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Reality

Nothing just happens.  Is it some kind of cosmic happenstance that caused you and me to be living at this precise time in the construct of universal reality?  How was it that we came to be living beings at this exact juncture of what is?  If we could have chosen the most important century to inhabit, in the most influential political entity on earth, given the most fascinating technological amazements ever to be achieved in the history of history, how could we have chosen better than here and now?

Things keep happening to remind me of this serendipitous truthiness.  Last week my phone went bad like it always does when I venture into West Virginia.  When I returned to Ohio it did its best but couldn’t engage its GPS, so I chose to duck into my son’s house and borrow his WIFI to urge my iPhone back into sentient service.  It worked.  Then I left and stupidly abandoned my purse on his living room couch.  My phone is so much smarter than I.

That senior moment required that I meet Lane and his sweetie the next day and retrieve the purse that contained all my credit cards, cash, and personal ID.  Lane set a time and place to meet: The Starbucks close to Northgate Mall.  When I got close, I asked SIRI to find it for me, but all she would do was search, and search, and search…  The intersection of Colerain and US Route 275 is interesting enough, but how many times can you negotiate it before you begin to feel more than a bit foolish?

Finally I just gave up.  I rolled into an available parking lot and meandered about, turning the steering wheel wherever inspiration dictated.  I kept an eye out for the little green Starbucks Siren, but it was nowhere.  Finally, one set of turns put me into a parking area close to Colerain Avenue.  I hesitated, looked straight ahead, and there at eye level in six foot high green letters was STARBUCKS.  Not only that, but my Highlander was lined up with the premiere parking space right at the front door.  It was empty and beckoning.  “Come hither,” it said.  “Park.”

Was that the serendipity that I love to blather about?  It keeps happening, assuring everything stays on track, toward what I don’t know.  But I’m glad it does.  Like deja vu, whenever it happens I assume I must be on my right path.  I pulled in to the space, locked the car, entered the coffee store, and ordered a decaf tall cappuccino.  No sooner had I sat down to wait than a dearly familiar male voice behind me said, “Mom?”

What I’m daring to suggest is that we, all of us, create our own realities out of where we find ourselves as physical manifestations.  There is considerable physics to support this wild possibility.  String theory talks about multiple universes that overlay and interlace each other.  Maybe they are created by you and me as we swim in special realities, yours and mine and ours.

I continue to marvel at the somewhat agreed-upon stories shared among family members.  Everyone, it seems, has a slightly different remembrance of things past.  Trial lawyers and accident investigators speak of how differently various witnesses attest to what happened.  According to them, that is just an aspect of human nature.  What if it isn’t just faulty memory, but different lived experience?  What if in my universe things play out just a wee bit differently from what they do in yours?

Last year our Thanksgiving gathering met for gustatory celebration in Richmond with Kurt and Company.  This year it was in West By-God Virginia at Dales five bedroom log cabin in the back of beyond.  Last year was when I finally got the courage to read one of my writings to the gathered assemblage.  They liked ‘Aunt Margaret’ well enough that I was enticed into thinking they might like to try again.  So this year when I crept down the stairs on the big day and found only Dale at the long table swilling coffee, I clutched my folder of reading possibilities even more hopefully. 

Last year Dale wasn’t present for the first ever meeting of the Martin-Taylor Literary Society.  He had to deliver mail to Ritchie County, something to do with ‘sleet, snow, and gloom of night,’  This year I had them all three under one roof, and the house was yet asleep.  The screeching, shrieking, and yowling of as yet uncivilized genetic arrangements had yet to commence.  Peace reigned.

I poured my once-a-year cup of real coffee, mellowed it with authentic Half & Half, and settled down to make the most of it.  Soon Lane slid into the big kitchen/dining area and followed my lead, determined to coffee-up and socialize.  Dale, with his Grizzly Adams physiognomy, owned his end of the great table that had benefited from its inserted leaves.  Lane sought balance claiming his end from where he and Dale could exchange meaningful glances and reminisce about but not reenact childhood altercations.  When Kurt followed suit I knew the gods were smiling.  Kurt, ever sensitive to artistic balance, helped Lane hold down his end of the table.

I had claimed the middle ground, where I could enjoy the progenitous surround to best advantage, and try to mediate sibling ribaldry, as well as rivalry.  Having serendipitously assembled my entire first generation of living children, I was on a roll.  There was only one piece that was sure to please this particular group—’Isetta.’  I pulled it out and announced, “I’m going to read a story about your dad and me that happened back in the day right here in Ritchie County.  Listen up!”

The bright blue picture on the first page grabbed their attention and we were off!  Lane’s and Kurt’s ears were pricked, remembering last year’s ‘Aunt Margaret’ and laughing ‘til they cried, but Dale had already met this tale since he has the morethanenoughtruth.com app on his desktop.  His face said, ‘Been there; done that.’  He picked up a pen and addressed his crossword puzzle.  I stopped mid-sentence and slid ‘Isetta’ back into its glassine folder.  “Wha….?”  They bawled in unison.

“I’m not going to compete with the New York Times,” I growled.  “I read; you listen.”

Dale, in a rare moment of acquiescence, agreed to set aside his puzzle and bend an ear.  I retrieved ‘Isetta’ and proceeded from literary interruptus.  It held their rapt attention all the way from driving the spunky little vehicle through town without benefit of headlights, to nearly  dispatching the town drunk along the byway.  Even the liquored-up words of Obadiah Johnson came to life as never before, to the hoots and merriment of Dale, Lane, and Kurt.  Never have the words tripped so satisfyingly from my tongue as on that Thanksgiving morning, lubricated by the emolument of genuine Half & Half in my coffee, and falling on the fairly negotiated attending ears of my three sons.  By the time the following generations descended and began to incite the standard day-long riot, the second annual meeting of the Martin-Taylor Literary Society was a fait accompli.  It was good.  It was very, very good.

Lessons

It had been a long and lovely summer, living at the widow Shaw’s home down the hall from Daddy and taking voice lessons from Madge Weeks.  She drove every week from her home in Darien all the way to Westport just to help me improve my vocal performance.  Life was good.

Juliette Shaw had two daughters, Carolyn who was my age, and Sharon a couple of years older.  Sharon of course got a room of her own, and I split a bunk bed with Carolyn.  The three of us didn’t get to be anywhere near close because I was always studying or practicing, while the Shaw girls were off socializing with friends.  All this was possible because of Daddy’s ability to project a need to be rescued by wealthy women.  Yes, it was complicated.

Then my idyll suddenly took a turn.  One day as I was vocalizing arpeggios for Mrs. Weeks, Daddy stuck his head in the door to the music hall.  He was just passing through on his way to work.

“Got a minute?” Mrs. Weeks asked.  “Want to hear how well your daughter is doing?”

He hadn’t thought to be caught up in such a time devastating complexity, but agreed to listen.

Mrs. Weeks began her accompaniment to Gounod’s Ave Maria, and taking a shallow panicky breath, I began to sing.  How well did I render the piece?  I don’t really know.  I got through it without stopping or running from the room in terror.  When the last lovely piano note hung as an echo in the room, we looked around to see what Daddy thought.  He was gone.

Madge Weeks set her jaw and slid off the piano bench.  She marched across the room into the hallway and located my Dad.  He was scrutinizing the paintings that graced the Widow Shaw’s entryway, and seemed mildly startled to see my teacher.

“Did you hear Dorothy sing?” she asked—a fair question.

“Yes,” he assured her, clearing his throat.  “Er—I was just admiring Juliette’s new acquisitions.  The Gounod sounded fine.”  More throat clearing.  “But now I’ve got to get on the road.”

I was privy to that exchange because Mrs. Weeks came back to the piano and shared her parent/teacher frustration with me.  According to her, it was common for parents to behave that way.  “Don’t feel bad,” she commiserated, “He’s got a lot on his mind.”

My Dad and I spent a lifetime making excuses for each other.  We did a spectacular job of reciprocal disappointment.

Lord, you have touched me,                  
And you have known me.
You are there when I sleep,
Still there as I rise.
You understand my thoughts.
You light the turnings of my path
And speak meaning to my days.

No word slips from my tongue
That you first have not heard.
You challenge me on every side.
Your hand is laid upon me.
Such intimacy confounds.
It is more than I can bear.

Where can I hide from your spirit?
Where can I flee from your being?
If I scale the vault of Heaven,
You are waiting for me there.
If I turn spitted over coals in Sheol,
Your blessing cools
And soothes my brow.

If I soar pink and purple
On gilded wings of dawn
Or sink with groans and bubbles
To the ink black
Bosom of the sea,
Even there your hand reaches for me
And draws me to your way.

If I drown in darkness,
You fill me with the light
That darkness cannot hide.
Night shines as though it were day.
Your darkness and your light
Are both the yin and the yang
Of my soul’s complex desire.

You called my soul to life
As I floated in the womb.
Thank you for this my form,
So exquisitely wrought.
My bones and my flesh,
My blood, all are yours,
Though made in mystery
And knit in pulse and blood.

You trace my geometry of form,
The secret alchemy it hides.
My formulae were writ upon your mind,
Encoded there before I ever was.
It was your dream that made me, God.
Can I be aught but good?

You who dare to ply such skill
To make this miracle of me,
Can you not arrest the grip of rage?
Silence voices taut with pain?
Heal the leper, lame and blind?
Guide the crazed back to sane mind?
Declare the Brotherhood of Man?

But must you do it all?
You’ve done your part.
The rest is up to human kind.
What shall we say to those
Who offer up your name in praise
But wander from your way,
Who chant your song from choir stall
But chase the beggar from the gate?

Look deep into my heart, O God.
Is selfishness my game,
Or is my promise really yours?
These hands you made for me,
This mind that toys with rhyme,
Can they ever learn to do your work,
Or are they only meant for mine?

Biome

It was your dream that made me, God.
You called my soul to life
as I swam,
fluttering gills and twitching tail,
recapitulating the phylogeny
of the ancients, wet and
naked in my mother’s womb. 
My DNA spirals in your thought,
a twining universe of suns.
When I sleep I dream of you,
grasping tangles of raw force
that throb and pulse,
energy that summons thunder
to the palms of your hands
and sends it cavorting
out across the darkling plain.
I hear you toast, “To Life!”
as your face incandesces
the radiance of a million suns,
and you hurl nascent galaxies
out beyond the swirls of yearning
that grip the Milky Way. 

Then the darkness of the cave
replies, “To Death!” a blessing on
the gentle peace to come.
But that’s another day.

This day I live!  I breathe!  I recall
with thanks my Cambrian ancestor
exploring an ancient shore, its gills
reaching for air as it rides the tide up
a sandy beachhead.
Curious, it persists
and evolves at last
a better tool for tasting air,
pure free-wafting air,
not captive to watery depths,
but gasping to be freed
from its primal watery grave.

Eons skate the aching curve of time,
and gills become alveoli. 
Lungs are born to capture air.
My ancient uncles breathe,
and now do I.
Breathe deeply upright hairy biped
I have become.
Breathe and cry and shout!
Give voice to Bach, Mozart, and Beatles.
Oh Fortuna!  Carmina Burana
shouts of brave fortune
that gave us tools to sing with angels
and join the rowdy music of the spheres.

Daedalus tried to fly on air and fell,
but other winged phyla soared.
Air offers a multiplicity of uses.
Birds can sing and fly. 
That’s hardly fair.
When I return to spirit,
I will fly—and sing.

For now I sleep and dream and hope.
When morning comes
and dream gives way
to thought, wrought solid,
but leaving in its granite wake,
a cheerful crack of whimsy. 
From such splits in ancient truth,
spring-fed streams of fancy
feed the flow of thought at play,
a Holy Spirit prattling
even to the dreams of day.

See now, as morning dawns,
and shadows flee, I am newly thankful
for all God has created
and declared it “Good.”
His living eyes tear up with love
for all I am and ever hope to be.

Come spirit God,
inventor of all burbling blood,
and stalwart bone.
Join me in my paean to ecstasy. 
Sing with me in heavenly harmony,
as worlds implode
and galaxies are born
to spiral, gasp and die.
We scintillate in laughing arcs
of love and light and joy,
while time implodes,
and all that was and is
and may ever yet become
thread the needle eye of Now.

Xenophobia

Sitting at my friendly computer desk last night in my cozy flannel PJ’s, lining up lovely words into erudite phrases, I was lulled into a relaxed state of wellbeing.  Then something wiggled inside my right pajama leg.  I was up in half a flash.  It’s good the blinds were closed as I shrieked and tore off the entire bottom half of my sleepers.  I only stopped my frenzied jig when I spied the instigator of my terror, a big black cricket, creeping away to hide hopefully behind a white wicker wastebasket.

Why was I so afraid?

First: Things that wiggle don’t belong inside my pajamas.

Second: Things with exoskeletons are unnatural and meant to be observed from afar.

Third:  Things without any skeletons at all are weird and inspire a natural revulsion.

By deduction:  The more different a thing is from me, the more I am repelled by it.

It just may be the case that we are hard wired to fear the other.  Xenophobia is a feature of not just being human, but of being a sentient life form.  No wonder we assume racial differences to be perceptive demarcations.  But just because the big X is a natural feature of being a living creature, that doesn’t mean we should accept it as a fixed and irrevocable cognitive error.  We are intelligent.  We can undertake a fine tuning of our perceptions to make them more accurate and more loving.  We must try.

I can begin by acknowledging that it was actually a tiny black cricket—not a big one.  Why is it so easy to jump to the conclusion that scary black things are big?  Our subconscious always so readily connects for alliterative possibility, big black bugaboos vis-à-vis white wicker wastebaskets, easy to hide behind and restore hope, given their whiteness and their dainty thoughtful interlocked pattern of construct.  In my confrontation it was the cricket who demonstrated the enlightened intellect.  Bless him!  No doubt his perception of me was big, pink, and butt-ugly.

In retrospect, having calmed myself, I remember that this particular arthropod, so typically given to singing with gusto, was undertaking a studied silence while scaling the inner mystery of my pajama leg.  Perhaps it was because his music isn’t actually song.  It is more accurately an exuberant scritch-scritching between hinged parts of his scary exoskeleton.  Those induced vibrations author the happy reverberation we enjoy as cricket song.  Soft cotton flannel no doubt had a damping effect on the acoustics of his music.  Empathy is always a good approach to rivalry, whether inter- or intra-species.  How frustrating it must have been for his urge to expression to be muffled by my fusty old flannel.  When you gotta scratch you gotta scratch. When you gotta’ sing, you gotta’ sing.

Finally, I need to make the acquaintance of the individual cricket before making unwarranted conclusions about his character, motives, and personal integrity.  He might have actually been Jiminy Cricket, of Disney fame, personifying high conscience in the physiognomy of a bug.

October 28, 1958 began inauspiciously enough, a clear cool sweater kind of day, not unlike many others that fall.  Deciduous trees had done their annual best to make me happy to have landed in a quiet West Virginia hollow with the silent intent of making a family.  I had always wanted one, and it seemed reasonable to assume that the best way to have one was to make one.  But since it was a hidden agenda, I didn’t like to make a big fuss about such things.

When I set out that late afternoon to the monthly meeting of the Ritchie County Farm Women’s Club, I had a lovely setting for my trek to Josephine Wilson’s house in time for the official call to order.  There’s no telling where Jim Taylor was.  My husband wasn’t much for farm work.  It was I who always helped my in-laws with the milking night and morning.  He would probably wonder where I had gotten to when he finally made it home, but Garnie would remind him that I was off to my monthly meeting.  She had legitimized my evening off.

There was nobody to see me as I set off across the hills, making for the Wilson Place.  I was a sight.  My belly had gotten way too big to hold just a baby, and I wondered what else could be making me so excessively rotund.  Two of them?  It didn’t help that I had to carry so much stuff.  There was always a load to take to meetings, program materials, project paraphernalia, and of course there was my purse.  Even out in the boonies, a girl can’t leave home without her accouterments.

The first hill wasn’t all that bad, especially since I was used to running up and down chasing cattle, and I made that one in good time.  The next one was OK too since I could cut across the hay field.  Last month all the hay bales had been stored in the high barn for wintering beef cattle.  The only thing that slowed me down was the electric fence that kept the dairy herd out of the meadow.  The gap was right at the bridge of the hill, the barbed wire stretched taught across the lane.  I typically didn’t bother to open the gap.  Too much trouble.  Unless it was muddy, I always just ducked down and rolled under.  It didn’t occur to me that maybe I wouldn’t roll so well this day.  I was already down and halfway under before my belly got caught on a barb.  It snagged the soft wool of my hatchin’ jacket, as it was called in WV parlance.  I was in a fix.  There was no room left in me to suck it up and pull loose, and I couldn’t touch the fence and risk a painful shock.  I doubted it would have killed me but you never know.

So I lay there assessing the situation.  The meadow larks kept me company, swooping repeatedly across the field collecting late persisting insects for their winter fat potential.  Finally I decided to study the contour of the barb and make minute adjustments to my own position until I might wriggle free.  It worked.  With a sigh of relief, I scooted out from under the fence and gathered myself for the rest of the trek.  The sun was getting low, and I needed to get moving to make that call to order.

Since Josephine’s house was on my side of the river, I didn’t need to cross the swinging bridge to get there.  That river crossing would have been another complexity, climbing steps on each side and balancing all the way across.  My route was on through Uncle Paul Headlee’s pasture and down Lynn Camp Road a mile or so, and I would be there. 

I was getting hungry with all that hiking and toting.  The meeting was to be a potluck, accounting for yet another thing I had to carry that day.  I had baked Minnesota Harvest Bars.  They were my favorite autumn dessert, rich with farm butter and redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and pureed pumpkin.  Yum!

My stuff and I made it to the meeting with no additional excitement, and I set about filling my plate with enough for two of that farmer’s wife cooking.  It was always a treat at these meetings to leave a casserole for the farmers and feed each other instead.  Of course we talked non-stop since we were all isolated on separate farmsteads and relished the opportunity to see each other and exchange gossip.  Most of us were on the same party line and everybody knew pretty much what was going on, but this was a celebration.

I enjoyed the meal and was no worse for the trip except for a bit of a twinge in my back, but that was understandable given the length of the hike and the enormity of my load.  I must have eaten a bit too fast, since I began to experience a bit of gut discomfort.  I kept quiet though.  Nothing of concern here.  The meeting proceeded, and eventually I asked Josephine for a spoonful of sodium bicarbonate.  She complied, and we moved on to new business.  But the anti-acid didn’t seem to help much.  I was having a hard time sitting still in my chair and focusing my attention on the trip we were to take to a coal fired power plant in Ripley next spring.  Finally, this group of very experienced mothers rounded on me and accused me of being in labor.

“What?”  I squawked, denying the assuredly improbable.

“When is your due date?” Bessie Barnard demanded.

“I dunno,” I muttered—“Sometime soon.  Dr. Santer said early November.  But this is only a stomach ache.  And besides, it’s still October.” 

But one thing led to another, and within the hour I was packed into Nancy Collin’s Buick and barreling down US Route 50 for Parkersburg and St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Emergency Room.  Around eleven o’clock, Dale Warren Taylor made his unscheduled appearance on the scene.  His exuberant expression concerning the situation more than made up for my own reticence.  He was late to the meeting, but once present and accounted-for, he offered more than recompense for his tardiness. 

Later I found out that if my taught belly had made contact with that 10,000 volt charged barbed wire fence, I would have delivered him right there on the hilltop with the cows and meadow larks as midwife attendants.