A lone tree, roots locked to rocky isle as branches spread in defiant stillness, patiently awaits a mother’s call.
Regardless of where I lived at the time, be it Athens Greece, or Long Island, memories of youth are invariably pulled toward a common theme, climbing a favorite tree. What was the attraction? Why take a risk with no apparent goal other than to perhaps reach one limb of questionable strength higher? It was simple. By raising my head above the day’s routine, I could catch a glimpse of the mysterious outer world of possibility.
In New York, I had to climb to where the leaves thinned to view the surrounding community where it ended in the sea. Tree climbs while living in Athens inspired wild imaginations of times past and present. But oddly, climbing trees produced the same unsettling emotion regardless of locale – the uneasy feeling that I was at the edge of great discovery, bonded to the shadow fear that I would miss out, that I would somehow be left behind.
This deep-seated panic of being excluded from life’s adventure—of being a bystander—still resides within me, fresh yet primal, visceral sensations unchanged from that little boy’s as he raised his eyes above that final, highest branch half a century ago. In an impermanent world, I’m damn thankful for this part of me that remains unchanged, pushing me forward to try something new despite my fear, even as forward inevitably bends to scribe the giant arc of a circle.
A peacock ran directly in front of my forty-mph car today, forcing a thankfully successful brake-slam. I might have let it pass as coincidence had it been the first time, but something similar happened to me about six years ago, at the timeframe that my latest book Beyond Identity begins, only without the benefit of a car.
I was in the living room speaking on the phone with a friend when a loud rustling noise on the back deck caught my attention. Stepping out the door, a huge blur of light and color hurtled directly for my head, causing me to fall backward right onto my butt. After a loud, “what the f…! I jumped up, turned around and found myself staring beak to beak with a giant peacock now sitting on my roof.
So, what, if anything, does a run in with a peacock mean? A quick web search evoked in me a drawn out “whoa…”
The peacock’s spiritual symbolism is connected with integrity, doing what you say, truth, honor, beauty, strength, spiritual awakening, and awareness, among other traits. Okay, so, humor didn’t make the list, neither did swearing, and the obvious mischaracterization of beauty is impossible to ignore. Still, the rest rings true.
Reflecting on both events, each a bookend to Beyond Identity’s timeframe, I’m somewhat compelled to take the spiritual awakening/awareness parts seriously, after all, these are the core themes of the book. I find myself doing that sort of thing more often these days, not necessarily looking for signs, but occasionally accepting them as meaningful, particularly if they literally jump out in front of me.
Blind reliance on the portals of interpretation confuse nature’s rhythm, allowing no room for sensation under the sweet dead-weight of pride.
Initiated with the spark of insecurity, we define ourselves from the mirrored impression we emit to the surrounding world in a desperate toehold against a rising sea of uncertainty. The world view we grow builds on the planted seeds of personality, but all are mere potentials. What we choose to believe and disbelieve reflects back on us like a spotlight on life’s stage.
It is your narrative: yours to change or solidify in momentum’s inevitable move toward evolution or regression. Staying the same is not an option. Such choices can frame life in self-imposed boundaries that leave no room for authentic compassion and kindness. Regardless of strenuous self-convincing, no repetition of walled thought will make your view of the world true; real to you, perhaps, but not true. The revelation of wasted life only acknowledges such hubris by paying a visit as waning mortality’s final act.
Reality is yours to choose, but truth transcends preference, unveiling desperate outrage as the self-serving cowardice of a tortured soul.
While camping in Greece in 1971, my father taught me my first and last lesson in stargazing, consisting of describing various constellations by alternately relating their Greek myth of origin and their orientation for maritime navigation. At just nine years old, the celestial details haunt memory not so much with the vague familiarity of fact, but rather the distinct closeness of warm physical emotion. I can still feel the chilled night air stinging my cheeks, contrasting the snug security of my heavy sleeping bag as I lay on my back under the star-filled sky.
Despite my young age, I do recall appreciating the somber nature of our campground site, the central concentration of the antiquities of Sparta. We had arrived at the ancient ruins of the warrior empire just as the sun was setting, leaving us scant minutes of daylight, not enough to find a secluded corner in some farmer’s field to park our VW bus. It had been a long day, and the parents decided to bed down where we were, amid the ruins. Referencing a lone olive tree in the lengthening shadows, we picked a flat spot, somehow missing the small sign heralding the antiquities with the addendum, “no camping.” In retrospect, it might have been the rattling drive south from Athens with four tired and hungry kids that temporarily impaired my parents’ eyesight.
We got up at first light to the bleating of dozens of sheep as they crossed the ruins, ate a hurried breakfast, and packed up, taking care to leave no trace of our transgression into the past. But what I remember most of our short time in Sparta was the raw dichotomy of youth, the unprocessed, exhilarating thrill of discovery alongside the warm security of a well-used sleeping bag, all while sharing the night sky with the ghosts of warriors thousands of years displaced. To this day, those same stars still threaten to wrap me in the benevolence of childhood’s arms, timeless and eternal in their persistent message.
April 6, 2020
We have lived in the same home for 29 years. Several years after we bought our house, I decided to grow a garden in the rock-walled backyard enclosure designed for just such a purpose by the home’s original owners. I tilled, raked, planted, weeded and harvested, usually by myself, for quite a few years before deciding that there was no point to it any longer during the early years of Parkinson’s diagnosis, confusing a lack of fiscal productivity for a waste of time.
That was a huge mistake. As we approach what may be the peak of this initial coronavirus outbreak, as with many of us living in America, I find myself hand-tilling a smaller version of the same old garden. Why the sudden interest in gardening around the country? It certainly enjoys the benefit of fresh produce if the world’s vast transportation network—primarily reliant on trucking—should falter. But I think we all realize on some level that it is much more than that.
Gardening, feeling the life-nurturing soil crumble between fingers, is a mindless distraction of the highest order. To care for a seedling, to cultivate a plant to full potential, is to pay homage to the marvel of life’s creation. It is a recognition of nature’s merging with man; a welcomed forced solitude of reverence for the earth misplaced for far too long.
As I walk around the same neighborhood and see preparations of fresh ground for planting, it seems to be the best possible way to honor the next several weeks and well beyond. We will all get through this, and when we reach the other side—whatever that may be—I like to think that we will carry forward with us the value in a simple turning of earth, be it as basic as a windowsill flower in a city apartment. It is long past time to till our gardens and be thankful.
Erupting hum in rhyming color, echoes of seclusion’s wild, keen silence pervades the missive scape, lilting aviary the choir.
Running down the same well-worn path bracketed by fear and desire, caged inventions of the thinking mind lock us tight in a jail of reality’s convention. Self-imposed bars of collective arrogance buttress the cell, even as doubt’s sustenance of rigid cynicism masks the open door with illusory opacity. This is our chosen home, a story-book hell of pseudo existence.
Soar with courageous wonder, powered by an open heart of belief. Vanish shackles of rotten logic with a brave new tale carved by the rushing wind of possibility, smashing despondency to withering dust. Boldly Be.
We are multifaceted beings, destined to a complexity of emotion, thought, and sensation, warmed by gratitude and compassion in a spicy gumbo of the soul.