Saturday, November 07, 2015

The Unlikely Rainbow

As I walked along the beachside path pondering the simplicities and complexities of life, surrounded by the sounds of surf and ocean breeze, embraced by the warm light of a newly risen sun, I happened to look up and to my left. And there in the sky amidst the ever changing cloud formations was a rainbow. It was a faint rainbow - mostly transparent against the dominate blue of the sky. It was short little snippet of a rainbow - probably only 10 degrees of arc. It was an unlikely rainbow - the rain having disappeared hours earlier. And it was a short lived rainbow - for within 30 seconds it had completely vanished. But yet there it was, a brief blip on the vast sky. Had I not looked in that direction at that moment I could very easily have missed it. There were certainly many other things around me vying for my eyes' attention and that could have fulfilled my morning's quest for natural beauty and deeper meaning: the crescent moon paired with Venus, bright in the morning east; the bent sea oats quivering in the breeze; the soaring black carrion birds gliding gracefully against the overhead canvas of blue, like a flock of kites with no strings. 

But it was the unlikely faded rainbow that I pondered on. Was there meaning in that sign? Was there significance in the coinciding of this natural wonder with so many social media profile pictures right now painted in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet?  So I thought about what it could mean, this unlikely rainbow, this powerful biblical symbol of God's love and promise to humanity, this powerful modern symbol of gay pride. 

Alot of the time it is easy to turn our attention away from certain complicated issues in favor of more manageable ones - the rainbow in this case representing a complicated multicolored one - but there comes those moments when we are forced to consider them, to make sense of them, to sort out our understanding and beliefs. I know there are many members of my faith right now that are going through this.

So why the rainbow at this time? Why the rainbow in this place? I thought about it and pondered it and then it struck me:

It was probably the light from the sun traveling 93 million miles to reach our atmosphere where it met with  droplets of rain high above. The light refracted and split and bent into the little faint colorful arc in the sky. There it is. In all its complex simplicity. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - The Year in Review . . .

1/9 - The rain is so faint, so light. It is like the rain drops are just hanging there in the air waiting for my face to run against them.

 - The concrete is stained and the place is dreary and sullen at this early hour. Shady figures loiter, their faces lit by the weak light of a cigarette or a phone. All is ugly at the Shell gas station, except. . . I look down and see that I am stepping on a copper penny. My shoe only partly revealing the shining disc. It is bright and somehow cheerful. 

3/2 - Samuel and Roman have called me over. "You have to see this! It is so awesome!" They are standing by the great palm tree in your yard looking up. Roman has his hands reaching up towards something and is squealing in delight. I approach but still don't see the source of their joy. "It's like it's snowing," Samuel declares. I am next to them now and follow their gaze by looking up. The trunk of the tree stretches high above to the cluster of rich green palm fronds springing in every direction radiating from the top. Mixed into the green is a flourish of fluffy white: the flowering seed bracht has exploded with blossoms. In the breeze the white flowers are breaking free and falling in the lightest of flurries - coming down three and four at a time in a constant stream. They drift on the air, spiraling and twirling their way to the earth. It is like snow. And it brings me the same measure of joy as it does for Samuel and Roman. 

3/22 - The cloud is a monstrous fluffy mass rising up from the eastern horizon. Like a great white tree standing over the lesser green ones below. Or more like a mountain from the sheer size of it. The skies are perfectly clear save for this one cloud. It is as if all the clouds in the sky gathered their strength in a show of force or power or defiance. It stands seemingly solid. Shifting slightly at its borders to take on new form but it does not move. There is one wind swept cornice high up close to the top that reminds of me of the smooth cornice I used to love to sled on Mt. Olympus. 

4/11 - The paperclip has been bent beyond usefulness. Perhaps it was bent randomly by a set of restless hands. But it was bent beautifully. A miniature work of art. With an expansive change in scale this ruined paperclip could stand gracefully at the center of a plaza in one of the hip up-and-coming urban neighborhoods of one of the world's great cities. But alas, it sits diminutively in the palm of my hand. I can't discard it so I put it in my pocket, unsure of what I will do with it. 

5/4 - A flurry of white overhead, along with shouts of Hosannah. A room full of Saints, we are waving our handkerchiefs in sync with the words. The dedicatory prayer has just finished. Presently we finish and take our seats, the choir sings and then everyone joins in - The Spirit of God like a Fire is Burning. We can feel that warmth. I'm choking up slightly on a few of the words and my smile is broad. I take Sharon by the hand and look at the tears welling up in her eyes. Amen and amen. 

7/5 - The hot humid air has clung to our cold windows in a film of condensation. A small slight snail is meandering slowly on the window. He has been at this for a while, as is evident by the squiggled path left on the glass as the snail's slug-like body has carved a trail through the sheet of condensation. It has traveled in a random wiggly way all around one pane of glass and part of another. It seems to be spiraling inward never crossing its own path. Where will it end up when it is done?

8/2 - The Blessed Freighter. Ugly and misshaped on the watery horizon. But a glorious sun rises directly above it. Brilliant rays radiate down directly onto the ship. The divine touching down on the ugly and the mundane. It is transformed. The Blessed Freighter. 

8/29 - Cosette's tongue darts between her small red lips. It is probing and exploring the world that is right there in front of her face. She is still learning to control her face and her expressions, so in addition to the darting tongue, her mouth and cheeks and eyes contort and twist then suddenly go soft and still for a moment, then her mouth opens wide in a gaping yawn. A mouth so big for such a little thing. So big that I turn away fearing I may get sucked into the vortex. 

9/1 - The squirrel runs across the street - a furry little frequency wave bobbing across the asphalt. 

10/4 - I'm running by starlight in the early morning hours. The trail through the brush in John U Lloyd State Park is too dark and I don't dare take it. I consider turning back, but I would rather continue north up the coast. So I stick to the uneven sand along the narrow stretch of beach. There is an artificial glow of city-light humming along the western sky stretching from south to the north. Over the Atlantic though the sky is black and the stars are bright, cold and constant, somehow comforting. They are the same stars I have gazed up at throughout my life. I remember the friendship those stars offered on that final ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro so many years ago. They now offer me that same long distant companionship. My run this morning has been so solitary. All along the Hollywood Beach Broad Walk and through North Beach Park I think I only saw 6 people. And there is no one else at all trespassing in the state park at this dark hour. A cruise ship is bright on the edge of the black ocean - casting a reflective wedge of light in the calm sea. As I'm looking out over the dark ocean expanse I stumble across a small crater in the sand. I see the white shriveled remnants of turtle eggs and realize this was recently a sea turtle nest. There are other small obstacles that only present themselves when I get within a few feet of them: drift wood, logs and coconuts. Sometimes I find myself on a slope and I quickly climb or descend to reach more level ground. As I near the jetty at the mouth of Port Everglades the eastern sky has begun to warm up - a faint glow giving the promise of morning. 

12/20 - At the end of the evening I am driving home. Five hours of making paper snowflakes during the week, three hours of decorating the cultural hall that morning, two hours of shopping, two hours of cooking, three hours of making sure everything was running smoothly during the party, one hour of clean up - and now it is over and I feel lighter. Sharon sends me a text telling me how I did an amazing job. I smile and turn the radio up - the song is some unfamiliar version of "My Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music. It has never really meant much to me but as I listen to the words and think of my goal this past year to find those small and simple and sometimes grandiose things that can bring joy and happiness and a sense of the spiritual and help me recognize the truth and tangible realness of a God - as I listen to these words it becomes much more meaningful. And so i turn it up a little louder and sing along as I drive home through the evening.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The New York City Marathon

There was something oddly significant about those handmade signs that the spectators held up and waved as they cheered us on:

Running is a mental sport. . . And you're all insane.

All Toenails go to Heaven

More Cow Bell

Chuck Norris never ran a marathon.

Worst parade ever

Pain is temporary, Pride is forever.

or the alternative: Chafing is temporary, Pride is forever.
or the other alternative: Pain is temporary, your next Facebook post is forever.

Run faster - zombies are following you.

Touch here for extra power
(with a target icon)
or: Pet me for 2X speed (with a picture of a Cat Head)
or: Touch here for a 1UP (with a picture of Mario)

Go Random stranger! You've got this!

Free high fives

or: Free Hugs
or: Piggy Back Rides to Central Park: 5 cents

Mark this off your bucket list - you are running the New York Marathon!

Some are meant to be inspirational, others humorous. Some . . . are just plain bizarre. But I'm finding the signs as well as the cheers and even the cowbells are working. They are doing something more for me in this race than I could have ever expected. So many individuals brought together here on these streets. This international, inter-racial, inter-faith melting pot of humanity is boiling over. The runners swarming around me, the volunteers in their blue jackets, the spectators lining both sides of the street - all of us are sharing in something spectacular. And that is gently pushing me and pulling me down the marathon course towards the finish.

Shortly after arriving in Brooklyn, I had started to listen to my ultimate New York Marathon playlist, that I had thrown together a few previous, including songs like "New York" by U2 and "Road to Joy" by Bright Eyes, but after a few miles I had put the headphones away. The constant crowds are too loud, as are the live street bands playing every genre of music imaginable at intervals every few blocks. I realized the music from my headphones couldn't compete with the crowds lining the streets. The people, not the little box of digital music, will carry me.

Young kids are stretching the blue crowd-control tape tight as they reach their mittened hands to give the runners high-fives. I maneuver over to the edge to give them fives down the line, hoping that it will help me. I'm only at mile 10 and I have already hit my wall. Brooklyn seems like it will never end and my mood and my stomach have begun to spoil. I'm starting to feel a little sorry for myself. While training I had optimistically hoped for a time of around 4 hours. That would have beat my best marathon time of 4:23. But today was no day for personal records. The 4:00 pacer breezed past me not long ago.


When Sharon and I had arrived to Manhattan the day before, we decided to look for a good authentic New York eatery for lunch, before heading over to the marathon expo. Our hotel was near Carnegie Hall so I suggested the Carnegie Deli (which we only knew from an Adam Sandler song) but there was a line of people out the door, so we figured it must be good popular spot. We waited outside in the rain for a bit before we were shuffled into the cramped dining area. The tables packed the floor just as the autographed head shots of famous patrons packed the walls. We sat next to Alec Trebek and one of the lesser known Baldwin brothers.

After sharing one of the largest turkey club sandwiches I have ever seen we ventured out into the streets of Manhattan. Quickly it became apparent that the meal didn't sit well with me. At first I figured the 3 inch thick stack of turkey and the 2 inch thick stack of bacon on the sandwich was maybe just a tad too much meat for this recovering vegetarian. By evening though I was suspecting something more sinister was going on inside of my bowels. Carbo loading for the race was definitely out - I didn't feel like eating anything for dinner.

I felt more like crawling up into a ball on the bed. So I went to sleep very early, hoping to sleep it off. I would have to wake up around 5:30 AM to get ready for the marathon but I did have the benefit of a bonus hour of daylight savings time on my side. Around midnight though things took a turn for the worse and I bundled up in my scarf and jacket and headed back out into the cold streets of the city that never sleeps to find a drug store and buy some Pepto Abysmal (that was an auto-correct mistake but I decided to leave it).

I was up every hour from the churning in my stomach and at 5:30 when I alarm went off I was disappointed that the sleep hadn't slept any of it off. So I got out of then bed and up on my feet to assess my physical situation. . . And promptly vomited out the entire contents of my stomach.

In between heaves, I had to come to grips with the possibility that I wasn't going to be able run the New York Marathon. After four years of waiting to get in this marathon, after months of training, after all the excitement and expectations and after coming all this way. . . What were the chances that this 24-hour stomach virus that Samuel brought home from school on Thursday (and would later hit nearly everyone in our household) would stir within me during the exact same 24 hours as my planned debut in the world largest marathon? I couldn't bear the thought. So I brushed my teeth, took an extra long hot shower, and then slowly started getting dressed in my warmest running gear. I still wasn't sure if I was even going to make it to the starting line but I figured I had to try.

Getting to the Marathon start was a study in New York Public Transit. Subway from Columbus Circle to South Ferry. Staten Island Ferry from lower Manhattan, past the Statue of Liberty (camera click, camera click), to the St. George Terminal in Staten Island. And then on a bus from the Ferry to the Start Village at Fort Wadsworth. Each stage was packed with eager and excited runners eating their breakfasts along the way to fuel up for the run. I couldn't bear to watch them eat. But I bought a banana at the Ferry Terminal because I knew I would have to eat something before attempting to run 26.2 miles. With about 45 minutes before my start time of 10:05 I felt brave and ate the banana - all the while keeping my eyes open for all the best places to throw up, should the need arise. It is fortunate it didn't come to that, because none of those spots were very good. Any of them would have involved between 5 and 50 people quickly withdrawing from the area. The race logistics involved packing over 50,000 runners onto the grounds of Fort Wadsworth. It was organized brilliantly, at the designated time we all lined up into corrals to await a series of 4 different start times. I figured by the time I crossed the start line of the race, the elite runners would already be in Queens.

Our group (Go Green Team! Corral F Wave 2) slowly moved en masse toward the starting line. As the start time drew close everyone began removing their outer layers of clothing and dropping them in the huge clothing donation boxes with were already overflowing with coats, blankets, sweatshirts, sweatpants and winter caps. I found the very last donation bin before shedding my hooded sweatshirt and feeling the cold that much more. Had I known then what I know now I would have held on to that thing for dear life, at least until after the Verrazano bridge.

The Verrazano-Narrows bridge is a 2.5 mile long double decker suspension bridge that rises 692 feet above the icy cold channel of water between Staten Island and Brooklyn. Our wave began with the loud double-boom of the start canon and with the hollers and cheers and shouts of the runners who could finally start moving their legs after standing around for what felt like hours. We quickly started up the slope of the Verrazano bridge. I wasn't feeling great but I was excited to begin this amazing journey. It was cold but I figured I would warm up quickly now that I was moving. Eventually the bridge reached that point where we were jutting out over water rather than land and at about this time is when the wind gusts started picking up to what was reported to be around 40 to 50 MPH. My race bib was flapping so hard in the wind that I had to have one hand hold onto it so it wouldn't rip free from the safety pins holding it to my shirt. I tried to enjoy the view by looking west out towards Manhattan with the Freedom Tower rising above the familiar skyline, but the wind was too strong and I had to look away. This section of the race couldn't end quickly enough, the wind and cold were beyond what I was prepared for. At the crest of the bridge there was hope - it was down hill from there and heading towards land. At the end of the bridge the winds did die down and there was something else even more promising: sunlight.

And along with the sunlight we started to have some company. First they emerged in small groups along the exit of the bridge, but then as we entered the first neighborhood of brownstone houses our screaming cheering fans were there lining the streets, welcoming us to Brooklyn, and congratulating us for running the marathon. Another 7 miles brought us through similar neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Their faces cheered me up. I didn't know anyone there watching, but I looked at them all one by one as I passed, taking in their smiles and cheer. I didn't know them but I started to pretend that I did. Random strangers, sure enough, but we were all there at that moment sharing a little snippet of the collective human experience.


That banana I ate earlier did me some good after all - at least for the first several miles but the caloric energy has quickly ran out. So here we are at mile 10: I am spent. I am slowing down dramatically. But the good news is that I know something at this point that I hadn't been so sure of earlier this morning: I am going to finish this race. I've thrown time out the window. That no longer can concern me as much as making sure I just keep going. As one sign states: "Right foot, Left foot, Repeat." Soon I will be in Queens and at the half way point. And then quickly after that I will be going over the Queensboro bridge and into Manhattan. And even more importantly is that I know Sharon and Cosette will be there at mile 16. These are the two faces out of all these thousands of faces that I really do know. The thought of seeing Sharon and being able to hug her brings a familiar swell of emotion - the kind of emotion that can so easily break to the surface when you are physically exerting yourself to the limit. I check my phone and see a few text messages from her:

Sharon: I love you
Sharon: You are inspiring!!
Sharon: We are at mile 16 look for blanket!!
me: Which side ?
Sharon: We'll be on your right. Right as you make the corner
me: starting bridge
Sharon: Yay!! Can't wait

I know. I shouldn't be texting and running but I make it quick. I don't want to miss this moment for anything. I need to see her. Because no one else on this course knows what I am going through. No one else knows how close this all came to getting scrapped. No one else out there cheering has seen my complete efforts, not just my efforts there on the course, but the months of training runs when it was a struggle to get up early or to go out late for a "quick" 5 or 8 miler. No one else knows. So when I clear the Queensboro bridge and make that sharp turn, I head to the barriers on the right side of the road and start giving and receiving high-fives, keeping my eyes open for Sharon's orange coat and Cosette's pink and blue crochet blanket that Sharon will be waving to get my attention. I don't see her though and I figure maybe she is on the next corner. I start to drift to the left with the other runners when suddenly I hear her - among all the thousands of yells and cheers and voices: "Rich! Rich!" Everyone around her starts joining in as well "Rich! Rich!" I run over to her and hug her tightly over the barrier. Cosette is in the arms of Sharon's cousin Katie. I reach and grab her hand with mine and cherish the moment before being swept up again in the now stronger current of the race and carried on down the road.

That current of runners, banked by the masses of spectators, is carrying me with its own unique ebbs and flows through the Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem. It carries me across yet another bridge where a bobbing sign held by someone in the crowd reads: "Run! You're in the Bronx". I've calculated my end time and it isn't pretty. I always seem to forget how painful and dreadful these marathons can be. But then again something feels good inside of me and after mile 20 I find my legs moving a little quicker now and the sections that I am walking are getting shorter. And then the course swings us all south again back into Manhattan and suddenly Central Park has somehow crept up on me. The trees are golden with the colors of fall. The field of runners is a bright kaleidoscope of colors shifting and moving fluidly down the path and finally overflowing across the finish line. I raise my hands above my head as I cross. I made sure to finish strong, running a solid and constant pace for the final 1.2 miles of the race. Finished. Completed. Endured. I didn't even get in under 6 hours. My worst race time ever (by a hefty margin) but I did it.

As I am walking with the crowd now with the finishers medal around my neck, I wonder how many people I physically saw today. How many faces did I look into to? How signs did I read? How many runners passed me and how many did I keep up with? There must have been millions of people that I saw today. Each of them have their story as I have mine. The NYPD officer trying to move the crowd back off the street to give the runners more room. The wheelchair competitor stuck in Brooklyn as a team of volunteers help repair his wheel. The man in the blue jacket raking up spent paper cups and bagging them as if they were the autumn leaves from the worlds messiest Gatorade tree. The young girl in the white coat jumping up and down as her mom ran past. The blind runner with two guides on either side helping him navigate the course. The hispanic lady holding out a single stick of gum for whichever runner came along feeling like they needed to freshen their breath. The cancer survivor running to raise money so that others too can survive. All of these stories and myriad more. . .  all woven into one complex and simple and beautiful living tapestry: The New York City Marathon. So happy I could be one of the million threads.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cosette's Birth

It is early. Too early. Somewhere between the multiple snoozes of my alarm, I turn in bed to face Sharon. She is obscured by the darkness of morning and a jumble of blankets and pillows. I reach out to her and place my hand on her pregnant belly. For long moments my hand rests there conscious of the fact that only a thin layer of flesh is all that separates my hand from our unborn baby. Who is this? Which gender? What is your name? And what does your future hold?

There is an excitement of course - but I'm nervous also. Seeds of doubt have been persistent throughout this pregnancy: Will I be a good father? Will I be able to manage a family of five kids? Aren't I too old to be going through this again?

In this moment though I have a feeling of comfort - perhaps because I am still laying quietly in bed and the morning is peaceful. I hear sounds from the kitchen and I know Kiara and Indigo are awake and getting ready for school. Time to get out of my comfort zone and face the morning.

By the time I reach the kitchen, Kiara has already left to walk to her bus stop. Next is Indigo - a ten minute drive to her bus stop in Aventura and back. Then it's Samuel's turn to get to school. Normally after that I would be off to work, saving Roman for Sharon to take to Pre-K. But the morning has been interrupted.

Sharon is awake and reports of having had several contractions while I was getting the kids to their various destinations. As she is telling me this, she pauses mid-sentence and I see an intense countenance wash over her face - another contraction.

"Do you think this is it?" I ask.

She nods in the affirmative as she finishes the contraction.

There is no stereotypical frantic bustle to gather our bags, get in the car and rush off to the hospital or birthing center. It is the opposite in fact, we make a phone call and interrupt our midwife Dana in the middle of her yoga class, and she is the one that must drop everything, rush to gather her bags, and come to us. Dana was present nearly 13 years ago to help deliver our first child, and we were glad to to have her there to help deliver our last.

We have had four water births all at birthing centers - but this would be our first experience having a birth in our own home. And so, because we don't have anywhere to go, I don't know what else to do except to straighten up the house a little, making a nice pleasant space for the baby to come in to. I am sweeping the crumbs of Roman's breakfast when Dana arrives.

By this point Sharon has been laboring for about an hour. She takes on each contraction with an intense focus but with no sign of pain on her face. Most of the time there is even a slight smile. Occasionally even a short burst of laughter. When tears do come, they originate from a place of emotion and joy, rather than pain or discomfort. She labors standing in and walking around our bedroom, pausing in a doorway or leaning over onto the bed as her body goes through its process of readying the baby for delivery. Each contraction carries her down a path one step closer to the moment of birth. This path meanders through rolling hills of intensity as each contraction fades into a moment of rest which give rise to another contraction.

Dana stands by offering support, but as she made it known to us early on, she wants to be there for us but does not want to get in the way. She is quiet and speaks in hushed whispers with her assistant Elizabeth so as not to disturb the experience. She has checked the baby's heart rate several times and checks Sharon's temperature and blood pressure to make sure everything is going well, but she never checks how much Sharon is effaced or how many centimeters dilated she is. Instead she seems to rely on her years of experience and perhaps her reading the level of intensity that washes across Sharon's face to determine the timing of the situation.

"Am I going to have this baby today?" Sharon asks, perhaps dreading the possibility of a lengthy labor.

"Oh yes," Dana replies confidently.

"How do you know?"

She ponders the question for a moment, "I can just feel it. I don't think you realize how quickly this baby is going to be in your arms." There is a lack of science and technology and beeping monitors that I can see could make some nervous about this type of birth. But we feel very comfortable in Dana's hands.

Time has begun to blur - the only "tic-tock" marking the forward motion of the morning are the crests and falls of Sharon's contractions. I rub her back and hold her and encourage her as best I can.  Her legs start to buckle at the peak of one contraction. When it is finished I ask her, "Was that a good one?" She smiles at me and says "Yes."

We are standing in the doorway between bedroom and bathroom - knowing that this isn't our desired location to birth our baby, Dana directs us to move into the bathtub - although she makes it known that she is open to birthing the baby right there over the threshold if that is what Sharon wants. Sharon shakes her head quickly, "No, no, no," and heads for the tub.

Our tub is really a great tub, jetted and large enough to fit four people (although we have never found an opportunity to put four people in there at one time, the extra space is definitely a luxury). It is one of the reasons that we decided to have a home birth in the first place. We are fans of the water birth and wouldn't have done a home birth without a good place for a water delivery.

The bath water is warm and soothing and transitions Sharon into a new stage of the laboring experience. The contractions are shorter but come faster but the water has relaxed her and Sharon is in no hurry. Dana tells her if she feels the urge to start pushing then she can. But Sharon holds off from pushing. She is not eager for the experience to be over - she is relishing this experience - feeling it in very spiritual way.

It is very quiet here. The music from the bedroom has turned off or at least can't be heard. There is no mindless chit-chat. Dana is sitting on the floor leaning on the edge of the tub keeping in eye contact with Sharon - continually reading the situation. Occasionally Elizabeth places the doppler heart monitor under the water and against Sharon's belly -  we hear the comforting wosh wosh wosh sound of our baby's heart. Strong and steady and doing well. It is peaceful there, calm and meditative, a Zen birth.

Now the time comes. Sharon's body has done what it needs to. The baby has traveled down the birth canal and emerges into the water before Sharon even realizes it. Dana brings our small wrinkled child out of the water and up onto Sharon's chest. That moment has been the same for each of our children - that instant they emerge from the water, arms stretching out and shaking - it is like a well of emotion inside me has filled to the brim and now begins to overflow. And then we are just staring into the face of our new child.

Dana takes a towel and immediately covers the body of the baby to keep it warm and then begins rubbing and massaging the back of the baby to get those lungs working as the newborn takes its first rattled and scream-filled breaths. The baby has arrived a bit more blueish/purple than I know it should be, but Dana keeps patting the baby's back and forcing those breaths, and quickly the skin turns a healthier shade of pink and red. Sharon holds our baby tight against her - entranced by the miracle of it all. A few minutes have passed since the birth and we now know the face of our child, the dark brown hair, the long wrinkled fingers, but we still haven't even looked under the towel to see the gender. Sharon has been instinctively referring to the baby as a "she" since the birth, and it turns out she is correct.

Our baby girl Cosette Elaine Finlinson was born at 11:43 am. A little over four hours after those first contractions when Sharon awoke, and less than six hours from those moments when my hand rested against the skin of Sharon's belly, feeling this baby underneath preparing for the intense journey that would take her from her mother's womb and into her mother's and father's arms.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Vacation Vignettes

The Waterfall

Roman is holding on tightly to my hand. Our feet are numb-cold in the rushing river. We step carefully. Step. By. Step. Some of the rocks are slick and slippery. Others are wiggly and rock back and forth. Most of them are firmly set and hold - you just never know which ones.  We make our way through the river until we reach the midway point and now we are near-shivering as the mist from the roaring waterfall in front of us begins to drench us thoroughly. My glasses are coated with a blurry watery mist and I remove them to see properly. I look down at Roman who has a cautious but obvious smile on his face. We stand there side by side directly facing the billowing wind and water of Looking Glass Falls. I speak in a raised voice so that he hears me: "Can you feel the power of the waterfall?" He nods. "FEEL THE POWER OF THE WATERFALL!" I call out to the rush and roar ahead. "FEEL THE POWER OF THE WATERFALL!" Roman repeats.


The Rain

It is pouring as we drive up I-95 through Georgia, a number of people are pulled over on the side of the freeway with their hazard lights flashing orange-yellow, waiting out the storm. We press on unflinching, but wondering about the wisdom of our plan to camp at Skidamore Island State Park near Savannah that night.


The rain is light falling just as we reach the shelter at the lookout point of High Falls. Then it starts raining harder and a misty fog rolls in over the falls to obscure the mountains and towering trees. We are stuck under this shelter knowing that there are worse places you can get stuck to wait out a rain storm.


The rain pitter-patters on our tent fly for what seems like the entire night - or is it just the dripping of rainwater from the leaves in the trees above. Is that the sound of a rain storm or just the running water of the nearby Davidson River?


The rain surrounds us as we sit on the multi-colored rocking chairs under the gazebo next to the ice cream shop. We are still wet from swimming in the cold river under Hooker Falls and the cold rain around us doesn't help to warm us up. Neither do the chocolate and raspberry and superman ice cream cones that we were determined to get despite the chilling rain. We lick the ice cream and shiver. It's soooo good.


We are all meteorologists. We pull up the weather radar map on our phones and find our location amongst the green, yellow and orange blobs that crawl across the screen. "Looks like it should clear up after this cell passes" Fian concludes and we all agree. Lisa is looking up the chance of rain hour by hour. I pull up the same information on my phone and the percentages all different. In the end though the weather rains when it wants and where it wants with little regard for our weather apps. Thankfully though it clears up at ideal times. . . but none of us want to jinx anything by stating the obvious. So the "It looks like it has cleared up" goes unsaid but is universally understood.


The Cottage

The River Bend Cottage sits atop a grassy hill overlooking the Laurel river. It is small and quaint and secluded to all but the hikers who briefly turn their gaze from the mesmerizing river to take a look at the riverside dwelling. The floorboards are a little uneven, the stairs are step and the ceilings are a little low - everything you would want from a mountain cottage.

Sharon sits on a rocking chair in the screened-in porch, listening to the morning birdsong and the riversong - the breeze through the leaves and the occasional buzz of a dragon fly or bumble bee. The symphony of nature.

I have just returned from a seven mile run along the Laurel River trail out to where the trail ends at the convergence of "our" river with the much larger French Broad river.

"Good morning," I announce as I enter the screen door.

"Morning," she returns with a smile on her face. She rocks leisurely in the rocking chair - her hands resting on her round pregnant belly.

The beds at the cottage are comfortable and the kids are still upstairs sleeping - except for Roman who steps out of the cottage, onto the porch, looks around and asks: "Where did all the fireflies go?"



For some reason none of us can remember how to play Skip-Bo. Sharon tells Kiara to deal out ten cards - which she does - and then we don't know where to go from there.

"Ok everyone flip their top card over," Kiara tells us. "Wait, can we look at the cards?" I ask. "I think you have four piles in the middle" Sharon adds. "Or is it four discard piles?" "What do you do with the Skip-Bo card?" "Don't you skip with it?" "No, you are thinking of Uno." "Yeah you don't skip with the Skip-Bo card it is wild." Indigo is baffled and has no rules to remember, "What if we just make up the rules and play our own version?"  We have no cell reception and no wifi to look up the instructions. We keep describing the rules of the game but it is increasingly sounding less like Skip-Bo and more like an entirely different card game.

"Wait I think this is how you play Double Solitaire," someone concludes. So we give up on Skip-Bo and play Double Solitaire which apparently we do remember how to play.

"Man how did people in the olden days remember all the rules to different card games before Google?" I ask.

"I don't know - you should google it," Indigo jokes

Monday, January 20, 2014

Down in the Catacombs

I'm in a completely new and unfamiliar place though it is only a few feet away from where I spend most of life. It is a dark and intimidating place and I've had no desire to come here in the two years we have lived here. I'm under my bedroom. The underbelly of our home.

Above me the joists and floorboards span their cinder block foundations. Below me the earth is soft and dark and cold. It's dim down here - lit only by my lantern and flashlight and the few small vents that act as windows to the crawl space. The four feet from ceiling to ground seems to close in on me at times. The rooms look larger though than they do above - the distances taking longer for me to cover down here than up there. It takes me some time to figure out where I am in relation to the home above me. I move around under our room first checking the vents - two weeks earlier I had installed new wire mesh covers on the outside of all the vents, the old ones were broken and filled with critter sized holes. The idea was to keep the critters out. . . Although we fully understood that we may also be trapping something in.

I move under the bathroom getting my bearings from the drain pipes and water pipes that enter and exit the floorboards above me. At the end of the bathroom I realize I'll have to crawl through a small opening in the foundation wall to get to the den. I peer through it first and check it out with my flash light from corner to corner. This room must be an add on - it looks new and clean. It's also a dead end. I'll have to go through the other opening I passed earlier to reach the hall.

A network of pipes - some old, some new - twist through the space that would be the bathroom at the end of the hall. Construction debris has been left here too. I explore the boys bathroom and bedroom with my flashlight only then proceed down the hall to the dining room. The moving is slow and the further in I get the more I realize that there is little chance of running out of here if I needed. But what could be down here to run from? My imagination pictures a hunched over monster slinking towards me with wide eyes and a gaping mouth. . .

The thrill of exploring is waning and the spaces seem much closer here. The closest thing I have to a phobia would have to be claustrophobia. Am I overcoming this fear. . . Or making it worse? I know there is another opening at the kitchen so that is the direction I head. At least I won't have to back track. The air here in the center of the house is stale - far from any the vents that bring in fresh cool air. I hear flies buzzing and it is here under the dining room that I find the source of the stink.

I don't want to do this and I don't want to be here. I'm crouched over, squatting with one gloved hand on the sandy earth supporting me.  I've laid the flash light down, pointing its light at the furry heap near the pale cement wall. I take the shovel in my hand and slide it toward the dead possum. I can't decide which is uglier: the pointed snout or the long rat-tail. The snout is facing me though and the shovel is nearing it. I've got to get up the nerve to do this and so I let out a primal yell and jab it violently with the end of the shovel. Flies scramble into the stale dead air. I had to make sure it was dead - as if the flies and stench didn't tell me that already. The dead animal spins around from the force of the blow and I bring the shovel around again to try and scoop it. Instead the shovel pushes it further away. I have a card board box coffin at its side and I take another swing with the shovel to try and push it in. Fail. A chunk of dead fur falls from the animal and the stench is growing. Aaaarrrrrggggg! I growl one more time as I swing the shovel again. This time the possum lands perfectly in the box. Yes!

I pull the box closer - up and over the pipe that has separated us - and into the black garbage bag I have waiting for it. I tie it and then drop it into another garbage bag for good measure. Sequentially tied, each bag does a better job of concealing the smell. . . And hiding the foul beast within. With this done I gather my stuff and quickly retreat to the kitchen and out the narrow hole into the sunlight and the vast openness above.

The air fills my lungs with an immense rush of clean pure air. I quickly replace the vent cover to be done with this adventure. Taking out the trash. Out with the bad, in with the good. Expelling the foul and festering isn't glamorous work. Good that it's done. Good that that it's over.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year's Omen

I came to see the sunrise. The first of 2014. I've seen many sunrises over the Atlantic, but I felt like I should be there for the first one of the new year. Witnessing the beautiful and sublime - this would be the best way I could think of to greet the great unknown future of another year.

It was dark out though far too long this morning, and when I looked out the window before lacing up my running shoes I saw the sky was gray and lifeless. Overcast from horizon to horizon. 

The lightest hint of rain wet my face as I started running through Hollywood Lakes. I ran east toward the beach, knowing even as I went that I would see no New Years sunrise today.  But I ran anyway through the light rain. I decided even if there was no sunrise I should face the vastness of the ocean, and let the seascape hold metaphor for the year that lies ahead. 

When I arrived to where pavement meets sand, I looked out at the gray expanse of morning in front of me. I had hoped to witness the beauty of the sun. The brightness. The mystery of its rays and the dance of colors they would present. I saw none of this. The dreary veil of clouds was hiding it all. 

A bad omen for 2014?

This thought crossed my mind, but I sat down and peered out over the white capped rush of relentless ocean waves towards the stretch of horizon to study out the omen more. 

The sky at first glance had been a blank sheet of gray. But now that I stopped and looked more closely I could see more: the varying shades, the depth and layers. I studied the loose and fluid edges. I paused long enough to see the motion - so slight and subtle. I was watching the underside of the vast and vaporous hills and valleys above. An inverted endless landscape in the sky. The lower clouds gliding past the faces of the higher. There it was.

That was it.


There it was. There was the omen for the new year. This was the model for how I want to live each day of the new year: to find the beauty in each passing day, the profound in each passing moment. To force myself to look beyond the surface. To part the curtains of the mundane or the profane and behold the sacred that underlies all of earth, of life, of experience, of self. To live in the present long enough to recognize this.

Not just the canvas. Not just the painting. But the brush strokes of the painting. The hand of God.

The rain started falling heavier and harder and all of my unknown companions up and down the beach fled to escape the rainfall. I moved for cover but stayed. I wasn't done here. 

Moments passed. The rain fell. The waves poured in then shrank away. I the solitary ponderer at lands end. . . feeling the present hang there like the clouds hanging in the sky. . . moving and swirling and shifting but not letting go. Fluid yet constant.

Then a slight square window was opening above me in the sky and through I could see the pink tops of those gray clouds. The ocean roiled and churned and the blast of ocean breeze was relentless. 

And without notice in a moment least expected there was something more. The sunrise. Occurring a half-hour late and well above the straight line of the horizon. Breaking through the clouds with its downward streaking rays, radiating outward to the ocean below - lighting the agitating surface of the water with a blinding glow. The sun didn't disappoint. But whether it showed its face or not I couldn't have possibly been disappointed.

I think it has to be a great year. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Dialogue

We got up from the picnic table satisfied from the late lunch of pizza and soda. We still had some time so we took to the path that wound it's way through the moss-draped trees of the park. 

My father-in-law Gene and I continued a conversation that had begun earlier at the picnic table. Sharon was talking with her mom and aunt a few steps ahead of us, and the kids ran ahead in their typical youthful bursts of energy. 

Our conversation was typical of many conversations that I have had with Gene over the nearly two decades since I met him. This time the topic was religion - specifically the sentiments of those who once believed and left their faith. On other walks in other locales (a beach, a neighborhood, a theme park) the topic may have been something else just as weighty: life's meaning (or lack thereof?), social and personal dilemmas, current events and how they may affect us, and politics from the macro (world policy) to the micro (condo association policy). No problem is too big or daunting that we can't gain a little more insight from discussion, dialogue or debate. 

This was the preferred method of the ancient philosophers Socrates and Plato for discovering truth: engaging in a dialogue with one or more persons, asking questions and developing a defense of what we believe to be true. Using the knife of logic to dissect an idea and get at the heart of an issue - often finding it to be entangled and messy and confusing but little by little allowing the participants of the dialogue to gain knowledge in the process. This can help shape or reinforce or defend our opinions and beliefs.

Gene is one who can easily argue one side of the debate - passionately  advocating on behalf of a particular side if an issue. . . Then on a whim switch teams and argue the other side just as well.

I'm not much of a debater myself so I don't know that I make a worthy companion in such discussion but I do consider myself an avid and open-minded thinker and as such always get a lot from the dialogue. I also feel that Gene equally appreciates and respects my perspective and thoughts. 

To emphasize a point, Gene frequently draws on his rich bank of memories to tell a story from his past. I'm always amazed by his memory - the way he can reach back and recall not only the scenes from his youth, but the full names of the cast of characters. I've never had a good knack for remembering names or details so I'm always impressed when he starts in on an autobiographical sketch from the past and makes it tangible with a wealth of details. Often I have wished that I had been recording the story or the conversation so I could compile them, anthologize them and maybe collectively upload them to the "Cloud" where all good writings, pictures, videos and audio files can go to live out their digital immortality. 

The winding path continued further through the park but it had looped back near the picnic table and so we decided to stop. The conversation could have continued but it was time to leave. So it hung there - we hadn't solved any of life's great dilemmas or surfaced any profound truths. We were, after all, walking a path with no defined goal or "finish-line" objective, so we could just enjoy the path for what it was . . . and enjoy the dialogue for what it was. And in so doing, like Socrates and Plato and the rest of the human race, we were at least one step closer to truth. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Back to Arches

"Should we be doing something right now?" She asks.

"We are doing something. We're watching the canyon wall," I reply as I lean back in the lounge chair and affix my gaze to the massive red rock wall extending over 1000 feet above the banks of the Colorado river where we are camping.

The campfire crackles and flickers in its ring. It is a superfluous fire - not needed for cooking or heat. It is just there to complete the ambience. And it does a good job of it.

The canyon walls wind their way along either side of the wide brown ribbon of the Colorado river. There is a flurry of sparse trees along the river bank, and then the low sagebrush filled slopes speckled with fallen stones and boulders. Above us is the darkening sky just starting to reveal her collection of stars.

Silence here seems to dominate but is occasional stirred by the quiet sound of the river sliding by, the squeak of the bats fluttering above us, and the rush of wind through the brush. We listen to the silence. Enthralled.

The play of light and shadow on the canyon wall in front of us is a slow and relentless drama. The sun is setting - the last of the day's rays are broadcast on those rough and smooth surfaces. I stare at it but cannot see the shift occurring. . . then I look again and see that sure enough the shade has spread and the darkness is beginning to overtake the retreating light.

Soon the wall is just a black silhouette against the midnight blue sky, and it is the heavens that now become the focus of our scenery. Stars begin to appear and soon cover the expanse with their pinpoints of light.

How many ages did it take to paint this picture? How many millions of years to create this one moment?

This moment passes into another and then another. Each moment a million years in the making. Each moment beautiful and wonderful in its own right:

We are laying in our tent gazing at the Milky Way through the white domed mesh ceiling. We are waking to the sight of the Colorado reflecting the red color of the glowing canyon walls as the sun illuminates them yet again.

We are hiking over petrified dunes of sand to arrive at Delicate Arch. We are watching Landscape Arch - this solid and soaring stretch of stone - shift and change as we move along the trail (perspective is everything).

We are perched in the smaller opening of Double-O Arch with the vast landscape spread out beyond us. We are struggling through the dry heat of early afternoon - hiding under the sparse shade of a twisted juniper. We are squeezing through narrow passages of ancient stone in the natural maze of the Fiery Furnace.

With our bare feet in the cool red sand, we are standing in reverenced awe in a natural courtyard near Sand Dune Arch. Something about the lighting, the vast interior walls, the sense of space, the peaceful silence; this place feels hallowed and sacred. Throughout this land the veil that hides the spiritual from our physical eyes seems to be stretched too thin and it seems too small to fully cover the vastness of this land.

We try to take in all the beauty, but we know we will fail. It surrounds you completely and you get a sense of smallness - like a shot glass trying to contain an entire ocean. So we take what we can from each passing moment, feeling full and overflowing, and happy. And we move into the next of life's countless more moments.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day: Tragedy & Cheer

The breeze is strong coming off the choppy ocean water. The sound of wind and wave is a low rushing roar emanating from the east. The heat from the sun falls from above and the burn and smoke from the white flaking coals in the barbecue grill rise to coalesce with the cool wind. These currents and curls of air smell of salt water, and cooking food and the dry sandy earth. The temperature swirls in a constant flux, and is pleasant. Very pleasant.

On the rush of wind is mixed the music from the other groups at the picnic tables around us. The music is as diverse as the people. Today every table is taken. Every grill is crackling. It is Memorial Day after all.

As we were leaving this morning, loading the van with the cooler, beach chairs and towels, our neighbor Marilyn saw us and wished us well and warned of strong rip currents. When we arrived at John U Lloyd State Park the posted red flag warned of the same thing. Even without these warnings though, one look at the ocean told us that the waters were dangerous today.

Joseph and I stood at the waters edge watching our kids play in the rough surf. More than waist deep and we would call them in closer. The sunlight glared on the ever changing surface of the water in front of us. Our children, dancing silhouettes against the brilliant and violent background.

While standing as lifeguards our feet sank into the soft dark sand and somehow our conversation turned to primitive Florida and what it was like here before the 20th century march of civilization. Joseph told me how he had just read about "The Barefoot Mailmen" who walked the beaches of South Florida to deliver the mail between Palm Beach and Miami because there was no rail or viable roads. "It would take them days to make the trip and sometimes they drowned while trying to cross the inlets to get to the next beach."

Now I'm at the grill carefully watching the drum sticks, turning them, shifting them. The kids are now playing in the sand, huddled under the shade of a palm. The other adults in the group are scattered about sitting on picnic benches and beach chairs and the hammock that Sharon had set up.

Among the sounds of the beach comes a new one: sirens. By instinct everyone looks up. There are several sirens moving towards us and we see those distinct red and blue flashing lights in a few different places. The park ranger's truck approaching on the access road. An ATV driving along the beach. A wave runner heading south through the rough ocean close to shore. A police boat. . . no two police boats further out in the water. No helicopters were overhead yet, but they too would come. The ranger on the ATV is calling everyone out of the water and back on to the beach. Then a rush of people comes pouring out from the picnic area and onto the crowded beach as well. Curious on-lookers, all of us. Looking on. We wonder and speculate and then tidbits of information and misinformation start to come in.

I'm still at the grill - I can't abandon the chicken and corn on the cob. But everyone else has joined the crowd looking out into the ocean. Looking for something and not sure what they are looking for. The stretch of beach immediately in front of us seems to be the epicenter of activity.

Someone is missing. Someone is lost in the surf. The wave runner is searching back and forth, and the police boats also are slowly trolling. Looking. The crowd on the beach is concerned and wants to help and wants answers and so they look too. But again, no one knows what they are looking for.

I immediately and incorrectly assume that the missing person is a child, somewhere between the ages of 3 and 11. I realize later that I do this because my children are between the ages of 3 and 11. I'm associating that drowning person out there somewhere under the choppy bright surface of the water with my own children, playing out a fear that every parent is forced to play out in their mind at sometime or another : What if my child was missing? What if my child was drowning?

I allow this empathy to creep in just enough to where a lump of emotion starts to swell inside of my chest. . .  then I let it pass. My kids are all right there spread out in the safety of the dry sand around me. I count them one by one. All accounted for. And return my attention to the grill. The chicken is done and there are still hamburgers to cook.

A somber mood hangs on the beach. People are still going back and forth right past our tables; toward the beach to find out what is happening, and away from the beach, returning to their tables to deliver news. The helicopters have arrived. The Coast Guard is responding working alongside the Broward Sheriff's Office marine and helicopter units. Uniformed police officers walk the beach in dark pants and shirts - a stark contrast from the other swimsuit clad beachgoers.

We begin eating, the food is good, the weather is pleasant. We are enjoying the company of the friends around us. But repeatedly our conversation turns to the search going on in front of us. After thirty minutes we figure the search and rescue has turned to search and recovery. There is hope, but not much. We talk about this and the kids are listening. They chime in, asking us questions, wanting to know why they are still searching if he is already dead. They want to know what is going on just as much as we do.

After an hour our attention has drifted more and more from this unfortunate event. The person is unknown to us - a teenager we have come to find out. Unknown to us, but still he is someone's son. And this has taken place a mere 50 yards away from where we now "celebrate" Memorial Day. The search continues. Such a beautiful day. Such a horrific day.

After about three hours the sounds of the search boats and helicopters have become scarce. Our kids want to swim but we refuse to let them anywhere near the water. Suddenly we see a rush of people running on the beach. The crowds at the picnic tables see it too and rush to follow. A crowd of a hundred people or more have surrounded an area just above the line where water meets land. We stand back, fearing what we will see and holding the kids back, fearing what they will see.

Joseph goes as our group's emissary to find out what is happening. He comes back with information but there is confusion and rumor and assumption being spread from person to person and the information he returns with ends up being wrong. "It is another person, not the same one they have been searching for. They are giving him CPR". In reality though it is the same 15 year old boy that went missing three hours earlier. He had been pulled underwater by a strong current. A current that did not release him from its grasp until this moment when one of those beachgoers who stood there looking out at the water saw him being churned by a breaking wave. He had ran into the water and pulled the boy ashore where rescue workers performed CPR and a crowd of hundreds surrounded hanging in suspense.

From where we stand observing we can see nothing but the crowd - we can hear nothing but their occasional moans and gasps. Then we see the crowd, who like us have been thrown into compassion for a young man they don't even know, raise their right hand high in the air - an act of prayer.

Then a gasp and cheers!

The crowd is clapping! And again in the confusion and haze that seems to surround tragedy we are dealt another bit of misinformation: we assume the cheers mean he has and will survive. We will hear later from a close observer that the CPR had indeed cleared his lungs and the young man had coughed up a dose of the deadly seawater - to which the crowd applauded - but that was all it was. No air returned to fill those lungs. The boy, with just a faint pulse, was rushed to Memorial Hospital where he was later pronounced dead

We take all of this as a sign to leave - the barbecue is over. Our relaxing, pleasant day on the beach has simultaneously been too emotional.

Such an odd day. Such a juxtaposition of tragedy and cheer. It kind of fits though - Memorial Day seems to be a juxtaposition in and of itself: a holiday where we honor and remember those that have died (often horribly and violently in war) by grilling meat and chomping on watermelon.  When our neighbor Marilyn saw us this morning loading up the van to head to the beach, Sharon had called out to her: "Happy Memorial Day! . . . Well I don't know if you call it 'Happy' - maybe just 'Memorial Day'!" I guess that's about right.