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Thursday, December 10, 2009


bullhead in snow

Tuesday before the Hospice Tree of Lights meeting, I'd been strapped in an Alleghany In Motion van for the previous 9 hours. Needed to go to Winston-Salem for an annual checkup at the device clinic, which took 15 minutes from the time I walked into the office to the time I walked out. When I arrived home after the Hospice presentation it was 8:30, after leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning, I weighed consideration of driving next time. I'd be home in 3 and a half hours. Alleghany In Motion charges $2. If I were to drive, it would be $25 for gas plus lunch. That part is ok. The worst, is driving in Winston-Salem and finding a parking place. I've become intolerant of city traffic and can't do it any more.

While thinking about whether or not I wanted to jump into that melee next year or take Alleghany In Motion again, I remembered the people riding in the van. There were 5 of us plus an 18 month old baby and the driver, Bill Ham. 3 were people I've never met and 2 I'd only talked with a few times, 1 of them I rode with to Winston-Salem last year. Every one of us had our own places to be and reasons for going. The van dropped us off, one at a time at the various places all over town, in the kind of traffic that makes me wonder why people want to live in cities. Sure, you can make more money, but so what? I'd rather live in semi-poverty in beautiful mountains among mountain people than be paid well and drive through that kind of traffic every time I step out the door to go someplace. The Circle L is good enough for me when it comes to fine dining.

Remembering the different people I came to know in the van ride there and back, our conversations and exchanges, I took it for folly to think about going any other way than Alleghany In Motion. I liked being placed in a pod with a bunch of people who don't know each other, people with very different life stories, and see the conversation begin and flow all the way to the city and all the way back. Every one valid people, each as important as the other, each with interesting stories to tell and ways of seeing things, finding common ground and conversing there, everybody regarding each other with basic human respect. Everybody had their own affliction and we all told the stories of our afflictions and empathized with the others. Good feeling flowed all around inside the van.

The driver, Bill Ham, lived in Whitehead, a retired truck driver after 35 years on the road, and knows everyone I know in Whitehead and everybody I don't know. He knew Jr and spoke the highest of him, as does everyone who has known him. After Bill told me he'd been driving a blue Fiesta, I suddenly recognized him. I told him I sat on Jr's porch a lot and watched the cars and trucks go by. When he said blue Fiesta, I recalled it was indeed him driving. I saw it almost every day. It's not like something there are two of. I always enjoy conversation about Jr, especially hearing other people tell me the Jr they knew, what stands out for them in his character, memories of experience in the past. "Jr always had something witty to say." Bill agreed when I said it doesn't seem right Jr not being here any more. He'd known Jr all his life. Jr was enough older than him that Jr was grown when Bill was little. Jr had always been in his world.

I was in the van most of the time, because Bill came by to pick me up not long after I'd been dropped off. We were able to talk for several hours riding around from place to place in that traffic it takes an experienced truck driver to stay up with, dropping ones off, picking ones up, stopping at Hardees. I was able to give him a first hand account of what happened to Jr in the slow fade, how he just gradually wasted away. I like being able to give people who were part of Jr's world an honest account of what he went through. People hear every kind of thing from people that heard it. It feels good to me to give them a brief account of what happened to Jr, one they can rely on from an eye-witness. I don't tell things that would embarrass Jr were he to know. I skip a lot of the details; they don't need those images in their memories of Jr. But I have to say I'm glad I have them. I feel like it was Jr's spiritual gift to me, opportunities to experience some honest humility.

In this time back on my mountain as I settle in and a bit of energy is beginning to generate in here, I'm finding myself different from before. Those couple years of all my focus outside myself made some changes on the inside while I didn't notice. Now that I'm creeping gradually back into myself, finding the groove I'll be taking from here on, I feel very different inside from what I felt before. It's a relaxed calm I've never known but in brief spells. Riding in the van really brought it forward for me, hearing the stories of the different people, finding myself wanting to hear everything they said, feeling with them when they told of their issues. Every one of us living our lives, going along, then, oops, cancer, heart, going blind. Feces happens.

When you're a man not afraid of hard work, operating an electric wheelchair, going for a chemo treatment, enduring the sickness of it, unable to take care of self, a good natured guy who doesn't carry conflict everywhere he goes, somebody who is a benefit to humanity, struck down by a body that doesn't work any more, there's the feeling of valuelessness. Always a trouble to other people having to help him out. Yet he sees the readiness to be helpful in about everyone he encounters. I'm fairly certain he doesn't know he's not a bother to his wife, and not a bother to all those who have opened doors for him, the people who go out of their way for him. It's not been an altogether bad experience. He came through it seeing people around him in ways he'd never seen them before.

Jr never understood it was not a bother for me to look after him. Never once. Sometimes the opposition was intense forcing me to assert myself to whatever degree the occasion called for. That's just what a dog does protecting his master. Bringing out the dog in me. And it was all good. That part was a bit of a bother, but I handled it. No matter what I'm doing, there's something that comes up a bother and I handle it. No big thang. I'm feeling like this momentum that is beginning to stir is happening in somebody new. I don't think like I thought before.

I'm not aware of seeing the people around me in the past as the original art form, art itself, more beautiful to behold in conversational interaction than standing in front of Monet's Waterlilies in the Museum of Modern Art. Before, I believe I held a beautiful work of art, like a Japanese screen, a film by Bergman, music by the Stanley Brothers, a painting by Matisse higher than an individual human being. That's not how it is any more. Museum art is still good, but a shared occasion with another human spirit is a much higher form of art, a leap beyond. It's what the other art forms aspire to. I feel like the time spent with Jr facilitated the leap beyond that I didn't even notice happening. As I move further into it in time, I'll be able to better see it's direction and what it's about. A new mystery for the rest of my life.

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