Monday, January 26, 2015

What I Know

What I know is that as I get older, that which I know can keep me from seeing what I don’t know. Change is the domain of the young, for whom it is not change, but just is. The older I get, the more I realize how fragile the origins of my understanding. We are born without attachment. We die without attachment. In between, things get pretty sticky!

Challenging Situation

I didn’t have to understand his French. The man growled and slurred the words as he wobbled towards the woman seated at the table not far from my own. His jacket swung, heavy with grunge, as he steadied himself against her wrought iron table and began to raise his voice, transforming the quaint romantic Paris cafĂ© into a trap. The woman held her child tight, her eyes on his, even as he became angrier. The child winced. The woman’s body stiffened. She slowly turned her face, lifting her chin, ready to accept any blow. The man yelled, slipped off her table and moved on, past my table, back into the street.

And for years, I have asked myself why. Why didn’t I stand? Why didn’t I stand up and walk over? Why didn’t I put myself between that mother and child, to let her know, to let them both know, that I would not have let any harm come to them, that they were not alone, on that warm spring afternoon, in Paris.


    Pacific Sunset

Through the evening haze,
   The sun slipped
    Behind a cloud
  To change her dress.

I peeked beneath the horizon
   And saw the ocean of creation,
    Blue-green, sparkling with life,
  Swirling, hungrily swallowing all she offered.

I joined the feast
   And let her slip into me.
    Warm, still, and then gone;
  A rainbow of echoes.

Seeing Red

It swam across my vision, a wisp of reddish-brown smoke, then swirled as I turned my eye to try to see what it was. The blood seeped within the clear fluid, shifting and spinning with every flick of my eye.

“That’s strange,” I mumbled.

My wife was watching cable, back-to-back episodes of some real estate reality show. I shifted my eyes left, right, left. The swirl was beautiful, and reminded me of a murder mystery special effect.

“Something’s happened to my eye,” I said.

I was looking up, because the white ceiling made a better backdrop, studying the flow of two fluids mixing. I recognized my intellectual curiosity. It was my unemotional brain taking over as a defense mechanism.

“I’ve seen floaters before,” I said, “but this is… more.”

My wife muted the television, turned to look at me. I didn’t lower my eyes, just kept staring at the ceiling.

“Call Kaiser,” she said.

She knew me well enough to make it a command rather than a question. Her tone added to my growing fear of the unknown. I stood and walked to the phone. The concern I saw on her face reminded me to stay calm. I smiled, but felt the lie at the corners of my mouth.
I ignored the brownish haze filling my right eye and tried to make out the tiny markings on the back of my health insurance card. Unable to read the phone number, I pulled on my reading glasses and forced myself to focus. Even so, I was only able to remember and dial one digit at a time.

After a brief wait, and a short conversation with the nurse, I was talking with a doctor.

“You need to go in to the emergency room,” he said. “Your retina may be torn. If it’s not taken care of, you could have a detached retina.”

I was used to medical exaggeration. Lawsuits tended to encourage doctors to give very conservative advice. I knew the drill.

“Can it wait until morning?”

It was Friday night and I didn’t really want to spend hours in the hospital emergency room waiting for a doctor to tell me I was fine, exposing myself to who-knows-what diseases.

“I wouldn’t advise it,” he said. “You could lose the sight in your eye.”


My heart beat faster. I realized I was taking shallow breaths and took a long deep one, which ended as a sigh. He must have heard my indecision.

“If you don’t go in to the emergency room, at least lie down facing up. It will put less pressure on the torn retina, if there is one,” he said. “But tomorrow morning you have to go and see a doctor.”

I hung up the phone.

“I have to go to the emergency room,” I whispered.

My wife stood up, got her coat, and without a word waited for me by the front door.
I fought back my anxiety and frustration as I headed out the door for yet another trip to the emergency room, as if getting out of bed each morning weren’t reminder enough that I was old, that I was going to die some day, that I needed the help of someone else along the way.

“Sorry,” I said.
“Don’t be silly,” she said.

How do you want to be remembered?

How do I want to be remembered? “I” remembered? Such an ego, self-centered thing. I pass on my DNA, because it will contribute, or not, in the evolutionary process of survival, but be remembered? As in a remembrance? A memory?

Memories are attachments to the past, to what has been. Do they serve those who remember? Why remember? Perhaps to learn lessons through transmission rather than experience. To learn faster, better, removed of your ego perspective, burdened with mine. Be careful of what you remember. It may not be the truth. It may be a distraction, a biased perspective, more valuable forgotten than remembered.

But there are memories worth keeping, memories which are useful, perhaps even across time and space. How to decide which memories are valuable? Which memories to feed, encourage, pass on?

I hope I am remembered, only so far as it might be useful, helpful, instructive to those that remember. If I have contributed no such remembrances, please forget about me, and let the bad memories die with me, the lessons learned, the search for truth advanced. Don’t remember me. Instead, make your own memories, and be willing to be forgotten.


Winsor & Newton Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, a bright yellow, a yellow that flashed the smiles of a thousand sunflowers on a bright day. I squirted another line of the paint onto my canvas. Where was my yellow?

The tube was defective, so I bought another, then another. I even tried a different brand. But my yellow was gone. After four different tubes I knew it wasn't the paint at all. It was me.

At the time, I thought it only odd and didn't pay enough attention. But as the months passed, I became more and more sad. The melancholy bled the color from my life, turning my world gray.

I knew I was not well. I couldn't paint. But it took another two years for me to realize. Nightmares haunted my sleep, and waking became a chore. I was drowning in such a profound sorrow that living became painful and death floated on the horizon like a welcome island. It was one of those mornings, head splitting apart as I yanked myself conscious, that I knew I was not going to make it on my own. JS annotation code