Creative wonder

Over the past three months, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and speak about my experiences of self-discovery and the lost Intruder. At each venue, invariably a stranger will seek advice on how to tailor my personal lessons to their lives, to learn the secret in overcoming long-term adversity.

There is no secret, and there is no overcoming.

Trying to deny a place for life’s hardships, the inevitable setbacks and heartbreaks, clever attempts to circumvent the universe’s trials are doomed to failure. Life is hard. It is also complicated beyond science, philosophy, technology, and perhaps even religion. We will never understand all the “whats” that confront us, never mind the “whys.” But that’s okay. Acknowledging this simple insight, accepting it deeply until it courses within us with each beat of the heart, might be the closest we can come to a cure for life.

Faith is a wondrous word: the peaceful incarnation of commonality we share with our surroundings. Yes, there is unfathomable pain and hardship in the world, only some of which is within our power to alleviate. We will all die, and we will never eliminate despair, never subdue humanity’s dark side of feeling.

It is that which defines our basest nature that also allows for the best in people, that fosters the kindness in a stranger’s eyes in passing, the sharing of a moment between two terrestrial creatures striving for insight into celestial questions. Pondering the meaning of a sunset in a lighthearted, shared marvel transforms the rawness inside us, shaping it into a powerful reality with all humanity’s soulful perfections and flaws.

Perhaps it is our job to navigate these inevitable detours until arriving at a vista of loveliness, the beautiful fullness of another amid the alchemy of creative wonder.

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Open letter to North End Fitness

“Although I owned a boat, I had no sonar, metal detector or any practical method of surveying the ocean bottom. With an incurable illness, no prospect of financial reward, little chance of success, brain surgery looming, and one child in college with another about to start, I was not in a position to spend thousands of dollars on a search. Still, desperate for a distraction, anything to pry my focus away from the disease, I decided—the hell with Parkinson’s. I’m doing it.” – From the “The Lost Intruder, The Search for a Missing Navy Jet.”

That was me in 2014, nine years after being diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s disease at age 43. I went on to find the missing A-6 Intruder—a jet I had flown from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger—a feat of perseverance that four U.S. Navy ships had been unable to accomplish in 1989.

Since then, I’ve undergone Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, setting the clock back several years and increasing my physical capability. Parkinson’s still makes most things difficult, however. Even walking with a decent posture and rhythm requires continuous concentration and focus. Constant joint pain, insomnia, a lack of dexterity, and depression are a few of the daily companions that challenge my imagination with ways to stay positive and active. For a Parkinson’s patient to give in to fatigue and stop exercising can lead to a slow death.

That’s where North End Fitness comes in. I am the token “Y” (chromosome)—the only regularly attending guy—in Yvette’s Interval Training class, and yes, I catch some good-natured grief for that fact. Interval training builds strength while testing balance and cardiovascular endurance. Yvette works us hard as she motivates the class, making it fun, the key ingredients to maintaining a regular exercise regimen.

Every time I go to Interval, the sense of achievement allows for a small victory that helps me step up to life’s daily challenges. Some days are harder than others, but Interval, like the many other excellent classes offered by the great instructors at North End Fitness, motivates and inspires beyond the doors of the gym. It sets my attitude for the day, keeping me plugging away when the alternative can be devastating.

Parkinson’s has no cure, but if you think about it, neither does life. Staying active and being around positive, engaged people goes a tremendous way in making each day just a little bit easier and a whole lot more fun. Thank you, Yvette and all the staff at North End Fitness! – Peter Hunt

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Smashwords interview of Peter Hunt

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The prospect of touching a single individual and making a positive difference in his or her understanding of life, especially if they have Parkinson’s disease. I strive to be the best listener possible. This often means traveling with another down their personal path of self-discovery, an always fascinating and sometimes enlightening invitation to view another’s soul. If this sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, please remember that I used to be a Navy carrier combat aviator and commercial airline pilot, as well as a former deep-water shipwreck diver; in other words, one accustomed to life’s harsh perceived realities. But there is so much more out there. By inviting a reader into my story, I might be able to offer a glimpse of possibility and hope for those with incurable disease.

What do you read for pleasure?
Until relatively recently, I read nothing but books on history, politics, and biography/autobiography. Now I look for books that tease the imagination and stir the soul, stories and nonfiction which inspire both deep thought and an unconscious connection of commonality, kindred tales of our society’s generational myths. For me, it is all about trying to understand the experiences of others, be they real or fiction, not to find fixes or cures. There is no cure for life. All we can hope to do, I believe, is to ease another’s path towards a settled, inner peace.

Describe your desk
Moderate clutter with a large, printed sign at the top of the window that says, “Boldly going nowhere.”

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Six years of my childhood in the 1970s was spent in Athens, Greece. These were the magical years of spiritual alchemy before I was poisoned by the societal sanctions of adulthood. Anything was possible, and time was immaterial. There was no TV, just ancient ruins along every roadside, spilling over with stories to tell, sparking imaginative travel far beyond the realm of our family VW bus. I miss those days, back before life was overthought. In my opinion, modern society needs to feel a whole lot more, and think a whole lot less.

When did you first start writing?
When I was 38, five years before my Young Onset Parkinson’s diagnosis. In retrospect, I probably had the disease back then, though. Parkinson’s has changed my life for the better in so many ways. Without having contracted the disease (what an odd word, “contracted,” used in this manner), I would likely have gone through a life unexamined, unfulfilled, and never at peace or happy. I see writing, Parkinson’s, and who I am today on the deepest level as so intricately connected as to be unfathomable.

What’s the story behind your latest book?
“The Lost Intruder, The Search for a Missing Navy Jet,” is on the surface about my discovery of a Navy A-6 Intruder that crashed off the shores of Whidbey Island in 1989. The jet was from my squadron; I had flown that specific jet both from the aircraft carrier USS Ranger and ashore from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. But that merely provides structure for the book. The underlying story relates my battle with Parkinson’s disease during the project, and how it transformed me into a more caring and happy person. It is a soulful revel in life’s mysteries, as well as an informative look at Naval Aviation, technical wreck diving, underwater sleuthing, and Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, among other things. Oh yeah, and a page-turning adventure; don’t want to forget about that!

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Hearing from readers who connect with my experiences and have somehow benefited from them. Four years of research, searching, and writing balances nicely with deeply relating to another human being.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
Yoga, exercising, occasionally Scuba diving, some volunteering, and enjoying nature. Thinking a lot followed by doing my best not to think at all.
Published 2018-03-03.

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Gifted a Life Ring–Farewell to Eric

Eric did not come empty-handed when he pulled his full-sized pickup truck into my driveway late last spring. As I approached the driver’s side door, he abruptly floored the accelerator, causing the big V-8 to thunder in neutral, what I would only begin to understand much later was a frustrated fist-shake at the world.

Grinding the bare stub of a cigarette into the floorboard with shaking hands, he brushed my outstretched palm aside as he gave me a big hug. I hugged him back, after all, we had seen a lot, shared a lot, together more than a quarter century earlier, when we were both charged with the electric stupidity of youth that passes for fearlessness. Eric and I had flown together during our first six-month deployment on the USS Ranger to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. He filled my arms with gifts, and we walked into the house.

Unshaven, with stubble encircling an otherwise bald head, Eric’s eyes darted furtively behind wire glasses. Eric looked like shit, I thought, as I slowly made sense of the jumbled bits and pieces of our phone conversations over the past several days. Eric was either nearing a nervous breakdown, or experiencing some sort of manic episode, I couldn’t tell what exactly, but he was in bad shape.

And then, abruptly, he wasn’t, and it was steady as she goes, and my old bombardier/navigator was back: confident, razor sharp, intently asking, “how are you doing, Petey,” the awkward nickname he would use to try and get a rise out of me. For the next four hours, we visited as he transited the disconnected states of his tormented life, a topic to which I am not wholly unfamiliar. Alternating tales started in fact that slowly began to stray from reality, and hysterical references to “pilot candy” and various close ones on the aircraft carrier that I knew to be true, it became clear that the same old Eric was in there, especially when he spoke of his love for his children. We shared more than a few laughs, hugs, and tears before it was time for him to leave.

It was only as Eric was getting ready to leave that I took stock of his gifts. Six Asian specialty beers, a mini toy fishing pole, three packs of Starbursts (“pilot candy” to give me a boost of energy to land the jet safely after a long night of flying). A beautiful photo of a Hawaiian sunset ready to be framed was also there, several small American flags, the kind waved at parades, and finally one huge, ship-sized orange life ring, much too big to use on my boat. After a final hug and “I love you, brother” uttered by both of us, I told him to come visit anytime.

He never did.

Last Sunday evening, Eric took his own life. I won’t pretend to understand the why, other than the obvious: the relentless attacks by demons of who knows what origin became too much for him to bear. What I do know, however, is that Eric—adoring father, caring friend, and life observer of uncommon insight and wisdom was in there, dealing as best he could with a terribly cruel and uncaring world. I will remember Eric as always kind.

May you find peace at last, old friend.

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Appreciating the rain

Perhaps like most people, I grew up loving the sun and grumbling about the rain, not-so-secretly wishing that the summers would last forever. It never crossed my mind to question this assumption, maybe because the clear sky meant running and jumping in outdoor play as a child, although I do recall a few youthful antics sliding around in a muddy downpour. The sun came to mean limitless possibility, the rain often a harshly negative reality, and these views solidified and strengthened into adulthood.

Relatively recently, I listened closely to a friend who held firm to the opposite view: they found comfort and security in the rain, a nurturing cleansing and watering of life. To them, the sun was necessary, but it also wielded an impersonal scorching energy that pried them open, leaving them bare and vulnerable to a hostile world.

Despite a sincere effort to understand, I could barely intellectualize this point of view and seemed hopeless in ever gaining anything other than a mild depression at even the thought of a cloudy or rainy day. But I kept trying, pretty much every time it rained, attempting to appreciate the dark weather on some deeper level. I am only just beginning to experience a glimmer of comprehension over a year later.

Life metaphors of the contrast of good and bad, darkness and light, and the need to “appreciate” one for the other run rampant through the logical mind, but I felt something entirely different. I started to see, hear, feel, touch and taste the rain from my heart, asking my brain to take a break in trying to figure out consciously why I defined myself as someone who “didn’t like the rain.” On misty dog walks, I began to see parts of nature that had shot right by me during sunny afternoons when vision overwhelmed the other senses to inconsequence.

While the sun had me focusing on an obscure infinite horizon, the rain put me just a single step from the life in front of me. The sunny vista evoked imagery of “someday,” whereas a rainy overcast focused all the senses in the here and now, an often scarier picture that few I know care to acknowledge. While the sun spoke to future possibility, hope, and past out-of-touch memories, like regret, the rain gently nudged the senses inward toward contemplation of the now, the only place action has meaning.

Getting in touch with life’s rainy days nurtures and cleans, calming distant superficial and materialistic dreams while satiating a natural thirst to simply be. It might be valuable paying attention to those with the most divergent views from your own to best experience the life that surrounds us all.

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Being lost

How hard we work to stay distracted, desperately shielded from the smallest honest glimpse; surrounded by idols and walls and carefully contrived paths to nowhere; setting up the game to rules born of obscure fancy.

Until that rare person pierces the image, deflating the world to simplicity, without intention or motive or purpose, with only a kind word or warm look. Straddling the mirage’s complexity and vision’s loving nothingness is a hard place to live.

But it is the life we have; lost in thought’s misdirection, spinning faster and faster until blind to both worlds, lacking confidence to make the jump into either. It is a cage of purgatory-sized meaning.

Millenia of evolved senses work in unison with the single goal, survival, a futile battle measured in time’s deceptive cadence. Instinct, living uncomfortably close to the spirit’s will to believe.

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Walking the dog

Two and a half years ago, I was walking the family English Golden Retriever through our rural neighborhood. It had only been a couple of months since my Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery, and I was having difficulty relaxing and reaching a rhythm as my pooch pulled, then abruptly stopped to sniff, jerking the leash painfully against the still tender battery implants in my chest.

I was frustrated. Unable to exercise except for these walks, becoming stir crazy in my house and the inner workings of my mind, I was frozen in will trying to sort out this new under the skin surgical miracle-world of electrodes and wires. I was literally reaching the end of my rope with each tug of the leash.

Approaching the community pond, a familiar form shuffled toward me. It was a large man, disheveled and unshaven with the vaguely menacing air and cautiously furtive manner of one of society’s outcasts. I immediately knew who he was.

I had seen him along the road numerous times over the years on his way to and from visiting a friend, perhaps his only friend in the world, an older lady who lived by the water. He was well known in the community, having sparked an outcry about ten years earlier when it was learned that he was a registered sexual offender.

His crime had been as severe as they came: the rape of an adult woman in another county some 20-30 years ago. He had spent time in prison and was only eventually released under the permanent official labeling of the State’s sexual predator statute. That was all I knew of him.

As one deemed “likely to re-offend,” any community he attempted to reside in—for the rest of his life—would receive law enforcement and neighbor notification of his presence. He had visited the elderly lady for years, occasionally being picked up and evicted by Sheriff’s Deputies after he crossed a legal threshold in his stay that met the criteria for an unreported residence.

Several days earlier, an electrical fire had erupted at the lady’s home in the middle of the night, killing the woman and allowing the man to barely escape with his life. I assumed that he had come back to the ashes to pay his respects before leaving for who knew where.

In the past, I had allowed a distant nod in passing to the man, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt so many years after paying a debt to society that, despite releasing him, still permanently labeled him. It just seemed cruel to technically offer the man a free life, but one with strings attached that guaranteed that he would be rigorously tormented forever.

But to be fair, I knew very little about the circumstances surrounding his earlier conviction. Maybe he deserved a life sentence or worse; maybe not.

“Good morning,” I said, feeling uneasy as he walked out of our upper-middle-class community with nothing but his ragged clothes and a small backpack after losing his only friend in the world.

He surprised me by answering in a strained voice, as if unaccustomed to speaking, “How wonderful it must be to just walk where you like with your dog.”

I replied, suddenly deeply ashamed at how ungrateful I had become, “Yes, it is.” I often think of that man, sometimes wondering what happened to him.

And I ponder his words, marveling at the beauty that can be found in a simple act such as walking the dog: two creatures tenuously connected in a vast and lonely world if only by a leash and the occasional affectionate nuzzle.

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Imagination’s key

Intellect, perched smugly secure behind convention’s walls, fragments the soul into scattered pieces, rendering it weak with contrived conflict. We are taught to be one of many, unique in conformity’s perceived choices. Black and white, right and wrong; the options dazzle in simplicity, enticing hungry exploration forward to nowhere, like an airplane soaring west until it arrives where it started.

Words like position and legacy decry and diminish, while only the absence of argument can hint of existence. We enter this world alone, frail, and naked, but with the warm memory of a comfort beyond. Life’s parting gift is learned doubt and unease.

Reason, finite and fleeting, desperately attempts to define us, but imagination unlocks the soul, allowing a glimpse of reality through silent acts of compassion and kindness.

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Humility’s legacy

Man’s basest instinct, fueled by ego and pride, goads us in a legacy of “more” as money, power, and fame greedily measure out our spiraling descent. Insecurity is humanity’s collective theme; humility our lonely virtue.

The conflict with self never ends, battling quiet mantras that ring hollow and weak, sabotaged by the competitive urges that seek to derail our chugging climb.

Life’s desperate loneliness casts its broad shadow—invisibility; not mattering; existing without being. Ego homes in on our shared insignificance, bullying the fading light, sputtering the shared flame into ethereal oblivion.

Yet, still, we struggle; we try. And we believe.

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The riddle of the Sphinx

When asked, “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” Oedipus correctly answers, “Man.”

The mythological Sphinx’s riddle illustrates the physical progress of Man through life in a linear fashion: as a baby, Man walks on all fours; as an adult on two feet; and when elderly with three appendages through the use of a cane.

As I pack two folding canes, not used in almost three years, into my backpack, it strikes me that our trek through life is in some ways substantially more complicated to explain, but far easier to accept, when viewed through a non-physical prism. Physical aging may indicate a progression, but it offers little insight or comfort.

I prefer to think of life as an arc, perhaps even as a full circle, where one dies as one was born: an infant in intellect, yet infinitely wise in spirit and rich in soul.

The two collapsible canes have reclaimed a temporary place in my wardrobe due to the need for an MRI tomorrow, which in turn requires shutting down my pulse-generating batteries for the duration of the exam. I’ve had a nerve issue causing a shooting pain down my leg for over two months, and the MRI is for my lower back.

I have not had the deep brain stimulation units (one on each side of the brain) turned off in about two and a half years. I’m not sure what to expect, particularly since I now take time released Levodopa capsules that were unavailable to me before my 2014 brain surgery. So, I pack the canes next to my DBS controller in the backpack in case I am unable to walk.

The necessity of using two canes—four appendages—to walk aligns the Sphinx’s physical progression in the same circular direction as our spiritual journey: toward a non-judgmental peace with the world last experienced, by me at any rate, as a child.

Three distinct childhood ages come to mind, reverse markers on the journey to awareness: 15, 11, and 5. These are just my personal associations with phases of growth, or decay, depending on how you look at it, and I don’t imagine that the specific ages are important. They are probably different for each of us.

I think of life’s circle reversing for me somewhere around age 45, about ten years ago. Up until that point, I had considered historical knowledge, politic awareness, and keeping up with current events as critical to understanding the world. I had lost any semblance of childhood innocence and acceptance, not realizing that the harder I tried to understand life, the more impossibly complex it became.

So somewhere around age 45, I took a spiritual turn without really knowing it. I began thinking in younger and younger terms, looping back toward a childhood awareness, not yet even sure of why. Currently, I view myself, in spiritual terms, in the vicinity of age 15.

Fifteen was an age of exciting possibility, a world of simplicity and awe of the future. It was also a milestone of when I began dampening my awareness: it was the age when I started to drink. But mostly, 15 was a crossroads where I could still get excited about first love, could enjoy a walk through the woods by myself while simultaneously developing a fierce competitiveness and appetite for adventure.

Today, I try hard to shed my competitive nature while exploring the same intensely real feelings of innocence. Whether the world is a literal illusion, or merely a façade of Man’s ego and insecurities, at age 15 I was still mostly immune to the illusion’s distracting pull.

I look forward to 11, an age of exploration when only the most basic of emotions was important. Money held no sway; power was an empty word.

But most of all, I look forward to becoming 5 again, of looking through the wise eyes of a child bereft of life’s insanities. After 5, I lose sense of who or what I was, of identity, which is a transition that offers a real opportunity for internal peace.

We humans are universally imperfect and constantly changing. As a friend once told me: it’s tough being human. Yes, it is, but that’s okay. For now, this 15-year-old might be back to walking on four legs again, if only for tomorrow.

I look forward to traveling a path of non-judgmental acceptance someday: aware, alive, at peace—and naturally—on all fours.

 

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