Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rooooad Triiiiip!!!

Forget the reason, there is nothing like throwing stuff in a bag and heading out. I often think in my daily travels how nice it would be to just drive right through that next light and on down the road, follow the black asphalt to wherever, the Far Coast or beyond. Just let it all go, and go.

So my son and I are off on a dash to the suburbs of Philadelphia for the weekend. He tolerated me still fitting in some work for half the day, and greets me at the door with packed bags and tunes. We drop a few things off and pick up a few on our way out of town, and finally the real trip begins.

He has prepared a string of songs on his Ipod connected to the stereo (we have been talking about such an adventure--just the two of us on a romp--for years), banger teenage junk, some classic rock, sliding into reggae. The sun shines the grass luminescent green on this third hot day of Spring, while snow still cools the bare trees on the mountains. Fields are clean. At long last, people are outside in T-shirts, shorts and grins. Even a dog has to stick his head through the sunroof.

The road leads south, the Taconic Parkway rolling over hills, pristine and mellow. Imperceptively, buds appear and traffic increases. Gas stops and snacks consume time towards sunset until at the peak of radiant purple, we are paused for pictures beside a resevoir.

We drop in on my college roommate, guitar buddy, witness to midnight struggles to decipher the mysteries of girlfriends. His wife too an old friend from days long past. Amazing how 20 years since last visiting has been unable to keep us distant. Although it is just a quick stop to stretch legs and share hugs, we visit as if we had seen each other last week. Tribal squeals from their flock of peacocks send us off again.

Darkness surounds the dizzying city lights. Traffic swirls along the strange highways. We enjoy the skyline along the Palisades, but where I should turn to the turnpike, I end up having to recross the Hudson on the George Washington Bridge.

Oh well, we decide we may as well go for the tour. We head down West River Drive, and turn inland, into the City and Times Square. At 10:30 the theaters are emptying and the streets are filled. Excitement vibrates, the life gleams attractively.

At a corner, starved, we buy soft pretzels through the window from a vender who barely speaks English. A few wrong turns, blocks circled, and we dive into the Lincoln tunnel to make our escape, never actually setting foot on the island.

Eight lanes settle into three, my son settles into his pillow. The day has been long, the adventure grand, the freedom intoxicating. Now the miles pass into the darkness. I stretch and breathe to keep awake. A sad task lies ahead, but for now, contentment reigns.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

When to Cry Uncle

I hate to fish. My son loves it. The few times I’ve tried in my life have been experiences of mosquito bites, icky worms, and hours of desperate patience without the slightest nibble of return for my efforts. The fish know I am up there, as they lurk underneath, aware of my skepticism, taunting me by their restraint.

Crossing the English Channel a few days after D-Day, my father was one of the few survivors when his ship collided with a mine. Aside from a purple heart and a terrible story I have never actually heard him tell, he has not been comfortable on a boat of any kind since.

I love to sail. Also on the water, also requiring patience (especially in dead calm of a blistering August afternoon), also little physical effort surrounded by hours of sitting, I have felt an extraordinary peace of heart, adjusting the slack, connected to the line to the sail to the invisible Power of wind and sea.

My Uncles loved to sail. Bill lived on a Minnesota lake with a little dinghy and appointed me captain at the age of five, an honor I took seriously for years of visits. Uncle John sailed a Skipjack on the Chesapeake, seventy feet of broad power industriously commanding the open waters.

Mostly, there was my Uncle Gunner, a man of reserve and quiet calculation in life, corporate, and a part of the dreaded (at the time) Military Industrial Complex. But on the water, I knew a man who humbly honored his place on this Earth, and could quietly share with his nephew little things he knew might be appreciated. Standing at the wheel, silently surveying the trim, he was content beyond words, a lesson I absorbed with a willing heart.

My son has an uncle Don who loves to fish. A few years ago, they went out on the Delaware in a small boat for my son’s first experience. Planes on final approach droned constantly overhead, close enough to touch. The chop was relentless, drenching them. Clouds hung like a cold, grey blanket.

The bass were biting though. In a matter of an hour, they brought on board four fish at least 3’ long and heavy, battles that made the adrenaline surge, saturating the airwaves each time he called to let us know they had caught another.

It seemed nearly cruel to warn him that not all days are like that, but he has made several other trips with less success and remains enthusiastic. Next week, we plan to make the now annual pilgrimage back to the Delaware to fish with his uncle.

Perhaps I’ll join them for the boatride.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Rain Before Sunshine

All the fears of Recession aside, our house is under contract within two weeks (and the one we wanted to buy in two days—although not to us!), with a waiting list to boot. Sure it is a great house. Sure the neighborhood is hotly desirable. But I think the great ball of Change once embraced is on a roll that cannot be stopped. We are taking a scary ride that tests so many core values.

On the surface, the home we built has established roots and defined a story: a room for each of us, space for our guests and activities, a garden to bloom all summer, and a basement of skis and exercise equipment for winter. The fire glows warmly at night, and there is plenty of candy handed out on Halloween.
The price to own such comfort, however, has come with a burden threatening my very heart. The story is way too long and personal to be of much use, but the truth of the struggle stares me in the face and corrupts my spirit until there is no other choice but to face the reality and seek another solution.

Some solace comes in understanding that True Bravery is recognizing the age old adage that Change, no matter how painful, can be an opportunity. One can be proud for stepping away from zones of comfort into anxious visions of uncertain developments. There is honor in motion of any kind.

Yet all of that rings hollow against a lifetime of training that house, home, cars, memberships, and vacations define most of us, to ourselves and to others. Movement is expected to be forward, upward: a bigger house, a better vacation, a nicer car, a fatter bank account. We are supposed to move forward, but we believe it should be toward goals that are pretty specific.

Instead, I have accepted that reaching this ledge, where I now rest and gaze out, has been a truly difficult journey. I have made choices, whether by circumstances or inclination, that have caused pain and suffering to many, especially to the ones I cherish the most. We all have paid dearly, and struggle still to see the Love and happiness that can illuminate the spaces right before our very eyes.

Brave it may be to accept that I want to choose a life more sane and sanguine. How fortunate that equity gained by this sale will unburden several weights on my shoulders. Glad I am to envision a life to be afforded by honest effort instead of distracted promises.

Yet tears of regret, like clouds of rain, still cast a darkness upon my heart.

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