I have always loved walking. Some people call it hiking. I guess it depends on the location, whether you call it a hike or a walk in the park. I grew up in the country – two barns, ponies, dogs, etc. – and there was rarely a day after school when I didn’t take a walk in the woods. On the map the area is called the Great Cedar Swamp and was once part of the great Wampanoag Nation. I walked with the ghosts of Indians, the original people, who walked those same paths. I never felt lonely in the woods. I felt part of the spirit that moves in all things. I do not feel that same connection when I walk among the tall concrete and glass buildings in the city.
I have lived in Seattle for over twenty years and it has always felt like a nice compromise. It’s a city with quaint neighborhoods, tree-lined streets and the occasional bald eagle soaring overhead, but the face of the city is changing. Every so often I see a tree in the neighborhood marked for destruction. They post a notice, so those opposed to the removal of the tree can fight city hall if they so desire, but they will be laughed right out of court. Damn tree huggers! The powers-that-be have no qualms removing a tree that has graced the neighborhood for a few hundred years, providing housing for a variety of creatures, from lowly insects to majestic eagles. They remove them because they are buckling the sidewalk, or blocking some homeowner’s view. I guess only the Lorax speaks for the trees.
Lately my walks have been filled with the colors of spring, as a variety of flowers are now in bloom. I remind myself that colors are electromagnetic waves of various lengths, entering my eyes and being interpreted by my old man brain as glorious signs of spring. Spring, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love and an old man’s thoughts turn to his past. I am only old in comparison to those younger than myself and in another week I’ll add another digit to my age, making me fifty-six. There are days when I feel like I’m twenty-six and then there are days when I feel the weight of that first handful of dirt tossed upon my casket. I must count the dark days among the sunny ones to make a whole life.
I was at work last week, when a customer asked me about my weight loss. “How did you do it? Was it intentional?” My ex-wife asked me recently if she needed to worry about my health due to my weight loss. My weight loss was not intentional, but my walking always is. I used to disdain umbrellas like most true Seattleites, but in order to walk every day, sometimes I need take cover under a University Village complementary umbrella. It’s big, it’s yellow and it keeps me dry, so that I can be of service to the bookstore customers without raining on their parade. Nobody likes a wet bookseller or a wet book cellar.
Walking is my way of progressing down my path. I can feel the sun warm my face when I’m outside. I can feel the breeze as the weather turns, and the rains move in. I walk through the aisles of the bookstore, where I work, shelving books and helping the odd customer along the way. There’s always that one odd customer. My legs move me through the world and give me a more realistic view of my surroundings. Sometimes I stumble, but I pick myself back up, dust myself off and amble on down the road, towards the next adventure. Will I choose the path less traveled or will I take the path of least resistance?
I am unique. I have all the requisite body parts like other mammals, but my thoughts are uniquely my own. The experiences that shaped me were processed by my particular biochemical makeup and no other. I was six months old when I was adopted by a young couple from Rehoboth, Massachusetts. They gave up their horses in order to start a family. They adopted four children: boy – girl – boy – girl. I am the oldest and the rest are all a year or two apart. We were a rambunctious brood and probably more problems than their farm animals had been. They did not come from privilege. Not by any means. They worked hard just to see the world strip it all away.
Alone in the world, at home in the wilderness. I was not sports inclined, nor a book worm, preferring instead to spend time in the woods behind our house. It was my refuge. When at home, I would fill sketchbooks with imaginary characters, giving them names and back stories. I took piano lessons from the church organist and performed in recitals, sometimes playing duets with my sister. I took trumpet lessons for a short time, when they offered them through the elementary school. I no longer play a musical instrument, but music is still an integral part of my being. It soothes the savage breast and makes me feel pretty good, too.
When I was six-years-old, my chores included feeding my father’s hunting beagles. One overcast evening, I went upstairs in the barn to my dad’s workshop to feed a beagle that had been separated from the others, because she was “in heat.” The dusty shop was very quiet and I saw the rope, which had been tied to the dog’s collar, leading out the hayloft door. The weight of the dead beagle was very heavy to my young hands. I left her at the end of the taut rope and went to the house to tell my parents, stopping to pick up my father’s pen, which I found on the dusty workshop floor. I found it quite difficult to put into words that the beagle was now hanging from a rope at the back of the barn, its claws flecked with the red paint, as it scratched in panic during those last moments of life.
In July of 1973, our family piled into our Dodge van and took I-95 south to Washington, D.C. for a vacation. One evening, arriving too late to visit the wax museum, we found a nearby pizzeria. I had been riveted by the Watergate hearings on television, so it wasn’t too surprising when I glanced over and recognized Fred Thompson, then serving as minority counsel to the Republican senators. My parents encouraged me to go over and introduce myself and the next thing you know, Fred Thompson was putting my family on his guest list to attend the hearings the next day. My siblings slept through it, but I was too excited. They were questioning Attorney General John Mitchell that morning. I also spotted Daniel Schorr and the courtroom sketch artist.
I did not enjoy high school, so instead of dropping out, I earned enough credits to graduate in three years. I then found myself with nowhere to go and nothing to do, making me the ideal candidate for military recruitment. I met with the local Air Force recruiter in Taunton and – with my parents written permission – I agreed to serve four years. I was the only seventeen-year-old from Rehoboth, Massachusetts on that Eastern Airlines flight from Boston to San Antonio in December of 1978. After training, I spent my remaining years in North Dakota, working on the Minuteman III missile systems, getting drunk on Southern Comfort and cursing the prairie winters.
I was the only Mark in that adoption agency office in Alpharetta, Georgia, on that February morning in 2006, holding my son Justin for the first time. I may have made some mistakes in my day, but becoming Justin's father is not one of them. Justin is compassionate and kind. He’s funny and gregarious. He will also challenge anyone to a game of PIG on the basketball court. Anyone. He was once my little Buddha baby, but very soon he will be taller than me. Being a parent is not easy. I have a hard enough trying to guide myself through this treacherous world, never mind trying to light the way for others. But if I can lead by example than that’s a start.
I have been married three times and that is certainly not a singular achievement. More like three strikes and you’re out. Time to sit on the bench for a couple of games and observe from the sidelines. Get back to the basics. I do hope for the sake of all atheists that I was the only one to marry a Jehovah's Witness. I wasn't thinking critically, I can assure you of that. For someone, who claims to enjoy solitude, I never took much of a breather in between relationships. I was letting fear control my heart rather than being open to bigger possibilities. It’s that whole fear of abandonment shit.
It’s time to strip away all unnecessary distractions and attachments. The news, my to-read list, the queue at the library, the remnants of a failed marriage. When I let the daily strife drop away, I can feel the sun on my face and the earth beneath my feet. When I let go of my anger and resentment, I can walk taller and a smile forms on my original face without any effort. I am happy to be alive and breathing in the air that is allotted me in this lifetime. There is tragedy enough to go around, but love seems to be lacking lately. I’ve got some extra, so I’ll send it out into the world today. Postage paid.
I am nearly done with my latest blog post, which is titled "The Singularity." Until then, let's funk it up with Hot Chocolate and their hit, "Every 1's a Winner" from way back in 1978. I was seventeen in 1978 and a fresh air force recruit. What were you doing in 1978?
My wife once said to me that if she had been "living her faith" she never would have met me. The funny thing is that after she met me and we married, she decided to throw herself headfirst back into her faith. It has now been over a month since my wife shunned me and banned me from what was our residence. She went through my pockets as I was getting dressed and took my house keys off of my key ring. Within a week I found out that she changed the locks on the house and the garage, where my most of my belongings still remain. Over the last month and a half, if I wanted any of my possessions, I was told to provide a list and a time when I would be by to pick up the items on the list. If the time was convenient and someone was available to observe me then I was given permission to come by.
Faith is a funny thing and I don't mean funny ha ha either. It's funny peculiar and evidently my current wife has faith that she has done the right thing by ousting me with just the clothes on my back, which I was barely given the time to put on by the way. She must think of me as a thief or worse to feel compelled to change the locks and have a bouncer observe me when I pick up any items. She has not attempted to see me or contact me in a month and a half and at this point I'm ready for forever. I have never burned down a Vietnamese village. John Walsh never mentioned me by name on "America's Most Wanted." The fact that the locks were changed and I was never given easy access to my rightful possessions is the kind of personal insult that I wouldn't expect from a loved one. So...
Love is a many-splendored thing, as we have been told, but hate, especially when fueled by religious fundamentalism, goes right to the bone like a cancer. Religious fundamentalists will blow themselves up in a town square, taking many innocent lives with them, as they foolishly believe in 99 virgins, awaiting on their ugly ass in heaven. Some fundamentalists have caused the deaths of their own children through medical negligence disguised as religious faith. And then some fundamentalists just decide to throw the atheist out with the bath water and act as if his presence was never an actual fact.
We all must do what we can do survive as human beings. For some of us that means erecting a tent by I-90 and sharing space with other homeless people, battling their own demons. For others it means starting anew and leaving the ugly past behind. It is better to be without possessions than to be possessed. It is better to walk through the fire than to keep smelling smoke and assuming that someone else is going to douse the flames. They say that the wealthy have problems too, but their problems obviously have nothing to do with a lack of funds.
My own struggle now is to face each day with honesty and openness. Doors have been closed behind me, and locks have been changed, but new doors open up every day, and I just have to be mindful and observant to see where my path now leads. I have been entertained by too many distractions in the past. I tout the saying that a wise man welcomes problems, because they give him a chance to grow and yet I have avoided my own problems like the plague. Time to face life head on and faith be damned.
I am in the process of getting reacquainted with my soul. I'm trying to feed it well, take it for walks and such. One must care for one's soul, because no one else is going to do it for you. I've got a blog post in progress, but until then here is a song I really love.
"Soul Drifter" by Lindsey Buckingham from The Late Show way back when.
"It has been said that religion is for those afraid to go to Hell, and spirituality is for those who have been there." -- James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life