Monthly Archives: March 2008

Little Boy Blue

Unlike myself, my mother keeps everything. From her high school cheerleading outfit to drawings I made as a kid – she just holds on to stuff. One of the things that she held onto is a text book from when she attended Auburn University. It is titled One Hundred and One Famous Poems by Reilly & Lee. I remember getting this book off the shelf when I was a little kid and reading through the poems within. It is where I first read my favorite poem, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Another poem in this book that I just fell intrigued with is Little Boy Blue by Eugene Field. It reads as follows:

The little toy dog is covered with dust, but sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust, and his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new, and the soldier was passing fair,
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue kissed them and put them there.
“Now, don’t you go till I come,” he said, “And don’t you make any noise!”
So toddling off to his trundle-bed he dreamt of the pretty toys.
And as he was dreaming, an angel song awakened our Little Boy Blue –
Oh, the years are many, the years are long, but the little toy friends are true!
Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand, each in the same old place,
Awaiting the touch of a little hand, the smile of a little face.
And they wonder, as waiting these long years through, in the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue since he kissed them and put them there.

How many times have we been like Little Boy Blue? How many times have we put the ones that we love on a shelf and walked away? I don’t think we mean to do it. We just find other things that take our time. And before we know it, our loved ones are anxiously awaiting our return, slowly becoming covered in dust. They wait and wait, slowly losing their purpose. Unlike the dutiful toys of Little Boy Blue, however many times those we leave do not wait. They do not stand in silence and patiently linger for us to finish our distractions and return to them.

Then there are the times that we are left. There is the initial moment of waiting for those who have left us to return. Then there is the understanding that they are not coming back. We go from living in the moment to re-living the moments that have past. We ponder and analyze every word, every laugh, every kiss and every embrace. We search for clues. We rummage around our memories and try to figure out if we should remain in waiting or if we should accept that they are gone. We remember the last kiss. We relish in the last embrace. What did we miss? What would we have done differently?

You can see him standing there in front of you. You have his face – every wrinkle, every speck of sunshine in his eyes – memorized, embedded in your mind. You study it seeking for an answer. But there is none. You are just there and they are not. Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue we stand, each in the same old place, awaiting the touch of his hand, the smile of his beautiful face. And we wonder, as waiting these long years through, in the dust of our little chair, what has become of our Little Boy Blue since he kissed us and put us here.

Reality

My preferred definition of reality comes from the American Heritage Dictionary. It is as follows: The totality of all things possessing actuality, existence, or essence. I like this better than simply equating reality to fact because it seems that each of us has our own reality. It is not just made up of our environment and situation and animate objects, but our perception of those things working together, or sometimes against each other, to create the world in which we live.

Although our reality is as sure as the sun will shine, it is quite possible that our reality is totally false. Our existence is of course as real and true as can be, but our reality is not necessarily so. For example, a child grows up in a loving family. She is nurtured and loved and given every opportunity. She grows up with all of the luxuries that her beautiful, well-educated, socially significant parents have to offer. She is denied nothing. She has a sense of self-worth and value that her parents have instilled in her that has given her the strength to achieve much. When she is in her 30s, her mother is diagnosed with leukemia. Her mother’s outlook is good, but she is going to require a bone marrow transplant. She, without a moment’s hesitation, goes to the hospital to donate her bone marrow. She doesn’t tell her mother because she knows that her mom would not want her to endure that pain. At the hospital she gets a shock. She is not a match. In fact, she is not even close. The woman that had been raising her for the past 30 years is indeed not her mother. She finds out that she is adopted. Her true birth mother was a 15 year old runaway who got pregnant by her pimp. Her reality crumbles. She is the same person, but the basis for everything on which she had built her life is pulled out from beneath her.

See, reality is made up of many things, but perception is one of the largest ingredients. There are so many unknowns in this world. There are so many things that play on our lives that we never even realize. The happy family with the picket fence that we admire is not always what they seem. Even in our own homes, our honor students are smoking pot and our sweet faced choir girls are having sex with their teenage boyfriends under the bleachers. While we are alive the only thing that is sure is that we are breathing. We never know what is true and what is not. Even what we believe – our faith system – could be based on total lies. How do we know that the things that we learned in Sunday school are really true? We don’t. We just accept it by faith and keep going.

That is the key – faith. Without faith, it would be impossible to have religion, democracy and love. When I see someone who lives in their own little reality that is based on what I perceive to be bullshit, I am torn. I am torn between laughing at their inability to see the truth that is standing right in front of them or admiring them for their strong sense of faith, regardless of its simplicity. Henry S. Haskins said, “Treat the other man’s faith gently; it is all he has to believe with. His mind was created for his own thoughts, not yours or mine.” I like this statement because it reminds me that my opinions are just that – mine. And in a way it helps me to understand that just because I can see something as plain as day doesn’t mean that someone else can – or that they want to for that matter.

Faith is what sustains us, while doubt is what educates us. Doubt is what challenges us to think and grow and understand and grasp. So it appears to be faith that creates our realities, but it is doubt that shapes them. For it is those of us who do not doubt, who do not question, that blindly accept everything with child-like faith that end up seeing the world through rose tinted glasses. It is said that ignorance is bliss. So why should I tell someone otherwise? If someone is happy in their false reality and they are not a danger to themselves or others, then why should I burst their bubble? Each of us defines our own reality. I just prefer to surround myself with people who salt their reality with faith and pepper it with doubt. It makes for much more stimulating conversations not to mention I don’t think they are total dumbasses who can’t see the forest for the trees.

Animal Instinct

In Sri Lanka, more than 30,000 people were killed during the tsunami. But according to the deputy director of that nation’s wildlife department, all the elephants, deer and other wild animals survived. Of 2,000 wildlife in the Indian sanctuary only one (a boar) was killed by the tsunami. Why is that? Animal instinct. If only we as humans would listen to our own animal instinct. But sometimes we are too busy listening to our heads and hearts and not the little voice inside.

Many of you have heard the story of my first time lying on the side of the road waiting for an ambulance. I was in the 10th grade. Late that night under the hot lights of the emergency room in Dothan, a stout male nurse told me how lucky I was to have my fingers. I wasn’t lucky. I just listened to my instincts. As many high school girls in the 1980s, I wore rings on several fingers. But as I got ready to go out that night, I took them off. In fact, I put them back on at least three times, but each time a voice in my head told me to take them off and leave them. Now did my subconscious know that I would be lying beneath a Toyota 4X4 later that night? Certainly not. But I listened to my instincts and have all the fingers I need to type this blog.

I think of women who are in abusive relationships. They are married to some piece of shit who beats the hell out of them and tells them how worthless they are. Their instincts say run, but all they can verbalize is, “But he loves me!” That’s not love sister; that is a sickness. See, you can rationalize just about anything until you get it to the point that it is believable. You can convince yourself of just about anything. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart. But take yourself out of the situation. Pretend that you are your own daughter and she is making the rationalizations and excuses that you make to yourself. You’d grab her by the collar and rattle her teeth! I guaran-damn-tee that you wouldn’t see your own situations the same way you would see it if it were someone else you loved.

Why is that? Do we not love ourselves enough to see the truth? Why do we suppress our natural instincts? The inner voice, the female intuition – whatever you want to call it. It is there for a reason. But we continue to use our emotional state to leverage our rational thinking until we can explain away anything to ourselves. But that lingering question. Why is it still there? Why will it not go away? Because it is instinct!

What about male intuition? Do men not have the same level of instincts that females do? I don’t think so. Case in point: Research shows that males are problem solvers and females are traditionally problem locators. That is to say, the female uses her intuition to sense there is a problem, but she may not know how to solve it. The male, as a problem solver, will correct the problem once it is identified. So let’s say you are married and think your spouse is “running in the streets” as my grandmother’s maid used to say. Women have that gut feeling that something is wrong. So what do they do? They call in their spouse to solve the problem. The big issue is that in this case, he IS the problem. So he justifies whatever he needs to and the wife just pushes her instincts farther and farther down inside herself.

Perhaps this is why so many men think that women are whiners and naggers. They are just be-bopping along enjoying life, ignorantly aware of malcontent due to their lack of overt intuition. Then Mrs. Party Pooper points out this, that and the other and rains on their parade. I have this picture of an elementary school lunch room when the big bully walks up to the little kid and flips his lunch tray over for no reason at all. “Fight! Fight!” And the crowd goes wild.

I wonder what it is like for the poor guy who just got his tray knocked over. Maybe as women we should try to be a little nicer about pointing out the problems. I’m not saying we should sugar coat things, but maybe just ease into them. Better yet, how about we stand up straight and use the brain God gave us and start trying to solve our own problems instead of depending on someone else to do it for us? (Oh my gosh! Jamie is going to be so happy – I am starting to sound like a feminist!) Now let’s not get too out of control, I want the man to open my door for me and let me go first, but I don’t need him to reach across the table and cut up my steak!

A girlfriend of mine was blogging recently about waiting on that kiss. No, not A kiss – but THAT kiss. That kiss that makes you melt into him. That kiss you can take with you for months. You know what I am talking about. That kiss that two weeks later you can shut your eyes and feel yourself leaning against him and smell his sent and feel his breath on your face and taste the passion – to the point that you have to force yourself to pry your eyes back open before you fall off the edge of the earth. Oh, yeah, THAT kiss. I told her to quit waiting. Why should we take a number and stand in line? Why should we wait for the man behind the counter to call “Next!”? Please, ladies, we have the instincts to know what we want and should have the gumption to go out and get it.

There has got to be some middle ground to all of this. There has got to be a way to listen to our heart and head and instinct and make it all work. There also has to be some middle ground on utilizing our abilities. If only we could just find the right ratio of heart and soul, intellect and common sense, independence and dependence. All I know is when the tsunami hits, I don’t want to be clinging to the top of a coconut tree holding my breath as the water rises up to my nostrils. I want to be on higher ground. You decide: do you want to be part of the 2,000 grazing in green pastures with me, or do you want to be the lone boar?

***Yes, I’m generalizing…don’t yell at me!

Visceral, yet deep

One of my favorite people in the world is my exact polar opposite. I would dare say that she is probably one of my best friends. We don’t chat on the phone or hang out all the time, but we get each other. More importantly, we accept each other. She is a skinny democrat from Yankee stock with big dreams and lofty ambition while I am an un-skinny republican from blue-blood Alabama with an aged acceptance that any aspirations that I once held have either come to fruition or expired. She is this little kid with big insight and I love her to death. There are some topics that we will never discuss. There isn’t any reason in it. I accept her opinion, she accepts mine and neither of us is ever going to change the others view. Futility has never been a destination either of us has longed to frequent, so we just don’t talk about these things. I think that we do have some things in common. Gender would be the most obvious. Secondly, we both find solace in the written word. There is something about expressing our thoughts through writing that we both hold dear. I don’t think that either of us is expecting a Pulitzer any time soon, but we do not write for others to appreciate or even for others to get what it is we are saying. We write because we have to. Our soul hurts if we keep it bottled inside our bodies and we do not set it free through words. Poems, songs, short stories, ramblings – it doesn’t matter; as long as we give our inner being the ability to breath outside of our bodies. If we do not write, our soul starts to shrivel up. We become more shell and less us. I think that our other common bond is subtle desperation. Not angst or fear or sadness, but a pure despair that one can only feel if they are capable of giving themselves without regard to themselves. She and I both give ourselves completely. We give ourselves entirely to our ideas, to our passions, to our families, our friends and our lovers. We hold nothing back because to do so would be dishonest to our souls and would sell ourselves short. Our despair is not so much a total loss of hope, but a total loss of control. For when you give yourself completely away to something, your fate then lies beyond your control. You are in the hands of another. It is unfortunate that few people give themselves this truly. Especially for those of us that do. For when you empty yourself out on a regular basis and nothing is given back you experience a despair that few people can really grasp. So regardless of politics and life goals and whatever else makes us two people as far apart as can be, we remain as close as any two people can be. Kindred souls…kindred souls separated by the life external yet bound together in the innermost heart; kindred souls dumping themselves out on paper for the world to see but not understand.

Polar Opposites: Me and Jamie

The Square-Head Nail

Each year on February 7, the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, I go to his grave. I don’t ever go any other time of year; until today. For some reason my car just drove me there. I am still not sure why. I sat at his grave for what seemed like forever. It was really only about an hour. I sat there in the breeze listening to the birds and the hum of the boats below the bluff on the water just a few yards away. I wondered what secrets were buried in his grave. What stories that he never told me. I wondered what life had looked like through his eyes. I wondered if things had turned out like he thought they would. I wondered how many disappointments he had weathered. I wondered how many times he laughed so hard that he could hardly breathe. What did it feel like to hold me in his arms for the first time? How sweet was the last time I kissed him? What had he witnessed during war and what had he seen during segregation? Did his lungs hurt after he had danced the night away to some of the best swing bands ever to play a tune? Did his mouth get sore after smiling so much when dating my grandmother?
I looked down and saw an old rusty square-head nail. I picked it up curiously. I wondered where it came from. As I caressed it in my fingers I thought about what it used to be a part of. There was no way I could even guess what purpose this remnant of a former whole had once served. It’s funny. I’m like that nail – a little twisted and worn with age but still as strong as ever. I tried to break it in my fingers. It didn’t even bend in the slightest. We are all but a small piece of the big picture. Like that nail, we hold something together, but you never know when you will be removed from the greater conglomerate and find yourself on your own. You still have a function but what is your purpose?
I couldn’t even hear the sounds around me anymore. All I heard was Doris Day singing Sentimental Journey. “Never thought my heart could be so yearny. Why did I decide to roam?” As the sun broke through the clouds and warmed my face I looked around me. Just a few graves over was my great grandfather. He was born in 1863. I couldn’t even start to think about what had gone through his head in a lifetime of discovery. I smiled at my Grandfather. The flowers I had left on his grave last month were still there. The roses were all brown, but they still lay there on his chest. I felt like as they continued to decompose they would just sink into the earth and one day would reach his body six feet below. I wondered if I am the person he had hoped. I shut my eyes and could still feel him beneath me as I curled up in his lap. He gently stroked my fingernails – just like my kids do now. “I love you. Sugar Foot,” he would say in his loud whisper.
And then I just stared at his headstone. There weren’t any words; just thoughts. Thoughts of what was and what will never be. As I sit here now and type this, I see the rusted square-head nail sitting on my keyboard. I don’t know where it came from or what its former purpose, but today it connected me to my grandfather.