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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  

 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ashes of Bridges

We have only two choices-

Judge the ones we love

Or

Love the ones we judge

Judgment we are forbidden. Judge not, lest ye BE judged.

Who then better to judge and be judged than ourselves?

Life is at once interminable and a headlong plunge, somehow, days draining away like a severed artery’s bright stream in endless moments of regret and self-doubt, in all-too-brief seasons of laughter and triumph and joy. Resolution’s dusty shape revealed for the certain lie it was when uttered. The steps grow heavy, leading into the wood, and the silent promise of the stone echoes flat and without magic to my inner ear. All I was I am not, any more. Long absence fills with the conversations I no longer enjoy with people who are no longer here, the faces and antics only vanishing ripples in a river still flowing past, its waters darker in the failing of the day, the current a struggle for the fading fighter.

This beat-up, grouchy old man who glares at me in bemused disappointment from my morning mirror seems at times a sad and wasted thing in the shining reflection of the fire that burned in my youth. How can such a time, etched so large on memory and heart and in the aches and pains of assorted joints so swiftly have slipped so very, very far away? How have the intervening years brought so much more grief, and so filled this vast divide with dross that steals even the light of occasional victory?

Knowing that the cuts given and received were mainly at one’s own hand gives no reprieve from the pain, or relief from the burden. I am a harsh and opinionated curmudgeon who is too quick to anger, too deeply wounded by callous disregard and too stupid to let well enough alone; whose only defense is that I have always tried to be as brutally honest with myself as I am about the failings and victories of others. I have defended the things I love as I would the people I love, and if I have a failing it is in too much passion and too little forbearance.

My profession has somehow slipped away after all the years I spent trying to become a craftsman. The value of the few who could do much was corrupted by the profit of doing much for little.

The easy power and endurance of youth is a panting swab of sweat-soaked brow long before the summit. My family is fractured, by a sudden shift of the economy, by extremists with seductive logic and resounding calls of faith, by the unyielding realities of Life, by the last three decades of dealing with their contentious brother and prodigal son.

My father was once a soldier who became a teacher, and later an electrician self-taught to earn the money to build his family the home he had always dreamed of. He learned to fly and gave me the gift of the sky. He spent many hours in the air searching for wreckage and hope and final answers in the Civil air Patrol. Later still he became one of the most effective, hard-working construction superintendents ever to drive onto a site. He did the jobs of 3 contractors, brought in jobs under budget and ahead of schedule and solved problems that stopped other superintendents cold by sheer willpower and refusal to quit.

Less than six months after a persuasive speech assuring all the superintendents that all was well with them despite the recession (Nawww, ain’t no need to pull out of your profit-sharing, group insurance and retirement plans, fellas… everything is just fine, here!”), the major commercial construction company he worked for let him go, along with every other Social Security benefit recipient in their employ, a budget decision which amounts to firing all of the most experienced people you have, the veteran problem solvers and the crafty old dogs who have come up through the ranks, and leaving the lickspittles, the inexperienced degree-holders, and the slackers who became foremen because they couldn‘t do anything else to run a crew made up of relatives, yes men and old buddies of the regime. The company still manages to build Wal-marts and Food Lion stores, but they do so with a great deal more wasted effort and material, at a much higher price… which gets passed right down the food chain, pun intended, to the consumer.

Dad now drives homeless school children to and from classes, morning and night, and spends a great deal of time worrying about intangibles and wondering what to do with himself. I spend what time I can cutting wood to save money on their electric heating bills, cleaning gutters and raking and moving leaves to keep the house dry and mold-free for them, thinking of their years of support and wishing I could do more.

My mother, God bless her soul, has been a church secretary for the last several decades, before which she was a receptionist and stenographer, and even, back in the good old days of the Department of State, a spy, I’m pretty sure. She worked for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which means she either was a spy or filed all their paperwork. She plays piano and organ, and did both for the church for the last several decades, as well.

She also sings like an angel, which she will do free of charge, while cooking delicious meals or sewing or knitting something for any one of a hundred people she knows and ministers to on a daily basis. She is doing everything she can to raise my niece to be a better person than any of us managed to be. If God has a workshop for faith, my mom probably wrote the basic handbook and cookbook. I know she has reserved parking in Heaven, and probably a hook with her name on it when she goes to hang up her jacket in the Great Closet. She’s been punching the clock Up There since the 70s, sick or well, rain, snow, sleet or shine. It‘s one of the only reasons she‘s still relatively sane.

My sister and her husband are doing hard work in a difficult time. Once a paralegal, Diana is now a stay at home mom, home-schooling her daughter Mathea. The laughing little girl I raced down a hundred beaches from Maine to Kitty hawk, the blue-eyed cherub who stole my ice cream and cake, the sweet-voiced wonder for whose virtue I threatened the physical destruction of any number of lustful local youngsters, in the blink of an eye, in the blur of years filled with so little of note save endings, somewhere, somehow, she grew up into a mother and a homemaker. A recent series of events forced my sister and her husband to move from their home of years to a small cabin n the country. He now commutes dozens of miles to work in law enforcement and she stays home seasonally tending garden, canning, mending clothes and teaching her daughter, making a home for her family and looking for light at the end of a long economic tunnel.

In their rare spare moments, they minister to the elderly with song and struggle to understand this insane hurtling existence in terms of Middle Eastern fishermen who wrote down their thoughts about 2,000 yrs ago.

Marty, my brother in law, spends long hours lifting iron in the basement when not wrestling with intangibles or laughing with his loving wife and baby girl. He presses just as hard to maintain contact with his eldest daughter, Mal, short for Mallarie Elianna, the darkly shining feminine echo of my own belligerent youth; slender as a blade, with a dark fall of chestnut hair shadowing her expressive, heavily-lined eyes, and swirls of tattooing at either shoulder, elbow and wrist. She is Lilith reborn, unique and still ubiquitous of her generation, another questing soul, further back along the Path, looking for her own way through the forest. And I can only stand here in the far distance, my many missteps, wrong turns and blunders behind me, and hope that my waving of caution to avoid my mistakes is not mistaken for invitation to retrace my course.

I understand their confusion, and I envy them their perspective, however fraught they may be at times, from the other side of the American Dream; the Home, the career, the Plans For The Future. I cannot find the trail that will take me Home again, nor can I build it, not with a thousand stones moved by bleeding hands, a cold fury of tears washing away the endless stain of lost opportunities and the ashes of bridges burned.

1 comment:

  1. A Father to A Son

    The very essence of being human is to feel anger, distrust, sadness, and failure. Adversely, it is to feel joy, happiness, trust, pride of accomplishment. Failure is only as complete as we allow it to control us. Only at the lowest level of despair can one see the way back, the final step to trust that there surely is a way.

    This trust (feeling) is perhaps the one a parent has for their son or daughter, no matter the time, no matter how long the waiting for them to see it, it is there, quietly hidden in the heart just longing for them to come and make it complete . Come home, Son. Take our love and make it complete in the taking.

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