Dream On

Dream On

When I was 7 or 8, my brother, 19 years my elder, moved back into our house after he separated with his wife, and we shared the narrow attic bedroom space. That must have been weird for him, as he had spent his entire childhood up there with our other two brothers, who were much closer in age with him.

There we were, oldest and youngest, first and last, alpha and omega. We were the bookends of our parents’ efforts in building a big family.

Every morning, about 30 minutes or so before I would need to get up for school, Warren’s radio clock alarm would go off. He had it set to WLPL, 92.3 FM, a station I had come to love for the next decade for its cutting-edge rock that we now listen to on classic rock stations like 100.7 The Bay. My days and nights were filled with Zeppelin, Hendrix, Eagles, Elton John, Heart, and Fleetwood Mac, to name just a few.

But on those mornings when his rock-and-roll clock would tick-tock click to that moment when we would both be awakened, Aerosmith played, “Dream On.”

Every. Single. Morning.

Warren would stir, grumble a bit to himself, then roll out of bed and trudge downstairs to our one and only bathroom. A few minutes later, I would hear the front door open and close, his motorcycle come to life, and then the roar that followed, then faded, as he headed off to wherever big brothers work when they have just separated from their wives.

In my head, among the grumbles and the roars of everything that made my big brother larger than life, I continued to hum the Aerosmith tune as I lay in bed, Dreaming On to a time when I would get big. And grumble. And roar.

Every time when I look in the mirror
All these lines on my face getting clearer
The past is gone
It went by, like dusk to dawn
Isn’t that the way
Everybody’s got the dues in life to pay

So here we are: four decades later. As I write on, “Dream On” plays over and over through my earbuds, into my head, along my veins, and within my heart and brain, a reverberation of love and nostalgia that seem to cancel out each other.

My brother is now dead. He no longer grumbles, roars, or dreams on. I am left with a residual, fading echo of a man I yearned to be.

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And I would think that I would be desperate to hold on to each note of this song, each lub-dub-dub of his cycle, each synchronous wink-and-smile that he would give me, you, a stranger to let you know: “I hear you. You aren’t alone. It’s going to be okay.”

Yes. I would think just that. But it isn’t happening.

Half my life
Is books, written pages
Live and learn from fools and
From sages
You know it’s true, oh
All these feelings come back to you

So instead I try to name that narrow space that exists between love and nostalgia; I try to box it into a nice little corner where I can name it. Identify it. Label it and reduce its hold over me so I can move on and dream on (and dream on and dream on) so that my dreams might come true.

All I can find, though, is something I barely recognize as an emotion caught in the ugly balance between depression and acceptance. The clouds are heavy, you see, but I just can’t tell if they are filled with the humid rains or the sun-drenched rays.

Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away

Here’s what I do know tonight. My brother’s synchronous wink-and-smile is getting me through. It reminds me that I am not alone, that so many of us are struggling with this new and uncomfortable feeling of loss, and that we’re going to be okay.

Throw that all together, and maybe that’s why the rains aren’t falling, but the sun’s rays aren’t getting through the clouds either. It’s this gray existence of understanding, of perspective, even of peace in knowing that, maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will indeed take us away.

But for now, we are here. And with this dream that carries on, we persevere, we find the strength between winks and smiles, and we carry each other as best we can.

We carry each other through the laughter, through the tears, through the early-morning songs that play on and on in our later years.

Yeah. Through the grumbles of thunder and the roars of silent rains and rays, I hear you. We’re not alone. And we’re going to be okay.

In fact, I think we already are.

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There Is Always A Clearing

There Is Always A Clearing

DSC_8498There Is Always A Clearing.

There is always a clearing.
I discovered this long after you had passed,
Where, in the absence of light I imagined the night
Opening its pitch-black door just right– ajar
For eyes like mine that yearned for hope, promise,
Love.
And there you were — are still to this same night,
Where we wait to watch the meteors light the sky
For those who yearn to see the light,
Believe in the clearing (there is always a clearing)
That kindles promises bright.

14 Hours In Light: Part 4. The Rising Sun, The Falling Moon, and The Epiphany

14 Hours In Light: Part 4. The Rising Sun, The Falling Moon, and The Epiphany
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photos by rus vanwestervelt. taken 30 july 2015

Part 4. The Rising Sun, The Falling Moon, and The Epiphany

These seven minutes I spend on the summit of Big Bald Mountain, waiting for the sun’s first sliver to slip over the eastern mountains beyond Little Bald are, perhaps, the most powerful of my life.

Within the first minute of standing between the falling moon and the rising sun, my phone loses all power. Fear returns as quickly as it dissipates, whisked away by the strong winds as if not allowed at 5,516 feet high. I know I am vulnerable here, surrounded by tall grasses and steep drops that give me virtually no warning if a black bear – or any creature for that matter (except the American Redstart warbler, perhaps) – were to charge me. All of the What-Ifs, as well, linger in my mind (if but for a passing moment), as I still need to descend some 1,300 feet, back through the brush, when I leave. I have no way of contacting anybody. Anywhere. Any way.

I am alone with the elements, caught here between the moon and the sun-to-rise.

Or perhaps, instead of being alone, I am all-one, a part of something greater. Instead of seeing myself apart from this natural world, I see myself a part of it all.

I am surprised at the comfort in this, the absolute release and relief of shedding these chains, of finding myself in the middle between day and night, light and dark, faith and fear, and enveloping myself in complete liberation by the nurturing elements of the earth and the air.

I stare at the very northeast tip of the mountain beyond Little Bald where the sun will first rise. I can feel the energy bursting already from that pinpoint, that precise place where night will become day. The heavy moon behind me bears the weight of a long night’s journey. It is tired and ready to surrender the early morning, if but for a short 14 hours and 2 minutes, to light.

I, too, surrender. I exhale and give myself to the wind, the earth, the sky. I am one with the elements.

And then I feel it. At first, it is a negligible push and pull, an almost indiscernible, autonomous and rhythmic sway that defies the strong winds that whip around me. The pulse, though, grows stronger as I stand there, an earthly beat by two heavenly chambers that carry the energy of all things to and fro, back and forth, around and around.

I am between these two chambers that volley life-energy ceaselessly. And for those final moments leading up to the defining second where the sun rises, I embody dark and light and everything in between. I am the conduit for love, for life, for existence.

The winds steal away my tears as fast as they appear, but that seems right that they should fall elsewhere on the mountains around me. As I am being baptized by the earth and by the heavens, my tears become a part of the ritual, returning to the earth drops of life manifested by such beauty, such energy.

DSC_8427Unblinking, I watch night surrender to day, The sun rises as the moon sighs, and I am filled fully with the energy of both.

In the name of Walt Whitman, I sound my barbaric YAWP from this rooftop of the world and hear the single syllable echo among the ridges that now bathe brightly in early morning hues of yellow and orange.

A single note, a single man, resonating boundless life and love and energy.

I have never felt so alive in my life, and I want to run from this mountain top and tell the world – I want to tell you – that what is in me is in every one of us. We possess the same life, love, and energy that flows incessantly, reverently, across lands, through waters, and among skies.

We are the earth. The water. The sky. We are all one, a part of the ceaseless energy that makes this universe – and each of us – the most beautiful creation imaginable.

I drop my pack and walk the perimeter of the summit, setting my own compass and course to carry me home: fearless, faithful, and fulfilled.

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Next… Part 5. The Energy Within

Read Part 3. The Summit and The Elements
Read Part 2. The Ascent and The Fear of Wildlife
Read Part 1. The Decision and The Approach


 

During the last week of July, we were fortunate enough to join my sister and her family at their mountain cabin in western North Carolina. It was the first time that our family had been together in six years, and the first time I had seen my sister since she lost her left leg in her battle with osteosarcoma.

In the pre-dawn hours of July 30, I wrestled with the decision to hike to the summit of Big Bald Mountain along the Appalachian Trail and see the sun rise over the Great Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. I have selected 16 photos from that day, spanning a 14-hour period of light, where I remained focused on the energy of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. Mingling among these 16 pictures are six short passages that chronicle my thoughts during that day. This is the fourth of those six passages in my series titled, “14 Hours In Light.”

Wandering to Fifty: My Secrets of Life

Wandering to Fifty: My Secrets of Life

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I’ve included some of my favorite photos that I’ve taken over the years; it’s not that they are terribly relevant to the content of this post…I just think they capture my life over the last fifty years.

So this is what 50 feels like. I have this urge to knock over a food display at Trader Joe’s, or order ice cream before the main course, or take a whimsical trip north for a lobster sandwich in Concord, MA.

Wait– Those are all things that I did in my 20s. Am I giving myself a little nudge to have some fun? To play a little more? To recapture the spontaneity that made those days so carefree and beautiful?

Maybe. It’s not a knock on my life now and where I am — God no. I am incredibly blessed with a beautiful family, a solid set of jobs doing what I love, and a passion to embrace every infinitesimal fraction of every moment existing right here, right now, in my present.

But a little more spontaneity sprinkled in to this incredibly blessed life? Absolutely.

When I was in my 20s and 30s, though, it wasn’t all about road trips and ice cream. In fact, there were plenty of times where I sought some deeper truth, some greater meaning to life and to my role in it. I get that we all have to go through that. It’s a personal journey, after all, and we have to figure a lot of stuff out for ourselves.

Still…

I have the chance to throw a little wisdom down to my youngers who are still making their way toward the big Five-Oh. I know that you have probably heard these tips plenty of times along the way. Nonetheless, I share them with you here, hoping that they might lighten your load a little and help pave your path with a smoother swath of freshly turned leaves and detritus.

So, without further ado, I give to you my “Greatest Hits” of wisdom learned in these first 50 years.

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1. Everything Begins Within.

I think that one of the biggest derailers in my earlier years was allowing so much  of the external world affect my internal being. Bad drive in to work? Derailed. Nasty note from a friend? Derailed. Things didn’t go “my way” as I had hoped/planned/wished? Derailed.

It seemed as if so much of my happiness (or any emotion, really) depended on external forces. I had surrendered control over to one and all in the universe. And, as a result, I was an out-of-control roller coaster of emotions at the whim of the world.

Eventually, I realized that it didn’t have to be this way. I was in control, and by focusing first on my inner core, I could ignite a limitless supply of energy and self-confidence to bolster my immune system against emotional derailments. When I begin with what’s inside of me, I no longer relinquish myself to the external factors surrounding me.

Recognizing that I am in control has changed my entire approach to life. It has removed the distractions and derailments and has allowed me to do the work I am blessed with the gifts to do.

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2. Do the Work You Were Meant to Do.

I was fortunate to know my passions at an early age: teaching and writing. It’s what I have been doing for most of my life, and I have been wise enough to stay immersed in those two fields. Even so, I wasn’t always “doing the work” as best as I could have been doing, simply because I was searching for something bigger, greater, than what was already in me.

Or I just got lazy.

Foolish, foolish, foolish.

I’ve learned that nobody is going to do the work for you, and there is never, ever a “coasting” period where you get to take it easy. It just doesn’t work that way at all.

I remember thinking there would be a time with my writing that I would be able to slow down a bit, enjoy the money that was coming in from my sales, and take life at a slower pace. At that time, I felt like I was always performing CPR in my craft. If I stopped performing compressions, my efforts would be for naught, and my passions would die away.

Well, for one thing, the money has yet to come in. But even if it did, it wouldn’t give me license to relax. Doing the work means focusing your energy — always — on the passions and talents that you possess. This isn’t about compressions or sustaining a minimal existence of life; it is about using your energy in such a way that your work matters. It makes a difference. Nobody can do that for you. You have to do the work, and do it all the time.

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3. Each of Us Is a Part of a Universal Connection.

I tell this story all the time, but what the hell. I’m fifty now, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I repeat some of my favorite stories.

I think it was 1991 when I was “The Beast” in our week-long Summer Christian Camp at Central Presbyterian Church in Southern Maryland. We had hundreds of kids spending the week with us, and each day, we would do a sketch from Beauty and the Beast and tie it into the theme of the day.

On the final afternoon of camp, with about 500 kids so pumped up in our auditorium, I broke through the walls of the castle and became free of my self-imprisonment. Then, as is the case in any good Christian camp with a musical theme, we broke out in song celebrating life and Christ and everything around us.

There I stood on that stage in front of those kids, and the energy that resonated in that auditorium through our song and movement was absolutely electric. Until that moment, I had never felt so connected to the universe. I realized that we are a part of something bigger, something so very spiritual, that transcends our earthly, day-to-day existence.

We are all interconnected in ways that are both transparent and invisible to us. I was fortunate to learn this at a young age. At times, I have strayed from this connection, but I always come back to my core connection with the greater world. It’s not about Jesus OR Buddha OR any other spiritual source of worship; it’s just about establishing that spiritual and universal connection. In that vast space, we are all contributing to the flow, the groove, the way.

Knowing that has made me care deeply about what I offer to others in all that I do.

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4. When There Are No Desires, All Things Are at Peace.

One of the greatest books that I have ever read is Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. In its 81 chapters of awesomeness, I realized that life isn’t about searching; it’s about providing.

One of my most favorite lines is, “When there are no desires, no expectations, all things are at peace.”

When I first read that line, I thought it was pretty stupid. How can you live a life without expectations? Isn’t that the same thing as living without goals? How ridiculous!

But it isn’t the same thing at all. When we begin to realize our role in the universe, we begin to let go of believing that we are owed anything, anywhere, and by anyone. We let go of the expectations of what others could, or should, do for us. We let go of what we think we earned, of what we think we deserve.

That’s tough to do. We are raised on the reward system, aren’t we? Even now, as adults, we are “compensated” for our work with money. We negotiate contracts for what is fair and right and just for ourselves. We live our lives in a give-and-get mentality. It’s all we know.

The idea of letting go of desires, then, is foreign to many of us. But when we begin to let go and really “do the work” and live our lives genuinely, authentically, to give, to serve, we find that we are rewarded in far greater and immeasurable ways. Some of these rewards are grounded in finances, such as promotions and bonuses. Other rewards are of a more ethereal nature, where we are granted the priceless gifts of love, compassion, and gratitude.

When these arise out of no desires or expectations, we truly appreciate their beauty and their significance. We are filled with gratitude from the blessings that have come to us. We do not judge or weigh their quality, or see how they “sized up” against our expectations. They are simply cherished for what they are.

And when that happens, all things are at peace. What a wonderful thing indeed.

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5. Live in the Present.

Let me take you back a few years to 1989. It was my second year of teaching, and I was living in Southern Maryland and teaching at a small private school. This place was — and still is — amazing in so many ways. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by great educators and administrators who gave me the space to grow professionally.

In April of that year, though, my father died. I was living a somewhat Thoreau-esque life back then, in the woods in a log cabin, and the concepts of carpe diem and sucking the marrow of life itself were fueled by the reality that life is not forever. When I read, “The masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation” by Thoreau, I knew then that I was not going to be one of those men.

And the only way that I knew how to avoid doing that was by living in the present and embracing what exists now. This is what I have, I thought, and I will not take these moments for granted.

Since then, I have kept that mantra at the core of everything I do. I have strayed a bit now and then, sucked into the vacuum of the past or the potentials of the future. But I always end up in the present, grateful for what I have, and excited with the opportunities that await in the moment in which I am living.

We can’t go back to the past, no matter how hard we might try. And we can’t live in a dreamworld of how we want things to someday be. All we can do is work with our present moment, seize the power and the energy it holds, do the work, and be grateful for the opportunity.

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6. We Are Constantly Evolving.

One of the ways I am able to stay “in the present” is by understanding that we are constantly evolving.

I might even add that, in our own evolutions, there is a certain refinement that is constantly happening, too. We evolve through our efforts and energies to learn, experience, and embrace life.

This is a hard concept to grasp if you are living in the past or floating in the future. Evolution doesn’t happen unless you are grounded in the present and staying there as you move forward through action and experience. It’s the only way we can evolve in this ever-fluid universe that we’re all a part of. When we become stagnant, our interactions become stagnant, too. everything dulls, diminishes, atrophies.

We are living, breathing organisms. We are fluid, evolving contributions to a greater swirl of life, of love, of existence that asks of us just one thing: Participate and contribute to the universal evolution of our collective existence.

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7. Embrace the Charge and the Duty to Serve.

I learned at an early age about what it means to serve. My dad was a Baltimore City firefighter, and some mornings when he would come home, I would smell the remnants of his work, the burning buildings he battled to save. On some nights, it was about saving property; on other nights, it was about saving lives.

And on some mornings when he would come home, with soot still rubbed into his forehead along the fine line where his helmet had protected him, I would smell and feel the heavy reality of loss, when his charge to serve was not enough to save the lives of innocent victims trapped in the flames of a three-alarm fire.

Those moments were tough, but my dad persevered. He kept going back. he kept serving.

That stuck with me as a kid. And since then, I have understood the importance of working through those especially tough times with a focus on service. I guess it all goes back to the no-expectations way of living. If we focus, instead, on a life of service, of doing the work for the greater good, then our efforts are all about serving instead of receiving.

Dad died from complications attributed to a medical call he ran in 1986. To this day, his death “in the line of duty” (regardless of how the fire department defined it) has grounded me in a life of service and commitment.

Dad was never the kind of guy that would want any fuss made over the way he lived his life; that’s just the kind of person he was. But his commitment to duty, to service, provided us all with an understanding that our purpose on this Earth transcends any material good or self-serving act.

In this moment, we are here to serve. Period.

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8. Run Loose.

I end with this little story because, with the first seven “Greatest Hits” being a little heavy, I thought that my brother’s simple wisdom captures the essence of everything I’ve learned.

When I was a kid and spending free time with my oldest brother, I would hang on every word he had to say. One afternoon, we were heading to a store to do some shopping, and we passed a jogger on the side of the road. My brother knows running; he was one step away from participating in the Olympic trials, but a heart murmur sidelined him. When the jogger approached us, he shook his head and said, “He’s doing it all wrong.”

I looked at the jogger who was moving at a pretty fast clip. He looked a little stressed, but I just figured that’s the way you look when you are running so quickly.

“Look at his fists, his face, his arms.”

I did. I saw a runner giving it his all.

“Notice anything about them?”

I shook my head.

“All tense. He’s spending all that energy to ball up his fists, keeping his arms stiff, and grimacing with fatigue.”

I had always thought that runners just looked like that.

“He needs to relax. His whole body needs to loosen up so he can put that energy into his heart. His lungs. His muscles that are really doing the work.”

It seemed so odd to me at the time that you had to be loose to run faster, but now it makes total sense to me.

As you are putting your heart and soul into the things you love and believe in the most, you have to go into it loose, relaxed, patient, and flexible.

There’s an old saying that the more you are like bamboo — flexible, able to bend in the heavy winds — the stronger you become. On the other hand, if you are stiff and brittle, you break easily with the slightest of breeze.

That’s how going through life works. Run loose and be the bamboo: deeply rooted in what you believe, but be flexible in the heavy winds that come and go (and they will.)

I leave you with this. James Taylor wrote a song called “The Secret of Life.” The lyrics have played a big role in getting me to where I am today. I hope they play with you in a similar way. They really are simple, and beautiful, and true.

Here’s to you, and all of us. Let’s just open up our hearts and enjoy the lovely ride.

Thanks for being a part of my wandering life. I am ever-grateful.

What Should Go Viral

What Should Go Viral

In the last few days, our lives have been inundated with “The Dress” and whether we see the colors white and gold or blue and black.

In my Saturday afternoon travels, I realized that the discussion had reached my local Royal Farms store, my local public library, and my local gym — all in a matter of hours. Everyone seemed infatuated with what colors they saw when they looked at an image of a dress.

Then came the scientific and psychological posts, explaining how and why we saw two different sets of colors. This was quickly followed by the sarcastic and hateful memes and messages that mocked the fascination with The Dress and its colors.

While some individuals expressed their gratitude for this viral image sparking relationships and encouraging dialogue, others shared outrage that something so benign could become so important in a time when there are so many other pressing matters that are not being talked about.

I posted my own little rant on Facebook about The Dress. Here’s what I wrote:

Went to Royal Farms for coffee and the employees, locked in a circuitous debate, asked my opinion about The Dress.

Went to the Public Library and was hit with a display of books on optical illusions, and in the center was an 8×10 photo of The Dress. I slowed down just enough to take in the display, and two people asked me: What colors do you see?

Went to the gym and saw several trainers gathering around an iPad with an image of The Dress. They took turns staring at it, tilting the iPad this way and that. They argued “Blue Black!” and “White Gold!” as we pushed our pedals and tripped our way along treadmills.

My God, if I could just develop half the hype about people embracing love and getting along. It would be nice to see at the Royal Farms, at the Public Library, at the Gym. Instead of saying, “Which colors do you see?” we would be asking, “Do you realize how wonderful you are?”

Then I thought, maybe I am doing little to help the issue I am complaining about. Am I not just another ranter who is being critical without offering a real solution?

So, I made these three images using some original photos. If you like one, steal it and share it with a friend and read it out loud to them. Let them know they are loved, they are wonderful, and they are beautiful. It doesn’t take much to share a kind word with someone, but it can mean so much for a person to hear it.

These are the things that should go viral: Kindness, Love, Beauty. Share that and talk about it. Let that permeate our lives wherever we go.

Love to you all, and I mean that.

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The Christmas Rose

The Christmas Rose

“The Christmas Rose”

By Rus VanWestervelt, December 2014

 

If you would prefer to download ‘The Christmas Story” as a PDF file, you may do so HERE.

 

Dedicated to Patrick and Sandra, whose sons Ryan and Danny, respectively, passed away far too early in their young lives. May their spirits, and their love, live on forever in the hearts of all who loved them – and you.

 

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Dear Alice and Anna:

It is very early Christmas morning. You are both still asleep, and I have just returned from what was (I am fairly certain) my final journey to and from the Big Hill. The two white roses that will go in your stockings are next to me, along with two gifts wrapped in white paper adorned with small, hand-painted roses. They are beautiful, as always.

Tonight, though, they have even greater meaning. Last Christmas, for the first time, you asked me about those white roses and the gifts wrapped in the pretty white paper. Do you remember? I smiled, and I told you to simply enjoy their beauty and that, someday, I would tell you the full story when you are ready. At that time, I thought that I had plenty of time to wait for you to get a little older.

I was wrong.

I don’t think you are old enough yet to understand any of this, and I certainly don’t think I could just sit down and tell you (I am sure that my tears would get in the way far too much, and it would take away from the beautiful story of the Christmas rose and its legacy that is bigger than any of us). So, I think I’m going to do my best here on these blank pages and write it all down for you. It’s time that I do this now anyway. I can’t trust my memory for too much longer. Things seem to be progressing pretty fast now and, well –

No. I think I’ll just stick with the story behind the beautiful Christmas roses. Like I said already, none of this is about me, anyway.

This town has changed very little since I was your age. Old Emily’s Estate on the Big Hill (at least that’s what we used to call it when we were kids) is as beautiful as ever, and although our house is part of a newer development here in Luther’s Village, the rest of the town has remained true to its good, traditional feel. Your great-grandparents (that would be my Grams and Pop Pop) were the original owners of what is now our home, and your bedroom was the very same room I stayed in when we would come to visit them every Easter and Christmas.

The view from your window is the same, too. I could see Old Emily’s Estate lit up at night, just like you can now. Funny how that name has held up, even long after she passed away. Those single white candles in each window mean a lot more to me now than they did then. Believe me. One day, they will seem even more beautiful to you, too, as you will see them from a very different perspective.

I’ll get to that soon enough, though.

Old Emily was legendary to us while she was still alive. She died about a week before we arrived that Christmas when I turned 17. For years, all of the kids had believed the tales that had been spread about her. Emily Starling, lone inhabitant to the mansion that rested on the highest point here in Luther’s Village, was a wealthy, lonely old woman. For 364 days every year, those big iron gates that separated us from the winding driveway to her home stayed shut—locked tight for so long that we believed they would rust themselves shut forever. But on that one day, December 24, she would open those black, rusty gates and allow a select few to enter on foot.

On that night before each Christmas, a handful of town elders would make the mile-long pilgrimage up the winding driveway to her house. As kids, we would watch them from a distance as we made snowmen along the wooded ridge (when we were fortunate enough to have snow on the ground). Each elder brought a single wrapped gift (they were all quite small) and homemade, aged spirits (your great grandparents would always take their own Quarant Quatre). Once, I saw them return just after midnight, and their arms were filled with so much more.

We never knew exactly what they took up, and we definitely never knew what they brought back. All we could ever see were single white flowers peeking out of the bags they brought down. My Pop Pop was an elder, and he would make the trek every year, though we never spoke of it. Nobody did. That’s just how it was.

The rumors among us kids were wild. Some swore that the elders brought offerings, like sacrifices, to Old Emily. (I’m not going to go into too much detail about that here, though. You girls are just too young to hear about that.) Others believed that she was older than the town itself, and that she would never die. Every Christmas Eve, she would receive something from the elders that made her live another year.

I’m sure that, in time, you will be able to imagine what that was. But like I said before, I’m not going to be the one to talk to you about any of that.

In that year when I was 17 and Old Emily had finally passed on, everything was different here at Grams and Pop Pop’s house. They were sad, for sure, and very reflective, as if they had lost one of their own relatives. They both hugged me more than they had ever done before (and since, for that matter, until the year when they died themselves long before you were born).

My parents and I had arrived on the 23rd of December that year, like always. When we pulled into the driveway, many from the town were walking back from the graveyard. They had just laid Emily Starling to rest, and there sure were a lot of quiet people milling about the streets. It looked more like the third week in a hard Winter’s January than just a few days before Christmas. Their sadness was just too heavy, I guess. They wore their grief like a heavy wool blanket, unable to shake the bitter chill of the winter air.

When my Grams and Pop Pop returned to the house, they both did their best to put on a smile for us. Your grandparents hugged them as I stood awkwardly by. Soon enough, we were all ushered into the house, and a sense of routine seemed to return. At least for a few moments.

Just after the sun had set and the fire in the living room had brought some warm comfort to me, your Great Grams called me into the kitchen. She was a round, fastidious woman who was always happy about the food she was cooking, and she was preparing a feast that smelled just delicious.

“Andrew,” she said, “I decided that this year, on the occasion of you turning 17, I would make you two of those pecan pies you love so much.” And she held up two fingers crippled with arthritis, and danced them in the air like crooked sticks.

I gave her the gentlest of hugs (she seemed so fragile then – but compared to who she had become the year she died, I guess she was okay back in the day).

“Thank you, Grams,” I offered, but the smile she offered turned to concern very quickly.

“There has been a lot of change around here this year with Miss Emily passing on,” she said. “But you’ve changed a little too since we saw you in March. You are growing up too quickly, Andrew, and I can tell that you are itching to get out of high school and move on to bigger things.”

Grams could always get right to the point with me. I liked that.

“I am ready. You’re right,” I replied. “I just don’t know what that means. Where we live in Solomon’s is beautiful, but I’ve never felt any real affinity for the place since we moved down there. Something’s missing.”

“Most people feel that way at your age. Don’t fight it,” she smiled. “But don’t let it consume you, either.”

I hugged her again, and I could feel her fragile fingers wrapped around me, fighting for just another second before finally letting go. When she did, she held me at her thin arms’ length and looked directly into my eyes.

The hazel hue in her own eyes captured colors that I never even knew existed.

“There’s something else, Andrew, about this Christmas Eve that we haven’t shared with you yet,” she said. “Pop Pop and your father will explain everything to you – what they can, at least.”

And here is where everything changed for me.

“It looks like you have been invited to join them tomorrow night up to the Big Hill.”

Immediately, I could hear the fears, the resistance, formulating in my mind.

Me? To the Big Hill? Why? And why is anybody going up there at all? She’s dead now, right? –Gosh, that sounds so cold. I didn’t mean it like that. But if she’s not there anymore, why does anybody need to go back up there?

“Your grandfather will explain most of it to you, along with your father. The rest of it, though? Good luck, Andrew. I don’t think they even know what to expect.”

That night, stuffed with pecan pie and Grams’ classic steamers made with pure vanilla, I sat on the edge of my bed and looked out of my window, staring at Emily’s home atop Big Hill. The single white lights were in each window, as they had always been, but every window on every floor had now been draped shut. No additional light. No movement. Nothing.

The house itself looked as if it had been in mourning for Emily’s passing, if not dead itself.

There’s nothing more we can do, Luther. The house – all of it – is no more. I am so sorry. We did our best. . . .

Of course I didn’t believe any of it. I knew that somebody had to be in that house, someone who probably had a lot to do with whatever was going to happen tomorrow night.

How much will I be allowed to know? I wondered.

I tucked myself under the covers, and as I drifted off to sleep, I was sure that a single curtain in one of Emily’s windows had been pushed aside, and a woman dressed in white watched over me as I dreamed of the next night’s journey: a Christmas Eve tradition of secrecy that I was about to join on the hallowed grounds of Emily Starling’s estate. Continue reading “The Christmas Rose”

Our Need To Endure

Our Need To Endure
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photo cred: http://arifaldoseri.com.

Yesterday afternoon, I spent a good hour at my local library researching topics that interest me greatly: spirituality, love, peace, and writing. You see, I’ve had some pretty good plans lately for new publications. Most of them center on improving your life through mindfulness and spirituality, using writing as a vehicle to living a more inspired and authentic experience.

By the end of that hour, I was caught between a three-way reaction; I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just quit altogether.

Every single idea I had — creative ideas, no doubt — had already been done, ad nauseum, by scores of other writers, spiritualists, and self-helpers out there in our shared universe.

When I returned home, I jumped on the internet and did a more global search through Amazon and other booksellers. What I discovered was even more disturbing.

Everything is available. To everyone. Anywhere. Anytime.

I considered my three reactions once more: laugh, cry, or resign. I felt the smile push my already-round cheeks closer to my eyes, and I began to laugh.

The pressure was gone; the anxiety released. I didn’t need to save the world, after all. Scores of life-savers have already taken care of this burdensome job for you, me, and, well — all of us.

Everyone. Everywhere. Anytime.

So what’s the point, then? Why write? Why publish? Why do any of it if it’s already been done?

The books that I mentioned were ones that I never knew existed. I have been doing this for a long time, and I was surprised how many titles were not on my literary radar. They were all legitimate titles, too. None of this Kinko’s-copied, let-me-wrap-a-spiral-binding-around-it kind of publication. Strong authors. Solid publishers. Recent pub dates.

It’s like when you’ve been following a musician for a long time, and you do a quick search and find out he released a new CD 3 years ago. How could this be? In this age of hyper-turbo instant info that goes streaming by your smart-phone-tapping thumbs on a dozen different newsfeeds, you would think that such a release would not get by you.

It did, and so does so much more, which is the whole point.

In a time where instant communication has broken through all geographic, cultural, political, and spiritual barriers, we still find ourselves missing the things that matter the most to us.

This, my friends, is our need to endure: close friends, loved ones, and the members who make up our small, seemingly tight-knit communities, the people and places we frequent the most.

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photo cred: http://jaredakers.com.

This is our audience, our group, our family. And in this little circle, we need to hear each other’s voices, and often. Beyond us is a cacophony of words, sounds, images, and ideas streaming by us at speeds we can no longer fathom, a flow of information that we can no longer adequately absorb. It is just too much to take in.

But in our own community, we can contribute great things to each other; we can offer and value the sanctity of ideas, regardless of what might exist (ad nauseum) outside of our little village.

We have the need to endure, not for the masses, but for the villagers next door, across the street, or down a little ways along the virtual highway who have aligned with us.

It is for all of you that I write, that I share, that I post, and play, and pray. If it goes beyond the village and is appreciated by others, I am delighted.

But to endure, I write for you first. Always.