I am 66 now. I’ve had four parents. (I was adopted when I was a baby.) None of my parents made it out of their sixties. Two of the four committed suicide. My concern that I don’t have a lot of time left may stand on shaky ground, but it still stands. Strangely enough, I seem to be okay with that.
If willpower plays a role in all this, then I feel good about my chances of reaching 70 and beyond. But right now we have this Novel Covid 19 virus in our midst, and, it seems, I’m in the at-risk group.
(Point of order, if you please. If, like me, you’ve been walking around with a bullet lodged in the prefrontal cortex of your brain for 35 years, you must own-up to having a bit of practice on the feeling at-risk front.)
So, in brief, what to do? Or, were I wearing a tie at the moment, what is one to do?
First, you accept the reality of the experience you’re in, whatever it is, and, for the love of God, do not judge yourself.
And then, for me, my response is to honor my instinct, and my instinct is to pour as much love and kindness and compassion and, in so many ways, most of all, honesty and loyalty, into how I live my life. Anything less would be a betrayal all that I am as a man, and, of equal importance, it would be a betrayal of everyone I’ve loved in my life, and,a betrayal of those who have been good enough to love me.
Tell those you love that you love them. Say it out loud. I know this is not always easy for some. The reality is, saying it out loud is an act of strength.
No doubt some will already know you love them, and for others, what a beautiful thing to learn. Never ever underestimate how much those words can mean to people.
And then, there is this. Those who love you deserve to hear your voice say it.
(Last but not least, I hope those who love you, tell you. You deserve to hear those words too. Promise. They never get old.)
Nine o’clock Saturday morning. Wind-driven mean cold washed through the streets of Pearl River. Winston’s Newsstand opened at five a.m. Seven days a week Steven Winston opens the shop promptly at five a.m. Steven is twenty-six. He is the fourth-generation owner. His great-great grandfather, Marcus Winston, opened the shop in 1918. After the great war.
Like most places in life, things you could really count on were often in short supply. However, residents of Pearl River could count on Winston’s Newsstand.
Winston’s Newsstand had the best coffee in town. Common knowledge. Marcus Winston used to say: “Life is tough enough. No one should be shorted on a good cup of coffee.”
No one argued.
Steven Winston was a stocky five six, dark chocolate eyes. Wore glasses, a reality he hated. He’d been next in line to run the family store, another reality he hated. It wasn’t that he hated the customers or his family or the store. What he hated was being stuck in Pearl River.
The only good thing about living in Pearl River was he was in love with Kitty Delia and she lived in Pearl River. He’d been in love with Kitty Delia since kindergarten. She was good enough to tolerate him back then. Kitty, with the famous Delia chestnut brown hair, then and now past her shoulders: thick, shiny, glorious waves. Good enough to eat. Her eyes dark, deep-set, glistening. Chocolate brown. Her face a soft oval, her lips, further evidence Michelangelo had ample reason to sculpt the human form. Now, at twenty-six, she was as beautiful as ever. More so in Steven’s eyes.
They had never been an item.
But toleration turned to a real friendship after Kitty’s house caught fire. Kitty was seventeen and suffered third-degree burns on her left arm. Many neighborhood boys who’d nearly begged for the chance to go out with her disappeared, some casting petals of pitiable expressions in their wake.
Not so Steven Winston.
He really did love her and care about her and made a point of visiting her in the hospital and when she was recovering at home.
The first time she put on a sleeveless dress after the fire, exposing her badly scarred arm, she called Steven and asked him to please come over. When he got there, she showed him her arm and asked him how she looked.
“Don’t lie to me, Steven. Tell me the truth.”
And he did. He told her the truth. “You look beautiful, Kitty.” He meant it.
“People are going to stare.”
“The hell with’m. Let’m stare. Hell, if those burn patterns were on canvas someone would call it a great abstract painting about the storms of life and pay millions for it!”
She laughed. “You know, you’re right.” She looked at her arm and said: “I name thee, Pompeii.”
He smiled. “You’re beautiful, Kitty.”
His name was simple enough, so he thought of himself as K. He liked Kafka, though Kafka was not what his K stood for. It didn’t matter what it stood for. It stood. That’s what counted. More than once he wondered, where do we go once we’re gone? If not anywhere, if it is indeed from life to blank, where was nature’s balance in that? Carl Sagan said something about the universe being organized. Is it so unlikely there are manifestations of nature we are incapable of imagining? Why not? How can that not be true? And who are we to assume ours is the best vantage point from which to decide the matter? Humble up, folks.
K’s head found itself busy with thoughts like these from time to time. Old enough now to worry about how much time he had left, a clarity had begun to emerge. Could the point of us simply be the contribution of our life as a whole, and then, that’s it. It seemed out of balance to him. Why should Hitler receive the same fate as Gandhi? Is there really a conflict of good and evil? If not in those words, certainly there is a battle between healthy and unhealthy?
Wasn’t there something in the bible about a rich man having about as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel has of getting through the eye of a needle? The older you get, the more questions you have, is what K believed, at least for himself.
All this led to Alice, this woman who had once captivated him, and seemed to digest who he was almost instantly. The array, accuracy, and potency of the armor he had built up over six decades plus was acutely formidable, and it found no threat to respond to in Alice. K knew if he was asked what he loved about Alice he wouldn’t know how to answer with precision. It’s like asking what was it you loved about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the only fair answer one can muster in a moment like this is so say, “Where to begin.” Then, stop talking.
Early afternoon, an exquisite blue cloudless sky, not steel blue, but all a powder-soft velvety blue.
A crow arced across the blue sphere like a God.
“May I please have everyone’s attention?!” My respectful but loudly expressed request was made to a forest full of birds. It was morning. “Everyone, please! Quiet!”
And they were silent.
“Thank you. Sorry to mess up your morning. Now, here’s the thing. The person I’d hoped to be doing this with is not in my life anymore. Is that understood?”
A twitter of confirming yeses.
“So, I’m doing this with a hand tied behind my back. Now, I love birds but don’t know a bunch of you, so I needed to get some help. Any of you heard of a bird I-D app?
Not even a peep.
“Didn’t think so. New to me too. Anyway, I turn it on, you sing, and it tells me what kind of bird you are.” I took out my not-so-smart phone and opened the app. “Okay, start singing!”
All of them, at one time.
“For the love of God! One at a time!”
Spring mornings the world is alive with birdsongs, audible jewels of sound. I have loved birds and the woods since boyhood, but making it a point to identify birds is a new endeavor.
Writing early mornings these days I can hear the birds before the sun fills the day. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, anything like the justly revered, John James Audubon (1785-1851), but, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be wandering around in the woods, yelling out, “One at a time!” in order to get two types of birds to stop singing at the same time so I can figure out who they are.