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Twisting all the bad things into good

Jan 31, 2013

Book of Tangents: What Sacred Means


If I had to choose one moment
To live within my heart
It would be that tender moment
Recalling how we started
Darling, it would be when you smiled at me
That way, that Sunday, that summer

Nat King Cole, That Sunday That Summer

        On Sunday, January 28th, at about 4am, I was writing a story about something that happened a week earlier:

       I should have listened to my father.
       He warned me.
       "It's gonna be miserable out there."
       "I'll be alright. Plus," I added, "I don't have enough time to change."
       I didn't want to miss my train.
       It was barely a drizzle when I left the house.
       Nothing had changed by the time I barely made the 5:43 train to Philly.

         ....but when I attempted to write a short paragraph about writing on the train to Philly, I went off the tracks and onto a tangent, right about here.....

         I liked taking the train, to Philly, to New York, to wherever. There's something about writing on a train that feels, I don't know, sacred, maybe? if I even have a proper understanding of the word. Most likely, I don't, and I'm cheapening it's meaning. Whatever it is, it feels right. I look forward to it. My stop is the end of the line, Elm Street. I have a strong stomach, always have, but boarding an empty train always allows for me to sit facing the same direction the train is moving instead of moving backwards. 
         Motion causes emotion. 
         That's what I heard someone say somewhere, probably a movie. Maybe it was in a book, one written by someone trying to teach you how to write. Nobody can teach you how to write. Only you can prevent forest fires, and only you can teach yourself how to write. You learn to write well by reading a lot, and by writing a lot. I read that somewhere, probably in one of those "writers on writing" books.

       I'd taken a few of those books out of the library, mostly because I like to skim books, flipping through the pages, usually backwards, looking for quotes, something to inspire me, not to write, but to write better. I had no problem getting myself to write. Stopping at an AM hour that would still mean I'd have a few hours sleep before waking up at 7:20, putting only my head in the shower, arriving at the gym at 8. That's on Monday through Friday. Even if I slept for an hour, I get up and go, and when I get home, I'm always glad I did. It's a good way to start the day, on Monday through Friday. Weekends were almost always all nighters. Actually, I lied, or maybe I just forgot, I usually get up at 8 on Sundays, breakfast at Panera at 9,  then 10AM service with my parents at Calvary Chapel, or at the nursing home where my dad does a Bible study on the first and third  Sunday of every month, and the fifth in months with 5 Sundays. 

        I actually prefer the nursing home sometimes. I don't have to socialize and struggle to find common ground with everyone after service. They're great people, Christian people, not saying that makes them good people, but most of them I only see on 2 Sundays of every month. They probably think I'm good people too, because they see me going to church with my parents, because they don't see me at the bar, they don't read the things I've written about the things I've done. If they did, they'd think I had been born again since. I did come back from the dead, yes, but no. 
        Everyone is at their best on Sunday. It's like the social equivalent of their Sunday's best clothes, but some of them are nicer than the clothes they decided on. But what the hell do I know? I only  see them 2 Sundays out of the month. I don't know what they wear on other days of the week. Maybe they think I always dress nice, because I don't consider an Eagle's or Phillies jersey to be my Sunday best. I never wear sports jerseys, doesn't matter the day or who is playing that afternoon. I have several of them, but I retired them all when I decided I would not wear another man's name across my back. Not that it has anything to do with it, but this was shortly after I began to take my writing seriously, which was at the same time I began writing.

        What I like most about going to the nursing home is I can write.

         I usually write in church too, my red notebook open just enough so my mother can't read what I'm writing, even though she knows. As soon as my uncle, the Senior Pastor, takes the pulpit, I stop writing. I close my notebook, and open the Bible Jeff gave me as a gift for being his Best Man. I try to listen, I try to follow along, verse by verse. Sometimes, I read ahead.  Occasionally, I'll jot down a quick thought, but because my parents always sit in the same seats in the second row, I show my respect, for my parents, and for my uncle, even if what I've written in my book is something I just read in the same one everyone else is reading. The Bible is full of quotes. I like quotes. I can't say the same for the band. Again, good people, church people. I just don't like worship music. And it's not like Catholic Mass. They play one song after another, for a half hour, followed by announcements, followed by my uncle.  
           Gospel oriented. Verse by verse. 
           I like The Bible. I've always preferred the New Testament over the Old. There were at least 3 occasions when I went BC during service, usually when the rest of the church had their Good Books open to Revelations. Horned monsters from the sea, 4 horsemen, reminds me of fairy tales, except they don't all live happily after. So if I do start at the end and decide to turn back the pages, back before any words are written in red, BC, I skip the Adam and Eve and Jonah and the whale and Noah and all the characters that Moses begat. 
         One Sunday service, I read the Book of Job. 
         On another, the Book of Psalms. 
         I've read Proverbs a few times. Lots of good quotes.

         Some stories are better than others. 
         Even if I don't believe everything I read, there are lessons to be learned. The Prodigal Son has always been my favorite. Always. Even before I became one. 

          When I was six, I remember my grandmother reading to me from a Bible, a kid's Bible. I remember the cover, Jesus with a sheep over his shoulders, and I remember when she read to me how Judas, after betraying Christ and tossing back his gold to the Pharisees, went and hung himself. She explained to me what a  man hanging himself meant, and this dark life lesson fascinated me. I kept asking her to "read me the part where Judas hangs himself again".

          She, my father's mother, is the only one of my grandparents still alive. She's in a nursing home, but not the same one where we go for the Bible study. A different, a not as nice one.
       She remembers things that happened a long time ago, like when she met my grandfather, and what he said to her. He was in his Navy uniform, and he said something about her being a "good Irish Catholic girl". I don't remember word for word, but whatever words he chose, they were the right ones. She said she'd wait for him to get back from the War. When he returned, after fighting the Nazis in North Africa, she was waiting for him and they immediately got married. 
       They did not live happily ever after.
       Maybe it's better to only remember the good stuff, no matter how long ago it was.
       Five minutes after every meal, she couldn't tell you what she ate.
       There's a rec room, with a tv. She doesn't watch it. She sits there in her wheelchair, usually holding hands with John, a 90 something year old who was once in the Scottish  (Royal Navy?). He has a bulbous nose, maybe an indicator that he was an alcoholic. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and he was Scottish, but you couldn't hear it in his accent, only in his name.
        It's good she doesn't realize where she is, I think. John does, and I think if Rita MacDonald passes before him, he will not be far behind.

        (John passed away on Monday, Jan 28th. The day after I went on this tangent)

        No happy ending for either of Rita's great romances.
        Even if they met again in Heaven, John would have my grandfather to contend with before he could ever hold her hand again.
        That's assuming my grandfather is in Heaven, and if he is, unless he remembers the day he fell in love with my grandmother clearer than the rest of their lives together, I doubt he would care.

        Not far away is another nursing home, a nicer one, with a nicer story. But I only know what I've seen on Sundays. I think Mr Jenkins would care if he saw another man take Mrs Jenkins' hand.

        On one Sunday, a few months back, Mr Jenkins started talking in the middle of the Bible Study my dad was doing. I looked up from my notebook.
        Mrs Jenkins, in the wheelchair next to his, said, "James, keep quiet."
        "What? Why?"
        He had no idea where he was, so Mrs Jenkins told him.
        "You're in church."
        I don't think Mr Jenkins gave a damn.
        "I don't give a damn."
        At least they had each other.
        Until a few Sundays ago.
        My dad asked where Mr. Jenkins was when they wheeled Mrs Jenkins in alone.

        Mr Jenkins was a black man, and I always pictured him as really smooth when he was my age. Mrs Jenkins is also black, but it's hard to tell, her skin is so light. It's easy to tell that she was once a beautiful woman.

          They grew old together, real old. And then there was only Mrs Jenkins.
          If the story ended the day they met, you could say they lived happily ever after.
          It's not just The Jenkins and the MacDonalds.

        There are no happy endings. Nobody lives happily ever after. The only reason those words are in fairy tales is because whoever told the story first, knew the right time to follow those words with these 2:
         "The End".

        After the happy ending, even the greatest of romances end in heartbreak.

        Romeo and Juliet. Catherine and Heathcliff. 
        Those are two horrible star crossed examples.
        Those are tragedies without happy endings, only heartache. Star-crossed.

        At some point, even in not quite so tragic love stories, one of the lovers will be the first to die, and the other will be left alone, with the best part of them gone forever, and without a hand to hold, their memories are the only thing they have to keep growing old with, to hold on to, and they hold them sacred, inside that void, that hollow place in their chest, an empty even the best memories could not fill.

        Some things when lost, can't be replaced. That's what makes them truly yours, only yours. That's why they can't be taken away. That's why you take it everywhere you go. Because it's what holds you together. 
        And you couldn't make anyone else understand, so you don't even try.
        I think that's what "sacred" means.

        If it is, I don't think I have anything that I hold sacred, nothing that is truly and only mine.
        Maybe writing. That's about it.

        Then I stopped, scrolled up the page, realized how much I'd written, and wondered how I got here, wasting my time and words once again, off on another tangent that did not fit the story I was trying to tell. I cut it, and I put it where I keep the things I have no use for. 
        I forgot I had even written it until my dad told me yesterday, Wednesday, that John died on Monday. I told him how strange that was, because the night before, I had written about him, and my grandmother, and Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins.