jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Tag: life

I woke up and wondered

I woke up and wondered
What today might bring;
Sorrow or comfort,
Some new song to sing?

I woke up and wondered
What today might bring;
A victory or joy,
Some fresh painful thing?

I woke up and wondered,
How surely to meet:
Whatever should come
Without self-deceit?

I woke up and wondered,
How should I reply;
Whatever I see,
Keep open my eyes?

I woke up and wondered,
Have I finally grown,
Am I able to walk
Together, alone?

I woke up and wondered,
Might I restore,
The broken and humble
And open my door?

I woke up and wondered,
My life full of charm,
Can I just embrace
The joy and the harm?

I woke up and wondered,
So much still to learn,
That giving is getting,
Let go of the yearn;

I woke up and wondered,
At all of their fears
Consuming like fire
And robbing their years.

I woke up and wondered,
If I could set free,
Release all the things
Bound inside of me?

I woke up and wondered,
In this Shakespearean play,
What role do I have?
What do I portray?

I woke up and wondered,
At teachers I’ve known,
Lessons I’ve learned,
The kindness they’ve shown.

I woke up and wondered,
At life’s mysteries,
Happy to sail,
Upon all of her seas.

I woke up
and wondered.

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Epitaph

What creature these

All gathered here,

That lie and wait,

Near swaying trees?

 

Of deeds undone,

I hear them speak,

And wondering what

Must surely come;

 

From darkest tombs

They whisper still,

Of life’s remorse

Since mother’s womb;

 

They see now clear

In darkness’ light,

And wondering what

There was to fear;

 

And murmur still,

Each haunting voice

Such mournful tones,

I sense their chill;

 

No lesson half

That I must learn,

Each moment write

This epitaph;

 

“In this cold ground

There lies a man,

He took a chance,

He heard the sound;

 

Wandered astray

He roamed about,

And left the trail,

Some surely say;

 

Was there a choice

Or made for him

The urge to follow

His poet’s voice?”

 

Memories Echo

Memories echo

across the years.

Who are these boys,

now shedding tears?

 

Chasing dreams,

eager boys of yore,

no longer those,

we were before;

 

Crowned our heads,

some shocking white,

our faces etched,

our fading sight;

 

Gone our youth,

slow setting sun,

my grieving friend,

he comes undone;

 

A mournful dirge

the trumpet blows,

for that moment

no man knows;

 

Time will give

and take away,

Now wondering what

I should say;

 

Footprints fading,

by ocean’s tide,

from this storm,

we cannot hide;

 

We say hello.

with warm embrace

and then goodbye

A smiling face;

 

And turn about,

back to our chores,

no longer those,

we were before.

In Between Man

The in-between man

Is checking his path

My compass in hand

I’m doing the math;

 

Sunshine and shadow,

The wind on my face,

I’ve wandered about

This evergreen space;

 

Canyon rims they’re rising,

Against blue and orange skies,

A traveler’s journey

My days passing by;

 

Still chasing horizons

That seem far away

But staking my tent,

This night will I stay;

 

Lights from the past,

Illuminating the night

They strengthen my heart

Filling me with delight;

 

I’ll wake in the morn

With birds on the wing,

They’ve so little care

‘Cept songs that they’ll sing;

 

Then stuffing my pack

Once again on the trail

I’ll wander until

My skin grows pale;

 

The start of my journey

Falling farther behind

The day it will end

Coming ever more nigh;

 

There’s nothing to fear

And nothing for to fret

There’s no need for sorrow,

No need to regret;

 

My path is unseen,

But its all part of The Plan

These unexpected joys

Of an in-between-man

This Broken Thing

This thing,

This fragile thing,

Enduring,

Sculpted from stone,

Hewn from an endless cavern,

Polished and precious,

Flawed,

Though perfect

In place,

Yet never quite belonging,

Overlarge here,

Too small there,

Clutched with perspiring palms,

Delicately,

Deliberately placed,

Searching for just the right space

For his treasure,

This original thing,

The skilled creation of this master,

His counterfeit,

Moved this way,

Then that,

Then slipping from his grasp,

Crashing,

Shattering,

Salvation’s symphony filling his ears, his heart,

Shards of stone,

Littering about,

Jagged fragments strewn all ‘round,

Liberated from form,

From function,

Exploding into a joyful chaos,

Unexpected delight,

This broken thing.

Winter

Wrestling against the wind,

like dry souls clinging to life,

sweetgums and dry leaves

rustle in the barren branches;

 

Rooftops dusted with winter,

the vapors of my breath

appear, then vanish

in the frigid morn’;

 

Tender fingers,

pink and aching,

the tip of my nose

pleading for my wool scarf;

 

A wandering pup

plodding across the brown Bermuda

he stops and sniffs,

perhaps searching for spring;

 

My body longing

for warm Gulf waters

emerald shorelines

and toes in the sand;

 

The cold quickens me,

a reminder that life,

like the seasons

will come and go;

 

Memories of snow,

of sleds and steaming hot chocolate,

of a childhood

with little worry or fear;

 

The breeze pauses,

Mother Nature catching her breath,

she watches me,

wondering if I will relent;

 

A child—a boy?

Wrapped in wool and fleece.

His boots patting over the pavement.

Or is it a girl?

 

 

A crystal sky,

clear and clean and fresh,

envelopes me,

washing me with peace.

I didn’t notice

I didn’t notice,

not really, I’ll admit,

that you were gone,

that you were missing somehow,

that you had been slowly been engulfed by the pain,

enshrouded by the fatigue,

until you were almost covered,

covered by the slow and relentless approaching shadows,

the shadows I did not see,

the echoes of your memory deceiving me in the darkness,

making me believe you were safe,

that you were always there,

believing that you were stowed away like some some precious emerald,

when you had fallen out of sight,

out of sight of eyes,

eyes that did not know to look;

 

I’m grateful now,

grateful that I did not know to look,

grateful to be spared the heartache,

the fear of such grave loss,

spared the throbbing heart,

the desperate searching,

the gasping for breath,

the desperate thoughts,

crying out, “where have you gone?”

for I would have surely been ovewhelmed,

to reach for you,

to believe that you were gone,

that you were lost to me;

 

Yes,

I am so very grateful,

by your sudden return,

overcome with gratitude

to have this chance,

to know that are not forever lost,

that you are here,

here with me once again,

my heart full,

mindful,

perhaps more aware than ever,

of each moment,

each breath,

each heartbeat.

Virgil Matthews: Chapter’s 8 and 9–Into the Fire

Author’s Note:  So here are the concluding chapters of Virgil Matthew’s story.  If you haven’t read the first seven brief chapters that you will find in previous blog posts.  If you enjoyed the tale, please share it with your friends.

There are many that drive a man to live a certain way.  The devout will take comfort in the doing or not doing of a certain thing.  The proud will drive themselves for the approval of other men.  Greed will drive a man to commerce or to thievery, which sometimes look very much the same.  Looking back, I can’t say why I took the path I did—going to sea—it seemed to find me more than I found it.  But as I said, I was hungry.

The work kept clothes on my back and kept me fed better than I would have fared as a foundling.  And, meager as it was, made me enough coin to do the same for my family.  If you were to ask me to name what it was that drove me, I’d have to say it was actually fear.  Fear of the workhouses.  Fear of going hungry.

I cannot say that I’ve been afraid of what many men feared.  The first time I climbed to the top of a mast it did not occur to me to be afraid.  Though I could scarcely swim, I never feared the water.  Not really.  Yes.  I did find something about John Ferguson frightening when I first cast my eyes upon him.  But I’ve had my share of differences with men. I’ve taken a few beatings from men I should have walked away from.  But I don’t suppose I could say I was really afraid of John, as much as I was wary of him.

They say every man will face a choice some day in his life.  A choice that will show everyone who he is and what he’s made of.  A choice that will reveal what a man fears most. I’d never given it much thought before.  The day John Ferguson died, I learned something about myself. I loved him like a brother.  And would have given my life for is—or so I thought.

Fire on board a wooden sailing ship is a terrifying thing.

The stories about how the fire began on Invictus vary depending on who is doing the telling.  Some say it was deliberate.  Some say it started in the galley, late that evening.  I was in my bunk when I heard men shouting.  Their shouts were more desperate than I heard during the storm. Perhaps it is because we were no more than three days out from port and the prospects of returning, if only for a while, to our families.  Perhaps it was because we all know that returning to port meant our pockets would be full of coin.

I roused myself from my bunk and ran towards the shouting.  By the time I arrived, flames were rising from the waist where the cooper and the smith did their work.  John Ferguson was there close to the flames,  was calling for another bucket.  A man was drawing water from the sea and passing it forward to others until it reached John. I joined the line stepping between John and another mate.  The was heat near unbearable and we backed away trying to stay clear of the flames even as we worked to douse it.

A plea for help from some other part of the ship cut our line in half as men abandoned our efforts to aid others.  As we back away from the flames once more, I begged John to let me step in to relieve him from the blunt of the flames.  But he would have none of it.

That is why I am here to tell my tale and he is not.

As the flames continued their advance, John stumbled, ensnaring his foot in a coil of rope.  I was on him quick as rabbit.  In the scalding heat, we both worked to release him from the trap.  But the more we worked the more he seemed to become entangled.

The inferno was but a few feet from us.  Kneeling there, I felt as if my body might rupture into flames at any moment.  The men who had been on our line were spasmodically tossing buckets at the flame, and I could hear the stray drops of it searing on the deck, bursting in to burning wisps of steam.

“Yuv got ta go,” John told me, his eyes full of fear and resignation.

“Just hold on.” I shouted. “I’ve almost got it.”

“Dunt be a fool, Virgil. Go now while yuv still a chance.”

The flames were so close I could smell the singing of hair on my arms and the back of my neck. Smaller flames licked at the soles of my boots, turning them into an oven in which my feet cooked.  An explosion from below, perhaps caused by flames finding some mislaid cache of powder or ammunition, blew angry red embers into the sky.   I felt them searing through my shirt, blistering my back.  Later, I would find the angry red welts when I laid in the sick bay.

That’s when I knew I was out of time.  And that John was too.

As the flames began to engulf us, I leapt over the railing, forgetting I could barely swim, and plunged into the sea.  As I did, I heard the screams of a man being cooked alive.  I could smell the burning of flesh and bone. In my minds eye, I saw his hair aflame, his beard being consumed.  John Ferguson was roasting in the flames.  I heard his screams long after he had stopped.

I hear them still today.

 

*****

I don’t remember being pulled from the waters or how I stayed afloat.   I don’t remember my shouts for deliverance.  Somehow the flames had been doused and most of the sails had been spared the fury of the fire.  Invictus was still making way for home.  I found little comfort in the knowledge I would soon be home, shaken as a I was.

I’m not sure when I realized it, but I could tell the men who were caring for me did so begrudgingly.  I heard muted voices whispering judgments and condemnation.  You see, John was beloved by the crew, the whole lot of them.  He could do the work of two men.  He could tell tales that would make men laugh or fill them with fear.  God himself would not take such a man as this, they reasoned.  His death was more tragic than that of another six that had perished that night.  They needed a reason for their loss of him.

Sometime during those final days of our journey, I became that reason.

I’ll spare you their words.  I know you’ve grown wear of listening to me.  But suffice it to say by the time we arrived home, burnt and broken as we were, stories of how I had abandoned my friend were set like hardened mortar.   At first, I tried to explain that I had asked John to step aside.  I tried telling them how his feet were somehow impossibly tangled. But the more I protested the harsher their protestations became.

With time my wounds healed.  At least those on my feet and back did.  The sea was all I knew.  But it took two years before anyone would let me hire on to a crew.  Even then I heard their whispers.  I saw their furtive glances.  So I kept to myself.  Did my job and tried to keep clear of trouble.  I even looked for opportunities to redeem myself, but the opportunity for heroic deeds never came.

John’s screams still haunt me. Like echoes from the past they sound when I am about to drift off to sleep.  Sometimes they wake me in the night.  But sometimes in my dreams, John Ferguson does not die.  Sometimes I free him from his bindings.  In those dreams John is grateful.  In those days we still talk of leaving the sea for life ashore.

I began my tale telling you I am a coward.  Perhaps that is true.  Perhaps I should have fought harder for my name. Perhaps I should have shaken men who had seen my efforts but were unwilling to stand with me.  Perhaps my cowardice kept me from such efforts.  But if I am a coward that is only part of who I am.  I am—I am a sailor.  I am a friend.  A father to his children.  A faithful husband.  I am a man who never took a day’s pay without returning a full day’s work for my wages.

Some day soon I suppose I will not wake up.  I will die in my sleep and if what the priests and ministers say, I will face my Maker.  If that is so, I will look Him in the eye and hope he is more forgiving than those men with whom I sailed.  If he is, then perhaps I will see my friend John once more.

If not, I suppose I am destined for the lake of fire.  But I have endured fire before and lived to tell of it.

I suppose I will do so once more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Vulnerable Moment

It’s been an interesting week or two for me. And I’m debating just how much of it to share. But I’ve always said writing is how I make sense of the world, so in the hopes of encouraging you, I’ll be a little more vulnerable than I might be otherwise. 

While some people seem comfortable with sharing every bit of pain they experience, I’m generally not one of them. But pain, if we let it, can be a wise teacher. If we look carefully for the source of our pain, be it physical or emotional, we can learn a lot about ourselves and maybe even others too. This past Sunday,  

my latest lesson with pain began at the end of a lawn mower starter cord. 

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at starting this shiny red contraption by turning the ignition key, I resorted to the old-fashioned way of cranking the ornery beast. On the third pull of the rope it roared to life. And simultaneously, I felt the unmistakable pain of a disc exploding in my lower back. It was unmistakable because I’ve ruptured two discs in the past and had two very successful surgical repairs as a result of my misadventures. Now, I’ve had three surgeries. And as I write these words I’m hopeful the skill of my surgeon will result in a claim of a third successful surgery. 

After starting the mower, I somehow pressed through the pain and got the yard cut. Albeit, it wasn’t my best work. When I was finished, patches of grass I’d missed dotted the landscape like tiny oases of Mother Nature’s refusal to be tamed. I’m sure my neighbors thought the work had been completed by some near-sighted nine-year-old who just wished he was playing a video game. 

Over the following Monday and Tuesday a series of MRIs, X-Rays and CT scans confirmed my own diagnosis and my doctor promised to see me again Thursday. Only when he had reviewed all of my deductible-based evidence he had amassed would he then offer his thoughts about surgery. In the meantime, he put me on a mixture of medications intended to make me “comfortable.” But no amount of narcotics was sufficient to make me comfortable prior to that Thursday appointment. And Wednesday morning I awoke in such perfectly exquisite pain that I couldn’t get out of the bed.  

Since I live alone and am reticent to let people see me in pain, I pondered the most dignified way I could get to the ER. After an hour or so of debating with myself, I called the fine people at Huntsville Emergency Medical Services Incorporated. The kind dispatcher wondered if she should stay on the line with me while help was on its way, but I told her I was going to need to crawl to the front door to unlock it. Which I did with the stealth of Gollum muttering “my precious.” It wasn’t a pretty sight I’m sure. And you’d be surprised at all the things you see when you crawl through your home. But that’s another tale for another day. 

When Joe and Charlie arrived, the EMTs, they helped me navigate from the bed to the gurney. This was not pleasant. And I’ll confess there was no dignity in it. In truth, I was six feet seven and 250 pounds of helplessness, alternately cursing (not at them) and crying out in discomfort. As a writer, I’m rather proud of how well I  managed to string together bits of profanity in a creative symphony of pleading. Nouns became verbs; verbs became adjectives; and adjectives became pronouns in my litany of prayer for both the saved and the damned. 

In a moment of unexpected but profound comfort, Joe smiled and noted I was hanging off both ends of the gurney, suggesting that I  might not fit in the freight elevator. We laughed at that in a kind of macabre amusement. But after a bit of work, and my awkwardly pulling my feet into the gurney, the door finally closed and we were on our way. Mercifully, the only other witness to my awkward exit from the building that morning were the kind eyes of Kathy, the property manager at my apartment. Passing by her, I tried to remember if I’d paid my rent. (I had.) 

So what of my pain? To see me was to know something was wrong, but there was no blood. There were no broken or wrapped bones. There was no visible evidence that I was injured beyond the contortions of my face. All I had was the claim of my own distress.  

On the ride to the ER I worried I would face a skeptical medical staff weary of those poor souls whose addiction drives them again and again to the ER in hopes of a prescription for narcotics. God knows I was hoping for more than that. I wanted the good stuff. The really good stuff that makes the world seem like an effortless place to be. Hopes of Dilauded and Valium danced in my brain like joyful children playing in a spring shower. 

But what if they didn’t believe me? What if they left me to writhe in pain for hours while some secret society decided if I was worthy of their magical potions. Thankfully, I knew I had insurance, so I reassured myself that maybe I’d be okay. I tried to look at the nurse I met as if didn’t care if I got the meds or not, hoping my feigned indifference would convince them I wasn’t a pill shopper. 

Fortunately, I got the medicine I needed. But as the discomfort subsided, I realized how afraid I had been to let anyone see my pain. I hadn’t wanted a friend to drive me to the ER. I didn’t want to be a bother. I hadn’t wanted to seem helpless. I didn’t want people who respect–or at least like me–to see me near tears or hear me cursing like a demon being exorcised from a beleaguered soul. While I would gladly have come to the aid of any one of my friends or family who needed such assistance, I just didn’t want to be seen as vulnerable.  

But now, since my surgery, I’ve had to rely on people who love me to bring me food, take me to the doctor and even clean up my apartment. When you have back pain whatever you drop in the floor stays on the floor for a while. But strangely, all their kindness hasn’t been awkward. It’s been redemptive. By allowing others to help me, I’ve learned some things about myself and about them too. It has continued to reinforce the knowledge of just how rich my really life is—even with spine I’d trade for a couple of chickens, a goat and a nice cheeseball. 

The phone calls and texts and messages I’ve received during the monotony of my recovery have been overwhelming. And the friends who have come with a cup of coffee and sat with me, if only for just a few minutes, have made a profound difference in my recovery.  

Pain, no matter what kind it might be, is a nefarious thing. It shrouds our mind with lies and unearths our deepest fears. It makes us wonder if we will ever return to the fragile thing we call “good health.” But I’m learning it is also a teacher. I’m learning not to run from it. I’m learning not to try to hide it behind a facade of perfection. No, I don’t wander through life asking people to indulge me while I tell them about all my trials and pain. But I’ve widened my circle just a bit more. I’ve let a few more people see what’s really going on inside me. It’s made a big difference in my life. I know it’s scary. Maybe you should try it too.

And if your looking for someone to talk to, message me. We can get a cup of coffee when I’m back on my feet. Until then, we can chat by phone or swap a few texts. 

Peace. 

Long Distance–Chapter 4: A Brief Fiction

Author’s Note:  If you haven’t read chapters 1-3, scroll back and you’ll find them in the three preceding posts.  

 

Ian didn’t sleep that night.  Haunted by the wraiths of what if, he kept turning the events of the last few days over in his head.  What if I don’t call?  What if I do?  What if this is a scam?  He kept trying to solve for all the variables, find the most probable outcome, and minimize his risks.  His mother had called it wrestling with God.  Only he wasn’t Jacob and come the dawn there would be no blessing.

 

Spreading a thin layer of shaving cream across his face, Ian saw a much older man than he’d seen in the mirror a week before.  “You look like hell,” he said to himself.  But somehow he managed to drag a razor across his face and remove the stubble along with a bit of his fatigue.  He splashed his face with cold water after he finished and slapped at his cheeks, coaxing some color into them.  When he finished dressing, he poured himself a second cup of coffee into his favorite mug and headed for work.

 

He had told himself he would call the Alethia during his morning commute—just be done with it.  But he was rationalizing why he should wait a little later in the day when his cell phone rang. He knew it was Mike because he had assigned his friend with Vader’s March as a ringtone.  The bom-pom-pa-pom, pomp-pa-pom, pom-pa-pom of the dark side roared through his speakers.  He spilled half a cup of hot coffee into his lap.

 

“’Sup dude?” asked Mike.

 

“Well, if you must know, I’m cursing you at the moment.  I spilled hot coffee in my lap when the phone rang.”

 

“Don’t be a hater, bro,” said his unfazed friend.  “We still on for racquetball tonight?”

 

“I dunno, Mike.  I didn’t sleep at all last night.  Not any.  I’m exhausted.  I look like a Bassett Hound with a case of chronic fatigue syndrome.”

 

Ian hadn’t expected it, but Mike actually showed some genuine concern for his condition.  He told Ian he had been worried about him.  He knew Ian hadn’t been sleeping.  But he hadn’t wanted to mention it.  It was part of the man-card thing.

 

“Are you still wondering about that phone number?”

 

Ian paused.  He was in no mood for any of Mike’s tough love.  But Mike’s faint compassion gave him enough courage to take the chance.

 

“Yeah.  I am.”

 

“Look, I know you’re gonna do whatever you gonna do, no matter what I say.  And that means you’re gonna call her.  So just do it.  Get it over with and see if you can’t get some peace about this thing,” Mike said with an unfamiliar restraint.

 

“I will.  I was thinking about it when you called.”

 

Inbound traffic was worse than usual that morning, moving like a sloth through the trees of Atanta’s asphalt jungle.  The congestion boxing him Ian, both on the highway and within his own thoughts.  So he picked up his phone and punched up his contact list.  He pressed Alethia. 

 

She wasn’t in his list of favorites.