At Twilight

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Location: Midwest, United States

Friday, June 30, 2006

Water, Food and Air

Is it the biologist in me, or is it a characteristically human trait? This urge to classify and characterize? I don’t know. Sometimes I think I skate perilously close to becoming some obsessive taxonomist of human emotions. I guess I’ll leave that for you to judge.

I suffer from intense longings…intense pain. Pain comes in different flavors. Stay awake long enough, night after night after night, for months on end, and you begin to sort and classify your agonies.

Losing a loved one is to lose one’s sustenance. We need water, food and air to live, to survive, to flourish. That is a fundamental, literal, truth. There’s more to it, though. As I weaken, as I thirst and gasp, I’ve come to identify the nourishment I lack.

I miss love-making. I don’t mean the "physical act," although it’s an integral component. Sex belongs in its own category. Let’s call that one erotica. I’ll get to that.

No, to me, love-making is all encompassing. It’s the automatic reflex of smiling whenever I look at her, or simply think of her, and...just as reflexively...offering a prayer of thanks each time. It’s the serenity of snuggling close and sharing warmth in bed at night. It’s all the tender mercies proffered throughout each day…a compliment, a worry or concern for her well being…tasting the coffee first, to make sure it’s just the way she likes it. It’s the fluffing of pillows, the brushing of hair. It’s the bumping of hips as we pass in the hall. It’s kissing her eyelashes and nibbling her ears.

It's simply listening...laughing...crying.

It’s the unexpected kiss on the nape of the neck as she’s bent in concentration. It’s rubbing her feet and drawing a bath. It’s the daily note on the bed stand. It's the squeeze of the hand as you stroll at sundown. Love-making is a constant necessity and constant pleasure. It confers innumerable blessings on both lover and beloved. It is water for the soul. We cannot live very long without it.

I thirst.

Now…erotica…the fuel. It’s not even necessary to be explicit, here. In fact, it would be counter-productive. Erotica is the binding of the bodies to the hearts and souls. It had better be good…no…make that exquisite. Erotica is whatever it takes, whatever floats both boats, whatever moves the earth and makes the bells ring, whatever satiates. It had better be exquisite because it must sustain you through the long years, the hard years, the decades and the seasons, to when the body is worn and frail…but just as hungry as a youth’s.

I hunger.

What I miss, on a constant, daily basis, is her presence. I miss her commentary, wit, insights and idiosyncrasies. I miss her smoldering eyes. I miss her mind, her heart and soul. I miss the sight, scent, taste, feel and sound of her. I miss her aura. She was my air.

I choke and suffocate.

* * *

Music Update: Nothing. Silence.
Hair Update: Past my shoulders again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mona Lisa Smiles

It is widely held that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in all of art history. That may be so. I’m sure we’ve all seen that smile. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen it so many times that we barely pay it any mind any more. Pity.

Ms. Mona is worth some serious contemplation every now and then.

There is something in that smile, no? Poets have pondered it, songs are sung about it, historians and critics forever hypothesize about it, and dreamers continue to dream about it. I can get lost in that smile. Why? I think it’s because the smile elicits, not one reaction, but many. The smile captivates because we see emotions at play. We hunger to look and learn and discover more. Who can resist a glimpse into the enigmatic human heart?

* * *

It was a misty Kansas morning. Her face was half-lit by the soft rays tip-toeing past the open window. “You’re beautiful,” I whispered. She smiled a genuine “Mona Lisa” smile. Her face instantaneously, and simultaneously, registered surprise, modesty, pleasure, disbelief, thrill and gratitude. Her face was so delightfully expressive! It was, truly, the window to her beautiful, enigmatic heart. She never looked more radiant.

She was in full blossom.

* * *

I paid an admission fee at the Louvre just to see the Mona Lisa.
I stood patiently in line (and a long line it was). I was jostled and swept along by the crowd as we passed before the barricaded painting.

I went through all that just to glimpse a painted smile.

I would gladly suffer infinitely more and give up all my worldly treasure just to glimpse, just one more time...even if it were to be for the last time...that radiant smile in the soft morning light.

* * *

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Letting Go

Two of my life’s most important chapters are coming to an end. One was an epic narrative. The other, just a short story, a fairy tale (well…OK...delusional fantasy, mostly). Funny, the first spanned decades, the second only months, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one had, or will continue to have, the greater impact. Both chapters end with me a changed man.

Time offers the only foolproof way to understand the importance of any relationship. I’m not talking about the length of the relationship itself (that's not a valid indicator, no, not at all). I’m talking about the time it takes to finally let go.

Twice in my life, this Lithuanian man sacrificed all for an Irish woman (I find that disconcertingly strange, somehow). In both cases, the relationship was relatively brief, but absolutely devastating. It took me years to recover from the first. I have NO idea how long it will take for me to recover (if ever) from the second.

* * *

I distinctly, absolutely vividly, remember the night I finally let go of my dreams and desires for my first Irish lass. I’d guess about four or five years had elapsed since I saw or spoke to her last. I had long lost count of the sleepless nights, the yearnings, the tears…the questions. She haunted me practically every waking moment.

Then, one night (a night no different from any other night), I was lying in bed simply staring into darkness. I was thinking of her. I was indulging in melancholy reveries when the chains suddenly broke, when my chest finally, unexpectedly, relaxed and my unrequited desires rode my breath’s exhalations into black oblivion. It was an unmistakable physical release. The kind that makes it obvious that something momentous and life changing had just happened.

It was such a decisive, climactic change of state that I roused myself from bed, turned on the lights, and wrote a poem about the experience. The poem sucked (I mean, it REALLY sucked). Sigh. I never could find the right words.

“A hollow bell rang out
Your name in good-bye notes
That disappeared forever”

Still, I remember that night. I remember the feeling. I realised that emotional ties may simply come to erode and fray with time and, finally (unexpectedly), snap one day. I discovered that hearts may (in fact, may even need to)…someday…simply let go.

* * *

I mentioned that I had yearned for my first lass for many years. Here is a poem from that era:

These Sheets

These sheets
Tear stained, whispering stories
Have changed so much
From times I’ve lain
Surrounded by her presence
Colder now

Those nights
I fiercely trace
The outline of her hip
(Vainly painting phantoms)
Leave me hopeless
Never ending sorrow

These sheets
Bear the memories
Washed and smoothed so many times
Still they breathe her beauty
If she would rest here once again
She’d know

* * *

As I sit here, lost in thought, I wonder if the fearsome ache I feel so deep in my guts is a yearning to let go? Or is it fear that I someday might?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

On Fathers' Day

I’ve been thinking about my father (but then, you probably already figured that). Where to begin? If I were to capture all the thoughts that have swirled in my brain these last few nights, I’d have to write a book.

Of all the blessings bestowed on me, the greatest (by far) were my parents. I am the creation of two loving, fascinating, talented, driven, emotional, funny, beautiful, tormented, creative and intelligent human beings (sadly, in my case, the whole is less than the sum of its parts). Of the two, my father was the greater influence.

Where do I begin? His was a riches-to-rags story, his life completely upended by The War. He experienced, directly and intensely, both the horrors and the sublime joys of the human condition.

Through it all, he never failed to love.

Author’s Note: I’ve been sitting here at my keyboard for a good half-hour, at least. There’s simply too much to say, and insufficient talent to say it. I think it’s best if I try again some other day…

* * *

Eighteen years ago, I drove home from Tennessee with my Father’s ashes beside me in the car. I was overwhelmed with grief. For the next few days, I pored over my poetry books, reading through a veil of tears, searching for words. I finally found this poem by John Hall Wheelock. This was the one. I printed the poem on vellum and carried it folded in my wallet for the next decade...until the words seeped indelibly into my soul. The verses grew more powerful with every passing year. I think of this poem often…(I know my father would love it, too).

The Gardener

Father, whom I knew well for forty years,
Yet never knew, I have come to know you now –
In age, make good these old arrears.

Though time that snows the hair and lines the brow
Has equaled us, it was not time alone
That brought me to the knowledge I here avow.

Some profound divination of your own
In all the natural effects you sought
Planted a secret that is now made known.

These woodland ways, with your heart’s labor bought,
Trees that you nurtured, gardens that you planned,
Surround me here, mute symbols of your thought.

Your meaning beckons me on every hand;
Grave aisles and vistas, in their silence, speak
A language which I now can understand.

In all you did, as in yourself, unique –
Servant of beauty, whom I seek to know,
Discovering here the clue to what I seek.

When down the nave of your great elms I go
That soar their Gothic arches where the sky,
Nevertheless, with all its stars will show,

Or when the moon of summer, riding high,
Spills through the leaves her light from far away,
I feel we share the secret, you and I.

All these you loved and left. We may not stay
Long with the joy our hearts are set upon:
This is a thing that here you tried to say.

The night has fallen; the day’s work is done;
Your groves, your lawns, the passion of this place
Cry out your love of them – but you are gone.

O father, whom I may no more embrace
In childish fervor, but, standing far apart,
Look on your spirit rather than your face,

Time now has touched me also, and my heart
Has learned a sadness that yours earlier knew,
Who labored here, though with the greater art.

The truth is on me now that was with you:
How life is sweet, even its very pain,
The years how fleeting and the days how few.

Truly, your labors have not been in vain;
These woods, these walks, these gardens – everywhere
I look, the glories of your love remain.

Therefore, for you, now beyond praise or prayer,
Before the night falls that shall make us one,
In which neither of us will know or care,

This kiss, father, from him who was your son.

* * *

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Compromise and Cruelty

I don’t know when it started. I can’t remember the first time I compromised myself. I’m sure it was over something inconsequential, perhaps something downright trivial. No damage done. Not then, not yet, anyway. Life being what it is, though, compromise followed compromise. As I grew older, as my familial and corporate duties and responsibilities increased, as pressures mounted, as I curried favor and tried to fit my life’s contours within those of others, the number of compromises I acceded to increased, then multiplied and multiplied again.

"In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit" - Ayn Rand

I stayed true to my dearest dreams and most deeply held convictions for as long as I could. I stood up to supervisors, clients, attorneys, company presidents, congressmen, amoral acquaintances and my own (not insubstantial) ego. Despite that, life inevitably takes its toll. So many opportunities lost for the sake of either others or honor; tongue bit so often and so hard that I’m surprised I can still speak; bits of me (some of them vital) eroded, or broken or discarded. As the years raced by, dreams slowly disintegrated, strength faded and resolve crumbled.

I lost my patina (and my halo...and my wings) somewhere along the way.

Still, I think we all have our limits. One can only go so far and no farther, for past that ill-defined boundary is the abyss. It came to this, for me. I could go no farther.

When I entered my sixth decade, I realized...I felt it...I was moribund. I found myself married to a stranger (“two ghosts passing silently in the hall”). Where had all the intimacy gone? The life that she wanted and needed eventually came to be so very different from my own desperate hungers. The chasm widened. Someone had to agree to the ultimate compromise – to forsake his or her soul for the sake of the other, for the sake of security, for the sake of promises, for a measure of comfort in old age. Someone had to be willing to give up the last, bedraggled remnants of dreams…and unreservedly give all that up…for a stranger.

I teetered on the brink of that abyss for a good many years. Feeling only turmoil…and an overwhelming grief.

* * *

Numbed by years of pain, I honestly don’t know how long I would have teetered. It’s not easy to turn away from a partnership that has lasted more than twenty years...and the majority of them were good. Some were downright great. It’s not easy to turn away from a former best friend, passionate and sensuous lover, confidant and playmate. And then, of course, there is the substantial matter of vows. It’s not easy to turn away in shame, in abject failure. It’s not easy. None of it is easy. I think some people/couples spend their entire lives on the brink of that abyss. Maybe that would have been my fate, too, had I not recoiled and stepped away.

It was cruelty that made me turn away. Cruelty.

It’s an ugly human emotion that I’ve been subjected to rarely (personally)…and I am glad of that. Still, we humans are capable of unimaginable cruelty. Who knows where the wellsprings of cruelty reside? As I've said, I’ve been fortunate in that I have not suffered much from outright cruelty in my life...until recently.

The last year has been filled with countless cruelties. Pain inflicted purely for the sake of inflicting pain.

Cruelty was not something I expected; it was never part of the bargain. No living thing should be subjected to cruelty. Never. Ever. It's simply not part of the deal. The emotions that had tortured me for so long are made much darker now, having been tainted with something new: fear.

If I were asked to state the reason for the collapse of my marriage in one word - just one word - the word would be cruelty.

* * *

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Photographic Memories

Once the storm settles and it’s safe to venture back into the world, I’ll shop for a digital camera. Although I matriculated with a Masters in Photography, I have photographed very little since the mid-80’s. I always intended to pick up a camera again…eventually.

There’s a bit of symmetry in this. I studied for my Masters in the years following my first divorce. Photography gave me new eyes, the chance to look at the world afresh. I guess, in some way, you can say that photography saved my life.

It’s that time again. I need to open my eyes and see the world again. I must simply live and observe and celebrate. I need a camera to record the journey. At my age, there aren’t all that many voyages of discovery left to me.

* * *

I’ve never felt comfortable talking about my photography. I don’t know why that is.

It was a fellow student who noted a common element in all of my work. He bought one of my prints and he said: “I love your work…it’s so quiet.”

Quiet

I honestly had not considered that myself. I surely was not consciously pursuing some pre-determined aesthetic, some intellectual construct. I simply captured images that resonated within me. Some images felt right, others didn’t. I only printed and exhibited the ones that felt right. It was only after the student made his comment that I took a big step back and realized just how right he was. My images were, indeed, quiet. Silence saturated my work.

My visual thesis was entitled “Fog.” It was comprised of thirty-six photographs of silent, shrouded landscapes. It looked as if the world stood still, hesitating to even breathe. I’ve sold or given away every photograph. Except one. A bleak, wintry landscape shrouded in clouds and silence.

I guess it was a self-portrait.

* * *

The strange thing is, I NEVER photographed people in those years. I just didn’t.

Today, all I hunger for are photographs of friends, family and lovers. I wish I had photographs of the images that dance in my head, hour after hour, day after day, month after month.

I wish I had captured her face when, after making love, with rain falling gently outside the open windows, she looked at the sky with a smile playing on her lips. I wish I had captured the smiles, the glow, the laughter…

* * *

Monday, June 12, 2006

Redemption

Redemption. What a concept. Where would I be if redemption were not possible? Would I even wish to wake in the morning if it weren’t for that skinny little chance each new day offers to find redemption?

Redemption: 1) improving of something – the act of saving something or somebody from a declined, dilapidated, or corrupted state and restoring it, him, or her to a better condition; 2) redeemed state – the improved state of somebody or something saved from apparently irreversible decline.

Redemption. It’s the foundation for traditional Christian theology. It’s a fundamental belief/tenet/goal within all of the world’s major religions. Redemption makes failure bearable for it opens doors to atonement, forgiveness, growth, understanding and, finally, grace.

I suppose there are those who may never achieve redemption or salvation. I can’t imagine how a Hitler or Stalin (or any number of depraved individuals) could be redeemed. Maybe I’m just too horrified to figure that one out. The rest of us, though, have a chance to save ourselves…or save one another.

* * *

I think I fall somewhere betwixt good and evil. I’ve hurt others, undoubtedly so. My sins/errors/failures all fall in the “Didn’t Love Properly” category. It’s a broad category, to be sure. I’ve failed at love in a number of ways with a number of people with varying degrees of consequence and suffering. It’s not the way I wanted to live my life. It’s not the way I thought I would fail. Funny (well, not really), I’ve only hurt the ones I’ve loved (including some innocent bystanders, unfortunately). I believe I have treated all other acquaintances honorably (often to my personal detriment). No…sadly…it’s the people I love who have suffered.

But, for me, there is still the chance for redemption. At least, I believe there is. I cannot know the time, place or specific opportunity, but I know in my guts that there will always be ways to make amends, to heal or to save. I know this because I have achieved a certain mutual acceptance and peace with the ones I’ve hurt in the past. There’s work to be done in the present, to be sure. In fact, the work will never end.

I’ve tried to be a friend. I’ve been loyal. I am there when needed. Although hearts travel their own and different paths, I’ve never ever fallen out of love…I've only tumbled from my relationships (e.g., marriages).

* * *

I had a “Mr. Darcy moment” a few weeks ago. I was able to do something for my first wife. She had been swept into difficult straits, and I was able to throw her a lifeline. We didn’t talk about it much. The conversation went something like this:

She: “You didn’t have to do that. You don’t owe me anything.”
He: “I know. But that’s what I did...it's what I wanted to do.”

Redemption. It does far more for the sinner than the sinned against.

* * *

Friday, June 09, 2006

Victoriana

I recently finished reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for the second time in as many months. This novel has truly beguiled me. It’s possessed of virtues and delights too many to count.

There are, of course, the charming lovers themselves: Jane and Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Can there be found four hearts more endearing? We get to trace the circuitous paths they follow to find each other. Their respective journeys take them from astonishment, misperceptions, self-examination, awareness, repentance and redemption to…finally…love and union.

There is the meticulous writing; the formal, studied prose of a bygone era. It’s all there - wit expressed so delicately, yet, so bitingly; character defined through subtle detail; deep truths revealed ever so gently. The writing alone is a fine treat.

And then, for me, there is "Victoriana" itself (although this book predates the heights of the Victorian Era). I’ve taken a keen interest in the histories, nature, and inevitable failures of empire. Since I don’t want to veer off into political discourse, I’ll simply state that I see striking and disturbing parallels between the United States of today, and the late stages of previous grand empires. But let’s not go there.

* * *

I’ll confess feeling great shame while reading passages that spoke to matters of civility, dignity, propriety, honor and decorum. I have fallen far short in these particular virtues. I don’t think the failure is mine alone, though. We seem to live in a coarser, far less dignified and virtuous time. There is a part of me that longs to live in an age when virtue was exalted, when people truly prized personal honor, when people expressed themselves with dignity and subtlety. I believe I would have been a better person as a result. There is more than a hint of the Victorian inside of me.

As I said, I’d periodically burn with shame while reading. Conflicting ideas began pressing in on me, and I wanted to examine these thoughts further. So I did.

So much of what delights and inspires me in Victorian society was artifice. The exalted regard for women, the delicate matter of manners and the emphasis on virtue, all mask the fact that woven deeply in that fabric were beliefs that women are (essentially) property, the observance of severe class-distinctions, and the gross exploitation of foreign resources and people. The conduct of England’s high society veiled or denied human frailties (or baseness) as it self-piously gloried in (ostensible) virtue and propriety…and as, all the while, it glutted from others’ suffering and impoverishment.

* * *

Still, deep in my soul, I wish I were more like Mr. Darcy.

* * *

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Rainy Afternoon

I’m rather amazed by the things I remember. One would think that we, in our dotage, would recall only momentous occasions. I certainly remember those, but I have other vivid recollections as well.

This morning, for no apparent reason, I was transported to a rainy afternoon in my youth. I am either seven or eight years old (details like that escape me).

I am sitting on the ramshackle porch in my tiny little home in Palos Hills. The porch is roofed, and it is raining. I sit, quietly reading. The dog and two cats are sleeping near my feet. It is raining…a robust, continuous summer rain. Five decades later, I can feel the cool mist on my arms. I smell the aroma of the grateful earth. I see the raindrops exploding on the railing. I hear the sighs of every drop.

This reminiscence is startling in its acuity. I am a child again. I am loving the rain, the moment, life itself.

I truly love rainy days

* * *

As I write this, my mind wanders to other, more momentous, rainy days. I fell in love one rainy evening. I made love (truly made love) to the most amazing woman on this big, beautiful planet on a rainy day...


I will forever love rainy days.

* * *


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