombie like, to the kitchen dragging a handful of clothes which will be my armor this day. Too thin to keep life’s pains from intruding. Just enough to hide them.
It is too late in the morning to stretch my body and mind. Too late even for coffee.
Half dressed, I look down to Brown Dog, my traveling partner for these last twelve years, though he is going on fifteen or sixteen or I-don’t-really-know-what-teen since I picked him up as a feral stray, and I smile. I admire him. He is always ready to love and be loved.
I celebrate his birth along with my own in November which looms ever closer. I will be 54. How the fuck did that happen?
I make the time to love him then let him out the back door and shuffle to the front while pulling a dirty shirt over my head (too late now to find a clean one) and let myself out.
As the day progresses, the loads of water going from my truck to the road we are building keeps time like a slow moving metronome, those morning thoughts continue to intrude.
Surely I’ve learned the lessons that earn me the right to love and be loved? Surely the person I am now, regardless of my past, is worthy? Surely I deserve that most basic of all rights? Why am I such a failure?
I get ahead of the work crew and park my truck by the river that supplies the water I get paid to make the roads muddy with and walk to an overlooking edge.
I sit and breathe. Deep and slow.
I allow those thoughts to flow like the water that passes in near silence in front of me. I listen to and acknowledge each of them; “You are not worthy”… yes, I understand that’s how you feel. “You do not deserve”… it’s ok to feel like that. “You will never be happy”… it’s ok.
Each thought repeated with the impact and clarity gained through years of practice. Each identified, acknowledged, validated then treated with the same care and compassion I would offer another and released.
They are just words. Labels. They mean nothing.
Slowly, with practiced patience, the thoughts are reduced to a whisper and are replaced by the sound of the wind, a trickle of water, the birds, the rotation of the earth through the cosmos.
I slowly open my eyes and watch the gentle flow of the river and, without thought, begin to understand; The path I am on is like this little river that cuts its way through miles of prairie. It’s sweeps and bends the altered courses of my life. Its flow from past, through present, and towards the future.
I see my reflection in the surface. Static. Unmoving. It is in this static image that those thoughts live but it is an illusion. Beneath the surface the water is constantly flowing as it slides past stones and cuts its ever changing course through the prairie.
If I were to submerge myself in those slow moving waters, become one with it, there would be no past, no future, no false reflections, only a sense of Now. Eternal. Dynamic. It has no beginning. No end. It flows to the sea. Evaporates. Returns as rain. Flows.
It is that sense of Now, that never ending cycle, that I strive for in my meditation. Yes, the thoughts remain. My mind, like everyone else’s, never ceases its rumination and contemplation and formulation. It mutters incessantly.
But today, right now, I am like the river.
Image by JMGreff
My best memory of an actual conversation with a cashier at the local gas station…
Cashier [with a smile]: How you doin?
Me: I have concerns.
Cashier [with genuine curiosity]: Concerns? Its a beautiful sunny day.
Me: That’s why I’m concerned.
Cashier [looking confused]: ???
Me: You see, the sun is this huge ball of burning plasma that generates enough radiation to vaporize a person in less than a fraction of a second and the only things protecting you and I from a violently painful death are just a few layers of atmosphere that we willingly punch holes in and a mile thick layer of atmosphere scrubbing bacteria that we should consider and treat as God since we can’t live without but are instead rapidly killing off… so I have concerns.
Cashier [with a blank stare]: …oh
Image by Giorgia Napoletano
Forty-two Miles to Nowhere.
I watch him walking west all day with more baggage than anyone who is used to walking ever carries.
East. West. East. West.
Each time I pass him, he has made it only a little farther and my day is made longer as I begin to share his torment.
A mile, then a stop to rest. Then another mile. Another rest.
He is determined. Not waiting around for help like those who spend the day with illegible signs proclaiming blessings of gods and spiteful humor.
He’s helping himself. That makes me want to help.
Finally, my day ends. I oil my bike and fill the tires. I check the rack and make sure I have the bags handy. I wish I had my strong backpack with me. It is in storage now, collecting dust and letting the memory of miles fade.
I stop for food and water and gas and I head down the road.
Ten miles even. In the eleven hours I spent watching his snail pace and his exertion, painfully recalling my own journey, he has made it 10 miles.
My intended gift is useless. He is too old for the bike. I scold myself for being relieved that I can keep it.
He makes only a small effort to rise as I come to a stop, reserving his energy should he need it to fight or flee. His life shows in his face. His clothes—someone else’s—do not fit.
“Where you heading?”
The question escapes before I can stop it. His destination was decided years ago by some mistake or the coding in his genes or the vicious humor of an absent deity. He has been on the path so long that any answer holds as much meaning as the reason for the journey.
“Montana,” he says. The next state.
“I’ll take you to Beach.” The last town in North Dakota. It is 42 miles. Nowhere.
I make room in the van, load his bags which include a half-filled sack of empty cans—travelling money.-
Once in the van, I offer him the food and he eats in silence. His slow consumption fills me with gratitude for what is so easy to take for granted, and a distaste for my own fortune, slim as it is.
We arrive in Beach. I give him the cash I got from the ATM, wishing it was more and knowing it could never be enough, and in our longest conversation I wish him good luck. “Thanks, I need it,” he says.
Don’t we all.
I get in the van and turn it back toward home.
It moves easier. Seems lighter. As if saying, “Yes, he is your brother. He is heavy.”
I tell my son what I have done, hoping to feel good about it. He says, “Well you did a good thing dad.” I feel no better.
I try to convince myself I do these things because they are the right thing to do, but maybe I just do them to make up for other things I have done. Or as an offering to those vicious deities so I don’t have to face the same fate.
I don’t know.
I help because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s more than that.
In helping others, I help myself. I make my own life better. I remind myself that I am not alone. Not ever. That I am part of a large family. And, in helping, I hope that those I aid know these things too.
None of that really makes me feel better as I recall the look on his face—the quiet desperation, the resignation—but it does bring a sense of purpose and balance.
In some ways, that makes it worse. It makes it about me.
I have a lot to learn yet.
I stop at the lake on the way back home and let Brown Dog play in the water. He is young again, the eternal pup. He splashes and jumps and runs and he takes my thoughts and tumbles them in the grass with his wet fur.
Then he lays his wet body next to me and insists on licking and nuzzling me, and I am grateful for his simple, clear message, “You are loved.”
Author: J.M. Greff
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
As published in Elephant Journal
I was awoken last night
From the deepest of sleep
Devoid of dream
By a strong feminine presence
With ears sharpened by the dullness of slumber
The softest of footsteps outside my door
Light and lithe yet hesitant with uncertainty
She stopped at my door and waited, listening
As I listened and waited
Her raised hand lingered and lowered, lingered and lowered
As if arguing the rationality of knocking on a sleeping mans door
With the most irrational of senses
She turned to leave
Then gave in to the rational and left more quickly
As a reward for giving in to her fears, she silently tripped on the mudflap I leave leaned against the pallets that are my porch to prevent the dogs leash from becoming entangled
(“If I were to move it” I ask myself now “to a more welcome position, would it then only provide further entanglement?” And so decide to leave it alone)
She hurriedly straightened it in a form
(I discovered this morning)
More apt to trip and to catch up the dog
(Which evidence I now offer
As proof of her arrival)
Then quietly as she arrived
Moments later I heard a car door close stealthily in the distance
As if that argument continued into the darkness that finally drove her home
Yet for an hour or so after she’d gone
I could still feel her presence
A gentle reminder
That I am alone