I Return to Color

The greys and dismal suffocating black

have been constant on me as moldy blankets

It’s been on the outside of my eye

the lens a glassy hard barrier to color

I’ve let it keep its distance

while I chalked my outline in coal

But under the island’s autumnal sun

tones that vary powder my skin

A faint blue or rose or slickened green remain

the start of a welcome stain

 

The greens started it

Calling my name from high above

and whispering too under foot

And the yellow dazzling rose

a blossom so pert and aromatic…

Crimson and purple leapt out of Japanese broadsheets

and then giggled from hanging nests as we sauntered by

Orange smeared my sleeve with her saucy slobber

until I looked in the mirror       and saw myself ablaze

 

9.12.16

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Things Past Due

Old Moon owl appears in the World-cold dusk
steady atop a stark tree’s crown, it defies Earth’s pull
It should be a hawk, we glibly say
while spying through the glass
But black ears hug the rounded head and make itself known

Old Moon owl, the dark peering presence,
comes to tell us the end is near
Of what, we wonder as dread buds
one shiver wisping down the bone

Old Moon owl heralds the dying of things past due
Calls us to look at what finally must go
a friend, a work, a thought…a thorough way of Being
Lay it down, the Great Silence commands
or risk it taking your Life

Old Moon owl is gone at our next glance out
Perhaps it wasn’t there at all, we feign to one another
Its trace remains, a haunting
that returns at the Nadir

Old Moon owl visits our downy pillow
The deep night hunter allows no refuting what is certain
But choice is ours
to continue one more year dead
or cut away what holds us, pinned beneath driven snow

 

Posted in New Year, Poetry, Transformation | 5 Comments

Not Your Usual Holiday Letter

homeless manI received this letter more than fifteen years ago from a friend named Joyce. At the time, she was the executive director of a small homeless shelter. I’d met Joyce a few years earlier as a new consultant; she was my first client. We worked together for more than a year transforming her struggling, often inept, but so-full-of-heart organization. It was extremely challenging work for me – not because the organization’s issues were difficult but because the shelter was like stepping into another world. A world that welcomed, by its mission, poverty, loneliness, filth, depression, and mental illness. Pretty much a list of my greatest fears. As I watched Joyce, day after day, run that shelter and bring so much solace and strength to suffering people, it became perfectly clear to me that she was a Saint. Joyce passed away a few years ago, but I often re-read her letter, not only to remember what an extraordinary person she was, but also to remind myself of my great fortune this life.  

Dear Rebecca,

Sorry this Christmas card is getting to you after New Year’s. I get so caught up in my work at the homeless shelter that it’s easy to forget everything else. Last week one of my guys (Junior) was convicted of first degree murder. The judge hasn’t sentenced him yet, but he’ll probably get life in prison. To the average person reading the newspaper that might sound fair enough. God knows that he was warned enough times about his drinking. Still, life imprisonment seems like too harsh a penalty for stabbing one of the meanest, most violent men in town. The murder victim’s brother beat two young girls to death a few years ago and got off on a technicality. It’s not very Christian to be placing value judgement on a dead man, but most of us who knew him are glad that he’s no longer stalking the streets.

Considering that Junior was in an alcoholic blackout the night of the murder, he should’ve been convicted of something less than premeditated murder. I think the jury was swayed by a convincing DA and their understandable feeling of fear of homeless bums.

The only consolation is that Junior was in the process of drinking himself to death like another one of my guys who died of exposure last Sunday night. We don’t have many town drunks. The ones who come into the shelter are pretty pathetic. Most of the time I offer them a cup of coffee and a few kind words. The last time I saw R.C. I gave him clean clothes and a shower pass because he had pooped his pants. What more can you do for someone who is almost dead?

In the past two years, five of my guys have succumbed to their alcoholism and many more have done jail time for the trouble they’ve gotten into when they were drinking. It’s too bad that we can’t implant an anti-alcohol device in their bodies, sort of like birth control implants. It would certainly relieve the over-crowding in the prisons.

But I wonder how many of the alcoholics would find other ways of killing themselves? On my monthly statistic sheets that I have to fill out for the government, they want to know how many of our homeless clients are suffering from mental illness. I’d like to answer their questions with a few of my own. How many men and women in their right minds would choose to sleep outdoors in the freezing cold and pouring rain night after night, year in and year out? Who would opt to be at odds with the police, to be hunted down by police dogs, to have their campsites raided and torn down? Who would chose to live in constant fear?

All still really good questions, Joyce. I only wish you were here to help me sort them out.

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What Not to Do at the Border

Crossing the US/Canadian border recently, the following conversation ensued. I highly recommend against the types of responses I gave, although they were given in all earnestness.

Guard: Do you have any weapons in the vehicle?

RR: [looks from guard to husband]

Guard: Why are you looking at him?

RR: Uh, because I’m not in charge of that.

Guard (incredulous): “Not in charge of THAT??”

RR: Uh, well, what I mean is, I don’t have any…I never…I…

Husband (interrupting, thank God): We have no weapons in this car.

Guard [now looking at Husband]: Do you have any guns in the vehicle?

Husband (repeats): No.

Guard: Do you own guns where you come from? (As if we are from the “awful killing place.”)

Husband: Yes.

RR: [stomach now in throat…looks from Husband to Guard]

Guard: When was the last time you had guns in this vehicle?

RR: [looks stupidly from Guard to Husband]

Husband: Never.

Guard: Is there any chance we’d find a round or a holster in there?

RR: [madly trying to picture every crevice of the car, just in case…a holster???]

Husband: No.

RR: [by this time fully expecting to be pulled over and every bit of our carefully packed provisions searched.]

Guard (looking irritatedly at the moron driving the car [aka RR]: Ok, move on.

WELCOME TO CANADA

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Duck, Duck, Eagle

IMG_8880My morning ritual includes sipping hot coffee on the long porch overlooking the mudflats. I like to check in on life: where the ducks are milling about, if the otter is floating by or the eagles are sitting on the island across the way, are there herons in view and if the geese are disgruntled or not. There’s a lot going on, even when it looks fairly calm. But this morning was different.

This morning the honking and squawking of geese and ducks filled the air. And from the sounds of it, a lot of them. My eyes traced back and forth across the sky and between the islands in search of the ruckus’ source. I felt like a spectator at Wimbledon and nearly made myself dizzy. Nothing. Until suddenly, the sky filled with actual birds – hundreds of them flying in great clouds, in all directions. Geese going this way, ducks going that, and song birds flitting about in between. Even a heron grunted its prehistoric call as it flew up and over the house.

In the mix, I also spied several eagles. There are a pair that often settle themselves in high branches on the island close by. I look for them and when I spot them, somehow am comforted. But this morning, there were three or four eagles soaring mostly on the opposite side of the island, and I’d get a glimpse as one or another of them would swoop into view. As I sat watching, I thought it was like a grand avian highway had just opened up, and I wondered what was causing all the commotion.

After a while, things seemed to return to relative calm and I’d finished my cup, so I headed back inside to make another. From my spot on the couch, I looked up as I dragged my laptop onto my knees. My eye caught something big sitting on the flats. I had to see what it was. Out the window, I saw what appeared to be a great black bird, settled by itself in the muck of low tide. A raven, I wondered. Peering through the binocs, I thought it looked too big for a raven, but the head wasn’t the snowy white of an eagle. I went back out to the porch for a closer look.

As the door eased open, I heard the unmistakable shriek and realized that this great bird on the flat was its source. The shadow of the island shrouded its brilliant head, but the size of the bird could only be one thing. Why was it screeching so, I asked myself. As I watched through the binocs, it didn’t move except to open its mouth in a shrill cry. Just then three other eagles flew overhead. They returned some of the call and then took off down the inlet. The lone eagle sat unmoving on the flat. I decided to sit with it to see what it would do.

After a bit, the eagle quieted down, but still it didn’t move. Nor did it reach down and peck where I assumed it must have a fish. And since it didn’t, I wondered if it might be stuck. And if its calls had actually been calls for help. Worry bubbled up in my core – pity for this great master of the air, apparently grounded by who knew what. Now I resolved to stay with the eagle, to make sure it was okay.

I took a few pictures, its head turning this way and then that. I waited.

And then, out of nowhere, the great wings spread. I snapped the camera. With one deft movement, up it lifted. Snap, snap. Higher it rose, revealing something dark hanging limp from its talons. Snap, snap, snap. And then in one grand arc, it rose higher and lifted its feet back under the glistening white tail until whatever it held was magically gone. It flew right across my view without any hint of what it carried. It was as sure and perfect as anything I’d ever seen.

Back inside, I immediately reviewed the pictures. I zoomed in. Closer. I’d assumed the eagle had lifted a fish into the air, but my examination showed what could only have been a beak.

So that was it. The eagles were hunting on the fly. The whole inlet of birds knew. Perhaps one of the eagles actually knocked that duck right out of the air. Maybe that’s what caused the commotion. And the eagle, whom I’d presumed to pity, did exactly as it knew to do. Not shouting for help or from glory or pride, but just simply making it clear that it had its prey. And then waiting. Whether for the duck to smother in the muddy water or to bleed out from the talon’s puncture, or for the coast to be clear, no one knows.

As I gazed at the flaccid beak in the camera’s viewer, I thought of beaks used by other ducks with such perfect precision as they feed on cold and dark waters. I realized that, of course eagles kill ducks, not just fish. It made perfect sense, but somehow having witnessed it saddened me.

And then I thought how silly it is to make up these stories that cause pity – for eagles or ducks or whatever. The trick is to be a witness to all and to feel the simple majesty in that.

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Fallen Leaves and a Squirrel’s Crucifixion

leaf rakingIt was already mid-December, but the last round of fallen leaves still covered my sister’s backyard. I was in town for a visit, and she asked if I’d help her collect them. We togged up and headed out into the balmy winter afternoon.

While she gathered the various instruments of the task, I surveyed the yard. The leaf layer wasn’t thick; I could still see grass under them all and they’d curled up their edges, which would make easy raking them into fluffy mounds. Not like some places where the leaves mat down flat, clinging to the ground like a second skin. Those are really difficult to deal with, I thought. It also wasn’t windy. Where I’m from, it seems leaf raking and wind go hand-in-hand, so swirls of leaves fill the air as one tries to corral them in one place, then shove them fast into bag or can. This would be much easier than that, I mused.

I felt pleasure at the idea of raking my sister’s yard. First, I was glad to be of help while her husband was away on sabbatical. Also, it’d been some years since I’d last raked; my husband and I moved to the plains where there are few trees and the wind takes care of what minimal leaves they shed. I missed it, among the simple tasks I enjoy for their immediate satisfaction. And too, raking is something I associate with my father, who died nearly a decade ago. He’d rake the leaves into piles for his four children to jump in; we’d throw armfuls into each other’s hair and sometimes stuff a handful down my brother’s shirt. My father would end up raking twice as much, even with my sister and me helping with our miniature rakes. And when it was done, he’d light the leaves afire out in the alley, luscious-smelling smoke wafting high in the autumn air.

These memories came to an abrupt end when I nearly stepped on it. A dead squirrel lay outstretched right in the middle of the yard. I shuddered at the sight, noticing that it looked more asleep than dead. It must’ve fallen fairly recently, I reasoned. Or perhaps the moist air here was keeping it fresh. Where I’m from it would’ve dried out in a day or two.

Just then my sister emerged from the dark garage, bearing a gigantic rake in one hand and dragging a voluminous and mysterious green tarp with the other. I called out “dead squirrel!” waiting for her expected response.

“What!?” I could hear the horror in her voice.

“Yup, dead. It must’ve fallen from the tree.”

“No, gross! Where is it?” she asked, slowly walking over.

“Right here,” I said pointing at it and backing away. She looked quickly, nearly gagged and turned right around.

“How did it get there?” she whined, turning back to see that we couldn’t just work around it. “How could a squirrel fall from a tree?”

“I think that’s how they die,” I said matter-of-factly. “They get old or sick and simply fall when it’s their time.” I thought I recalled my husband explaining this to me once. “But whatever, it’s your yard, so you have to get rid of it.”

“Gross! How???” she whined again. I was unrelenting.

“Get a shovel and fling it into the bushes.”

“Eeee—ew!” But she saw nothing for it, and hang-dogged it back to the garage.

When she emerged again, she carried the shovel. Approaching the dead body gingerly, she got within a few feet of the poor thing, but stopped short, howling how she couldn’t look.

There were some young men playing hoops catty-corner from the back fence. We could hear them calling out as they scored. I said I’d be happy to ask them for help, saying that men have no problem with dead stuff. It’d only take them a minute. But she wouldn’t hear of it. She sidled up to the thing once again.

“The sight of it makes me sick!” she wailed.

“Don’t look at it!”

“How can I fling it if I don’t look at it?” she asked in despair.

She took another run at it, moving in closer this time. I could see that she just might do it, so backed up out of what I thought would be her flinging radius. I gave her a wide berth and encouraged her.

“Just fling it right back there, into those bushes,” I said, pointing. “It’ll be long gone by spring. No one will even notice it back there. It’ll be a nice sort of burial ground for it,” I added to comfort her.

“Maybe I could throw it into the neighbor’s yard?” she wondered aloud. I couldn’t believe my ears. My elder sister, so proper and just, considering launching dead squirrel detritus from her property to her neighbor’s? I knew she was hurting.

“You can’t do that. Come on, your back bushes there will do just fine. You can do it.”

Grimacing, gagging and eyes a bit teary, she went for it. She placed the shovel next to the limp body, then suddenly, shutting her eyes, lifted and hurled, as she let out a bit of a shriek. Time held as I watched the thing fly in an arc through the air. I wondered if it would indeed end up over the fence or if it was just going more straight up and would land back in the grass. As it sailed by, I saw that it would fall short of the fence and clear the grass; my sister had done it! Just as I was about to whoop for joy, what I couldn’t predict, happened.

My sister’s throw had somehow managed to land that squirrel carcass not under but in the bushes. It caught by its forelegs in some tight branches and hung there, head resting on its chest, hind legs straight down beneath it – a kind of miniature crucifix silhouetted against the late afternoon sky.

My sister couldn’t believe her bad luck, and moaned that the thing would hang there, plaguing her all winter. I tried to reassure her, telling her that her aim had been impeccable, and that the squirrel body was hardly noticeable hanging among the branches. And surely, it would soon enough dry up. In fact, I wasn’t at all sure this was true, given how moist it was here, but saw no reason to mention it.

We turned away from the darkened icon and started in on our intended chore. I raked at first, with her demonstrating the collection system she’d cleverly established. Instead of smashing armfuls of leaves into can or black plastic bag, she loaded them onto the big green tarp, which she then dragged to the street. After transferring the leaves from tarp to gutter, she explained, they’d be picked up by special leaf-collection trucks supplied by the city. The city recycles all those leaves into useful mulch, a much better idea than burning them, I thought, even while harboring some longing for their magical aroma.

As we raked side by side, just as we had as children and then as teenagers before we both left home for college, I thought of my father. And how he might just then be with us, delighting in a moment so alive with his legacy. And I thought of the squirrel, whose falling death made an adventure of leaf-raking for two sisters, and a tale to tell of the elder’s uncommon valor in the commonplace.

She’s like that, my sister.

Posted in Nature, Story | Tagged , | 6 Comments

I Drowned Again Last Night

I drowned again last night

as I am wont to do.

I fight the blackest ocean

flogging insistent seas.

Against my deepest Self I flail

treasure so far below.

When at last, my crown submerged,

I take first liquid breath

and feel its soft sweetness

flow inside my chest.

How many times must I surrender

before it’s clear to me

that I am pure Sawol

always meant to Be?

Posted in conflict, Poetry, Spirituality | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Parade Illuminations

Last night was the Parade of Lights in our small, farming community of Brighton. We’d been once before, but not for many years. Last time it was so cold the soles of my feet went numb. ShopneckStarsBut we had reason to go again this year: my husband helped build and electrify the local Boys and Girls Club float, with the apt appellation “Reaching for the Stars.” So, we pulled on long underwear before our blue jeans, stuffed our woolen socks inside Sorels, grabbed hats, scarves and heavy gloves, and squeezed our swollen selves into the car.

We parked a few blocks away and walked over in the brisk evening air. People we didn’t know spoke to us – about the cold and finding parking, not complaining, just making conversation. It was that kind of night. I knew it was destined when we arrived just as the lead police car came into sight.

The parade route moves southward along Main, then makes a sharp turn east on Bridge Street, where the floats seem to go straight on forever (or to Kansas, which is nearly the same). We wended our way along Bridge looking for our spot. People packed both sides, astonishing us – we had no idea we had so many neighbors out here where the lots are in acres.

We crossed the railroad tracks, one of the main north-south lines in the West, and I noticed a small girl playing there. I shivered at the thought of a train barreling through. Peering down the track I sbandaw the bright lights of what looked like an engine, and said that they must’ve cancelled the trains. My husband stated, “The train stops for no one – they were here first.” I pondered that as we moved on through the crowd.

The first floats were right behind us so we hurried to pick a spot. A small opening along the street beckoned and I headed for it. Busy looking up at the blazing colors oozing toward us, I didn’t notice the over-sized Rottweiler with a homemade collar of the biggest chain I’d ever seen taking up residence there. His owner gripped the chain close to the great expanse of the dog’s neck. No wonder there was an open spot here, I said to myself as my skin pricked under all my layers.

My husband, dogman, soon was greeting the beast with his hand turned palm in, as all dog people do. The dog seemed nonplussed. I positioned myself with my husband between me and HIM.

The parade wascheerleaders coming on fast now, with marching bands doing jazzy renditions of Silent Night and Jingle Bells, followed by cheerleaders in not-enough clothes, shrieking out unintelligible cheers, their purple metallic pompoms glistening under the street lights.

The floats were dragged along by gargantuan dual-lies pumping out noxious diesel exhaust under cover of pretty lights. About every other float was sponsored by a church – the Methodists, the Baptists, the Catholics, and a variety of other unspecified Christians all made their appearance. Some had Santa back there, others had bunches of cold-looking kids and boisterous moms waving and yelling “MerryonfireforchristChristmas!” Only one had a manger, with Mary wrapped in a light blue sheet over a down coat, which made her look more like a snowman than the Blessed Virgin. The best of these for me was the charming rendering of Brighton’s historic chapel, complete with bell tower, lit from within. A classic Chevy truck, diminutive by comparison, led it sweetly down the street.

Just then we heard the tones of what sounded like Middle Eastern music, and we craned our necks to see what was coming. Behind the idling trucks and stampedes of majorettes, the sound of the music grew. And then we saw them. Two enormous flags waving: one US and one Israeli. The Jews were in the parade! My husband was raised Jewish, and I knew it was the first night of Hanukkah. I’d liked the idea of the Parade of Lights taking place on the first night of the Festival of Light, but I didn’t think we’d see that represented in the Brighton parade. You see, Brighton is a bit of a relic. It sits just 15 miles north of Denver, a major urban hub, but looks pretty much like it did in the ’50s – a small town of old white farm families anHanukkad second generation Mexican immigrants who both share a clear agreement about Jesus.

As the truck with the flags came toward us, I spotted the over-sized Menorah lighting up everything from its place in the truck bed. And a dozen people dressed in flowing purple pants waved more banners as they danced down the road. How proud I was of our little town of Brighton’s hat tip to religious plurality!

Next up were the corporate-sponsored floats, with amply strung lights covering Home Depot’s rig. But their electricity wasn’t working, so it slinked by in shadow. “They should’ve called my husband,” I thought, noting the bitter irony. But Remax pulled off just the right mix of advertising and good fun by sporting ridiculous candy cane hats made of wire that bounced high above the wearers heads as they went by.

A baying hohoundund, goats, a camper colossus, acrobats and a “monster” antique firetruck with wheels as tall as me all came along. Horses donning lights, evergreen boughs, ribbons and riders skittered along here and there, while bundled-up walkers handed out candy to the kids.

From a decked out golf cart, one lady bountiful threw palm-sized stuffed animals to the crowd. Just as I wondered where she kept them all, a monolithic dump truck came up behind her, with a man inside it tossing down grocery bags stuffed with the little furries. Pointing at the ggoatsolf cart, my husband shouted “We should decorate our riding mower and enter next year!” In my enthusiasm, I thought it sounded like fun.

All the while, I kept my eye on the Rottweiler, straining against his chain to get at the poor, unsuspecting goats, his master scolding him gruffly. I hoped he’d had his supper.

And then the Boys and Girls Club float came around the corner – its delicate white stars seemed to dance in the breeze as it made its way toward us. I noticed the last-minute addition of sunglasses adorning its top – the teenage interpretation of “reaching for the stars” clashing with my Shopneckown more Heavenly one. We yelled and cheered as it went by, every light lit and every star staying put. I felt my husband sigh with relief as a phalanx of tiny clubbers covered in cardboard, glittery star cut-outs followed behind his feat.

The best in show though was a cement mixer so-carefully adorned in lights I marveled at just whose handiwork it could Cement mixerbe. The rotund mixer’s strands of red and white lights made it look like a huge candy cane. The Rottweiler’s master and I cheered loudly for the effort, and a guy walking beside it called out to us proudly “20,000 lights!” We were stunned and took a closer look.

A guy next to Rottweiler-Man noted they could’ve used a few more on the back of the mixer truck, which I saw was indeed dark in a few places. To this, R-Man replied dryly, “Yea, twenty-one thousand lights would’ve been better.”

I don’t know what it was – the cold sinking in, the simple beauty of lights in the dark night, the camaraderie of community, the train waiting for a small town’s parade, or a little boy in a too-big hat – but that just struck me funny, aboynd I laughed.

As I did, that gigantic dog nuzzled his enormous head against my leg. I reached down and pet him.

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Every So Often

Every so often, it’s good to do something that scares the hell out you. To choose to do it.

Not that running into it by accident isn’t also useful, but choosing to put yourself in a situation that scares you makes a statement that happening upon it doesn’t. The statement is: “I’m committed to my growth.”

That’s why I took my first helicopter ride a couple of weeks ago. I saw the opportunity and thought it was scary enough to push my comfort zone, but not so much that I’d pass out and miss the whole thing.

As I waited in the hangar for my pilot, I felt the heady infusion of adrenalin drip into my system. My not having had time for breakfast before I arrived now was perfect. I listened as a frowzy man told me about helicopters and learning to fly them and why he was in Denver and how it’s so much hotter where he’s from in Texas and on and on. He was a hangar junkie. I didn’t mind. It meant I didn’t have to talk and he kept my mind distracted.

When the pilot came for me, his broad smile put me at ease. His safety briefing did not. “Don’t ever move beyond the door frame toward the back of the helicopter. That rear blade moves so fast it’s invisible. There’ve been some ugly accidents. When you exit, be sure to duck. The top rotor blades bend at the edge, hitting me about here (pointing to the bridge of his nose). In the event that I catch on fire, you’ll grab the fire extinguisher just there, pull the pin, and spray me, being sure to avoid my face since the contents will smother me while I’m burning, and I’ll get really annoyed.” I thought he might be overestimating my abilities.

As we sat waiting for the tower to give us permission to begin take off, I watched the rotor blade’s shadow on the tarmac. It mesmerized. For some reason, it appeared slower and jerkier – like movement under a strobe light – than the real thing. I wondered about that. And then the pilot put the chopper in gear, and slowly and a bit unevenly, the skids left the ground. We hung there. A foot or so of air cushion under us. It was surreal and magical and put the feeling of new love in my stomach.

After a bit, we glided out onto the runway. We were still just a few feet off the ground. I watched it move below me. My mind couldn’t really take in the movement and the feeling – the ground passes below but you feel nothing. Like a magic carpet. But then I realized I’d never been on a magic carpet – so it was more like what I imagined being on a magic carpet would be like. I off-handedly wondered if I’d be terrified at full height. But for now, I could only think, wow, how totally cool this was. Totally.

The pilot slowly spun us around, explaining something called “sympathetic resonance,” which I loved the sound of but, of course, didn’t understand. Something about if things weren’t attuned just right, the helicopter could implode from the mis-matched vibration. Yea, whatever. I was too awash in a magic carpet trance of fascination to absorb a physics lesson.

Then the nose headed down the runway; wind rushed faster past the windshield. As we picked up speed, suddenly the rotor lifted us up. There’s a moment when the helicopter is finally free of the ground and the used air from hovering, when the rotor takes in its first fresh air, like the first gulp after a deep sea dive, that the ability to lift really kicks in – it’s called Effective Translational Lift. The sudden upward surge is exhilarating, and coupled with the marked drop-off of the ground as we soared high over the turnpike below, bloody euphoric.

The pilot watched me and smiled, knowing the exact moment and the feeling, reliving it through me, through each of his new passengers each time. No wonder he loves his job.

In moments, we were at 800 feet going 110 mph, the pilot’s voice buffeted by the roar of the wind. Elation. A kind of giddy, maybe-I’ll-die-but-what-can-I-do-about-it sensation kicked in. In my glee, I pointed to something. My hand reached just beyond the windshield, and in an instant my arm whipped backward before I could pull it in. I felt terror. My mind flashed pictures of my arm being broken against the helicopter’s metal frame, my wedding ring being torn from my finger and sailing off into the ether below, my body being dragged from the confines of the cabin and following it down. I must’ve stared wild-eyed at the pilot. He smiled sheepishly, telling me he’d forgotten to mention keeping your arms inside the cockpit during the safety briefing.

I cradled my hand in my lap. I breathed deep. I felt my ring on my finger. And then I looked out at the crisp vista spreading below me. Fear ebbed; elation returned.

We were heading for downtown – the few skyscrapers of Denver jutting heavenward in the misty distance. Like a child, I reveled in spotting local landmarks: Invesco Field where the Broncos play (its gaping bowl empty and quiet), the glistening eel-shaped Platte River, the Art Museum that looks like a Klingon ship; the Catholic Basilica with its Gothic spires, and Colfax Avenue pointing eastward forever. So, I thought, this is the eagle’s view.

As we made our loop around the city, the pilot dipped the helicopter in my direction. Suddenly, instead of the cockpit floor below me, there was the far distant ground. I felt my body strain against the seat belt and my stomach lurch. I must’ve looked pleadingly at the pilot. He apologized, saying he’d put the cityscape on my side so I could enjoy the best view. When he leveled us out again, I was able to appreciate the gesture. As panic eased back to wild joy, I marveled at the close proximity of the two.

And then, headed back north again, toward home, I stopped myself from thinking it’d be over soon so I could enjoy every single second. Cool air nipped at my fingers, reminding me that autumn is on the approach. Sun glistened on Standley Lake, winking at me as we eased by. 110 mph feels like nothing at that height. I looked around for birds, wondering what it would be like to pass one, but the sky was empty. I reminded myself that birds and helicopters are best left unmet.

And in what seemed like moments, the pilot was spinning the helicopter back into its take off position inside the yellow circle painted on the cracked tarmac. His finesse was a spiritual act. We sat for awhile after we touched down, waiting for the rotor blades to stop. There was a hush on everything, while my body rang, tingling, shimmering with life. The pilot and I smiled at each other.

Standing in the face of fear is an awesome experience. No wonder there are thrill-seekers. The adrenalin is as addictive as crack. But there’s something more. Facing fear builds the ability to trust, to surrender. And perhaps it is this surrender – in this case, to the glory of an R44 climbing high in the air – that is enlivening. And I think, what if surrendering in each moment conjures this same shimmering feeling of life?

Now that’s worth a try.

Big kudos to pilot Josh and Rotors of the Rockies for the life-changing experience. I’ll be back!

And thanks to Third Way Center’s True Grit Silent Auction for giving me the idea and opportunity!

Posted in Nature, Spirituality, Story, Travel | Tagged | 5 Comments

Men Who Snap and Shoot

I’m not saying it isn’t horrific. It is.

I’m not saying we should take no notice. We should.

I’m not saying those slain shouldn’t be eulogized. They should.

I’m not saying the slayer’s frame of mind doesn’t count. It does.

I’m not saying there isn’t a gun issue. There is.

I’m not saying we ought not scrutinize the press. We ought.

I’m not saying politicians shouldn’t stop to take notice. They should.

I’m not saying we mustn’t grieve. We must.

What I am saying is that none of this is working. None of it is changing the situation. None of it is solving the problem of men who reach a point where slaying numbers of perfect strangers seems like a good solution to their woes.

Slaying perfect strangers is a good solution to their woes??

How does anyone get to such a preposterous idea?

I’m saying we’re missing this fundamental question in all of this. And if we really give a damn about changing it, as opposed to being inured to it – somehow accepting it as “the way things are” – being clear about what’s expected when it happens again – then we need to get much more serious about getting to the bottom of it.

If not, we’ll continue to argue over gun law, post pictures of candles and victims and young men on Facebook, cry over the nonsensicalness of it. And wait until it happens again to start all over. I guess that’s one choice.

I know we cannot possibly understand all the particular woes. Or identify the right warning signs. Or know the triggers. Or carry enough guns in all the places we live to “take these guys down.” So what’s the answer? We must teach our boys how to find solutions to their problems that do not involve violence. Simple.

I agree. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Or rather, men – white men, for the most part – mass murder people.

But until we’ve dealt with “the men” part of the problem, it seems like a good idea to get some of the guns out of the equation. I get the idea of having guns in the hands of “the people” so the “government” doesn’t think it can take over. But c’mon folks – how many guns does that take and do we really need automatic weapons in the mix? And the freedom to buy 6000 rounds of ammunition on the internet? (As my husband said, “if he’d bought 6000 marijuana seeds, he would’ve had someone knocking on his door before they were delivered.) And by the way, Colorado allows concealed weapons, so clearly that’s not the answer.

But going after the guns is only a stop-gap measure for the real issue: some men under pressure resort to violence. Simple as that. And complex as that. It’s gonna take a village to solve that one. So let’s get on it. Let’s form People Against Mass Murders. Let’s appoint a Mass Murder Czar and pay for task forces, and call for proposals and have them reviewed by panels of interdisciplinary experts, and develop specialized parenting clinics and establish a school curriculum with statewide standards for managing anger like we have for math. Let’s tax into oblivion violent video games sold to youth like we do cigarettes. Let’s set a glide path for ending mass murder in this country like we have for clean air. Let’s do what we do best in the US of A: take a gigantic, costly stand against this matter. 

Or not, but then let’s stop acting surprised when the next “tragedy” hits. 

By the way, here’s a bit of context: In 1959 Perry Smith and Richard Hickock killed four members of the Clutter family in Kansas, which Truman Capote memorialized in his best seller In Cold Blood in 1966, the same year that Charles Whitman stood in a tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and started shooting. Ronald Joseph “Butch” DeFeo, Jr. shot his whole family in 1974, inspiring the film The Amityville Horror. The McDonald’s slaying by James Oliver Huberty took place a decade later, one of a multitude of mass murders in the 1980s. They include the Cleveland School Massacre (1989) and an array of other school shootings, two post office shootings – resulting in the phrase “going postal,” and computer programmer Richard Farley’s former workplace killing spree in Sunnyvale, CA. Colin Ferguson shot and killed six people and injured 19 more on the Long Island Railroad in 1993. Colorado was put on the mass murder map by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in the infamous Columbine event of 1999. The Virginia Tech shooting by Seung-Hui Cho in 2007 resulted in 32 dead, and a psychiatrist shot 13, wounding 39 others at Fort Hood in  2009. And just last year,  Jared Lee Loughner showed up at a Safeway parking lot in Tuscon and shot six people, wounding 14 others including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

This, as I am sure you know, is a short list.

I’m not saying it doesn’t need to be stopped. It does.

See also Merit Badge and The Illusion of Conflict.

Posted in conflict, Culture, Leadership | Tagged , | 1 Comment