Take A Breath

breathI’m not afraid to die. I used to be frightened of the transition. But I’m not afraid to die anymore. Maybe it’s my age. I don’t know.

I had three large fears: death, failure, and being alone. Failure? Maybe that’s my age too, but one day I realized cash wasn’t the pot of the rainbow. Contentment was. So that left the fear of alone.

Well not anymore. Because I realized there is no alone. One day I realized there are other people on earth too. 7 billion of them. The people who stand beside me are here too. So I force the words past my pride and I say hello. We’ve been gathered together; synchronicity.

See I learned, once you’re emotionally unzipped, you’re free. You’re free to be truthful. You’re free to be authentic. The pressure that presses on your ribs is relieved. You can breathe with enlightened lungs. You can. Now, you’ll need to take deep breaths. But there’s a benevolence of breath. It isn’t contained by fences or borders or countries or continents. The man who walks beside you breathes alongside you. Two people standing side by side sharing the same sighs. Exhaled. Inhaled. Each taking turns. It’s as intimate as sex. Sharing body fluids. Not liquid but breezes that fluidly pass from lungs to lungs. Your breath is carried through my blood. Your hushed is in my heart. What you’ve breathed, I breathe.

Together we’re breathing Africa.

Together we’re breathing Asia.

Together we’re breathing Ireland.

Together we’re breathing Brazil.

Together we’re breathing Puerto Rico.

Together we’re breathing France.

Together we’re breathing Las Vegas.

We’re breathing hope. We’re breathing fear. We’re breathing love. We’re breathing war. We’re breathing terrorism. We’re breathing injustice.

Caught breaths and whispered worries and secondhand sorrows. Shared. We share the same aspirations; peace and love and justice and full and safe and trust and triumph. We must share those aspirations aloud. We must take a deep breath and wind those words. We’re standing here together. We’ll call it mouth-to-mouth recitation. You tell me what you’ve learned and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. And together we’ll inspire and aspire.

A Matter of Trust

Okay look. If you lie to someone – you exploit their vulnerability. The aspect our bullying society forgets: we’re all vulnerable adults. Vulnerability is all about degrees. Some people have a higher tolerance for your pain.

So listen up: you don’t get to decide which commandments are your easiest. Probity has no degrees. You’re either honest & decent or you’re not.

Liars exploit others dignity, vulnerability, and generosity.

Predators exploit emotionally, sexually, or financially.

Predators exploit; liars exploit.  Pure & simple. 

Fucking someone’s sense of trust for your own gain is prostitution. 

Serving

I walked into a bar and saw a bartender I know. Now he’s a bartender and not a friend. But we know each other by name. I’ve essentially quit drinking since this heart diagnosis, so I haven’t seen him in a good year. We shook hands and he lowered his voice and said, “How are you?” And I replied I was fine. And he moved closer and said, “No. How are you?” And then I knew my close buddy (who I don’t hear from anymore since I got sick. He didn’t even visit me in the hospital. Now there’s a fuck-you friendship) had told the bartender about my health. And frankly I felt angry.

No one has the right to my intimacy without my permission. I decide who knows about me and my life. I’m a writer.  I’m entitled to tell my tales.

But you know what? You don’t call me, visit me, assist me, or ask how I am – we aren’t friends. And I’ll grab my ankles and fuck myself before someone uses me as an entertaining story. My life is not gossip.

There’s one really great aspect of facing death: I so easily and effortlessly remove people from my waning life who make my struggles about them. They can make their own film because they’re not starring in mine. Amen.

Going Through It Together

The best aspect (okay only) of being sick? Examinations of Conscience. Inactivity makes one introspective and fear makes one reflective. I haven’t been as good of a man as I should have been. I should have been a better friend. Now I sit in waiting rooms alone and I know:

I’ve known people who were sick and I didn’t help them.

I’ve known people who were confined and I didn’t visit them.

I’ve known people who were alone and I didn’t sit beside them.

I’ve known people who were afraid and I didn’t soothe them.

I’ve known people who were troubled and I didn’t even ask them how they were.

I’m glad I’ve felt it.

Now I’ll amend my life.

Colors My World

I don’t think of my past anymore. I’m too pressed by my present to contemplate where I’ve been. The play and rehearsals take my allotment of my creative time.

Yesterday I scheduled a rare daytime rehearsal. And I like to bring bottled water to my cast. I use my mouth so much I just assume they grow as dry throated as I do. Yesterday I ran late so I dashed into the local grocery store and I grabbed 4 chilled bottles from the cooler near the cashier. I swiped my debt card and waited for the bagger to place the bottles into a plastic sack. The grocery store hires baggers with special needs. I think it’s admirable and laudable. Yesterday I felt irritated. The young man struggled with his task and my temper ticked away the time. I grabbed the sack and raced out the door.

8577686249_ee25c50e85_bAnd I remembered my Aunt Margaret.

Aunt Margaret was my favorite aunt. My Father has two sisters. My Mother has a sister. Yet when I think of aunts my maternal grandmother’s sisters are at the forefront. My Grandmother – Mary Maxine (Fitzpatrick) George was the eldest of the clan and she had six sisters. And Aunt Margaret was next in line yet foremost in my heart. I loved my Aunt Margaret.

Aunt Margaret had a withered leg and a left arm that pulled up to her chest. She toddled in orthopedic shoes and secured her “pocketbook” with her stiffened elbow pit. She was strong of spirit and had a staunchly Catholic stance. Her limbs had withdrawn – her tenacity had not. She took me everywhere she went. She hadn’t replaced my Mother in my heart – but she had a prominent place alongside her.

Aunt Margaret would grab her pocketbook – and her keys – and me – and I’d ride alongside her as she ran her errands.

We lived in Junction City Kansas – not quite the south yet life was accented by more than southern colloquialisms. Junction City is the home of Fort Riley and I remember seeing soldiers on the downtown streets and servicemen’s wives in the downtown stores.

Yesterday I remembered 1969.

The Vietnam War. I was 7 years old.

My memories are impressionistic. Less Seurat and more Manet. Memories that are clearly defined but still clouded by colors. Yesterday I remembered my introduction to colors.

Kansas has oppressive heat in the summer. Short legged pants deny young skin respite from a sunbaked car seat. My Aunt Margaret drove her decade old Chevy. I sat at her side. She drove to the “Colored” section of town. I didn’t know what that meant. Aunt Margaret had a friend who ironed Aunt Margaret’s clothes and washed her laundry. On this day she was giving her friend a ride home. I don’t recall her friend’s name. I remember the color of her skin – I remembered they called each other Mrs. I remember she called me “Sugar.” And I remember she sat in the backseat. It was a pleasant ride. One filled with laughter and ease. It’s a memorable memory because I remembered going into a section of town – and Junction City was a small town – that I had never heard of and never visited.

I knew Aunt Margaret’s friend. I had seen her sit alongside Aunt Margaret at Mass each Sunday. Aunt Margaret would pick her up – accompany her to Mass – and take her home. We lived blocks from the church – Saint Xavier’s Catholic Church and my parents walked our family to Mass each Sunday.

I don’t know why I was in that car that day. But I remember it. I remember that I sat on the front seat and Aunt Margaret’s friend sat in the back. I remember the joy of their conversation and the awe I felt to hear adult conversations about subjects I didn’t understand. Words like hysterectomy and “female troubles.” I knew they were friends. But I didn’t feel like an interloper. It was as familiar as family.

I remembered Aunt Margaret yesterday. Yesterday I was irritated by a man with a withered mind as he struggled to complete a meaningless task. And as I rushed out the door I passed a bench. Two elderly women sat and waited for their ride.

I live in an affluent neighborhood. The neighborhood is in revolution. The young replace the old. Newly built assisted living facilities are being built with a rapidity that echoes schools and playgrounds during the baby boomers births. Vans travel from facility to facility and transport the elderly from need to need. Yesterday two elderly women waited to go back. I started to type home but I backspaced. They don’t have a home anymore. They have a place.

A day comes when active men and women no longer have activities and so the mundane task becomes an extraordinary achievement. And so the lonely dress for the event. Yesterday the elderly women sat side at side adorned with their Sunday clothes. One woman was black and one woman was white. Their conversation was animated and affectionate. I saw the similarities and I saw the distinction.

I wish I would have known to scoot my seat into the back. I could have watched both women as they bobbed their heads with laughter. I could have giggled as their shoulders shook with joy.

But I didn’t know. I was 7 years old.