Broken

The idea that anything or anyone could be born broken relies on the conceit that the born thing must have at one time in its past been in good working order to begin with. Still the feeling that nothing worked the way it should have from the start weighs heavily on any number of people I know.

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It’s wrong in my opinion to identify with one’s damage. We are more than our broken places, more than our shattered intentions, more than deeds we couldn’t bring to life or heroes we never quite managed to become. We are far better than our shortcomings, which are so necessary to guide us in our quest to better ourselves. In this regard there are two kinds of people — those consumed by their mistakes and those inspired by them.

It is pointless to walk a mile in another man’s shoes simply to discover how he feels. If you are a true human being, walk the most difficult mile there is to walk — in your own shoes. Only then will you own every success and failure and only then will you understand the breadth of emotions that any other man feels in running that gamut. If he has done the same then he will know you as well.

I am not unsympathetic to the struggles of another. I merely realize that I must first understand the nature of struggle itself before I presume to compare mine to theirs. Unwell though we may be, and occasionally crushed and devoid of all that makes us beautiful, it is incumbent upon us to keep getting up, to keep moving forward, to leave defiant footprints in the efforts we make to grow beyond our damage. Brokenness only works to our benefit when we leave it behind.

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Departures

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Dogs have the most wonderful personalities to me. As it turns out, they have no concept of the future whatsoever. Have you noticed they also don’t seem to hold onto past grievances? You can forget your adorable mutt’s breakfast when you’re running late and he still loves you when you return home at night. Aside from learned behavior and instinct, there’s no preoccupation of future or past for them. Everything to a dog is right here, right now. This, according to research, is a statistic. I’d love to see that research and talk to the dogs they actually interviewed to arrive at this. Even though the whole concept of future blindness seems a little iffy, whenever I look at a dog now something in me says, “Yeah. It’s true.”

Humans, as we all know, are the exact and extreme opposite. We hyper-focus on everything except the present. People I’ve known through the years who dreaded their lives also happened to be the ones who lived in fear of their mortality. That final exit is a huge event in anyone’s life but obsessing over it strikes me as an insult to the quality of the life you should be living.

In my twenties I thought of death all the time, as twenty-somethings are inclined to do, because that’s when we’re most uncertain about our aspirations, our future, and what our place in the world might be—which may explain why Goth and other cultures fixate on a dark demise. I really connected with that mindset in my youth but, looking back now, it occurs to me that when my life was actually going well and was full of promise, enthusiasm and opportunity, I never gave death much consideration.

It’s kind of funny how, when the world is falling apart, churches fill up with prayerful masses lamenting their sorry lot in life, but when things are going our way, the glands swell, the brain freezes, and it’s caution to the wind. Reckless as it may seem, this latter tact may be the loftier goal to keep in our sights.

Life is absolutely a gift but it is also a muscle to be exercised. Dwelling on how it could all go away not only allows that muscle to atrophy, but it doesn’t show much appreciation for the gift either. However enlightened we may be, death and dying will continue to drift in and out of our consciousness. It’s in our nature to obsess like that.

While scripture promises “peace that passeth understanding”, why can it not be balanced in life with an understanding that bringeth peace? My take at this advanced stage of the game is that those who immerse themselves in the very real business of being alive will have little time left to fret about that impending dirt nap.

Both Leonardo DaVinci and Monty Python’s Michael Palin sum it all up nicely for me. DaVinci observed that, “A well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”

Palin remarked, “George Harrison’s passing was really sad, but it does make the afterlife seem much more attractive.”

My father is 92 this year and he is the penultimate example of the concept that the secret to dying young is to put it off for as long as possible. He is the youngest, most vital and energetic person I am ever likely to know. He has been my best example by embracing what it is that even dogs seem to get—the knack for living in the here and now and never once looking over his shoulder at what might have been.

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Brevity

 

I have an affinity for brevity.

It’s not that I’m in a hurry, but neither am I a waster of time. I very much take long, languorous pleasure in my respite and in the aroma of roses, but I equally enjoy the elegant simplicity of being brief. It is the quality of saying much with few words and it requires talent.

Example:

……………………FIRST FIG
……..“My candle burns at both ends.
………It will not last the night.
………But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
………It gives a lovely light.”
…………………….(Edna St. Vincent Millay)

The collective dwindling of our attention spans aside, I long for the concise, succinct remark while leaving the intellect enlightened and the spirit well fed. Short, compact and pithy—that’s how I like my literature.

Not all poetry is brief (damn those rambling Bard wannabe’s) but brevity in any form, to me, is poetry.

C’est la vie!

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Birthday Wish

When well wishers call out the popular greeting “Happy Birthday”, it seems so very common that we cannot help feeling its overuse has become a hallmark of insincerity.

I find it unfortunate that for many the phrase now carries a tone of obligation, when in fact most people want nothing more than to communicate a true and genuine gratitude that you were born. How small must be our self esteem to doubt there are those who gladly declare us a welcome and valuable part of their lives?

birthday-candleWhen we were still new, there was a wonderful novelty to birthdays. Since a kid is so easily enthused by the simplest of things, a day dedicated to an appreciation of you alone is quite the best thing imaginable.

I know more and more grown ups who, as they get on in years, insist they want no fuss, or even attention paid, at the marking of a birthday. And yet, notice how very put out these same people become if that oh-so-unimportant day is forgotten?

It’s a comical dichotomy that possesses more than a few of my friends.

When co-workers and casual acquaintances have been given a community greeting card to sign, the accompanying inscription often comes across as disingenuous. For the many years that I have been on my own, I’ve suffered the sticky ineptitude of those who toss off a quick “Happy Birthday” in the manner of an afterthought. I see the obligatory sentiment forming in the air and cringe. And then it lands with the graceless thud of obligation.

And what’s happy about being an obligation? Small wonder that we’ve become so blasé about it all.

Of late, however, I’ve been rethinking my position on this one day of the year that celebrates me. If I choose to join those who are sincere — or lacking such fans, if I decide to celebrate that I am indeed a delightful and marvelous person — then where is the harm in such good feelings? Taking a moment to appreciate one’s self is no sin. In fact I’m beginning to think it’s healthy.

I remember the light in the eyes of those distant faces in my home movies, both young and old, marveling at the dance of fire on frosting, and I am taken back to my childhood. There were many birthdays throughout the year in my house where ten of us fought and loved and lived together under one roof.

I lament just a little that we have evolved into a populace so easily dismissive of sentiment. And whether there is sincerity behind the words or not, I cannot be reminded enough what a miracle it is to be in this world and of this world.

Life, after all, is but a flicker. And then we are gone. Shouldn’t we allow ourselves to sparkle just a bit while we’re here?

Along those lines, I have set down this observation:

THE LIFE OF A BIRTHDAY CANDLE
(© 2013 by Michael J. Cahill)

A darkened room, a spark alights
A wick is set ablaze
And so begins the best of sights
On this, the best of days 

The flicker dances all aglow
Far merrier than any
Illuminating lightly so
The merriment of many 

How brief is but the tiny flame
That reaches high above
To those who’ve come to sing your name
And shower you with love 

And in your eyes it’s plain to see
The candle reaches high
As all are waiting patiently
For you to draw a sigh 

There in that breath lives well and strong
A dream with light imbued
From out that breath is born a song
That sings to be pursued 

And in that moment, fleet and deft
After the prayer is spoke
Do not believe that all that’s left
Is but a breath of smoke 

A birthday candle gladly burns
A life that shortly lives
For all the happiness it earns
Is from the joy it gives 

Snuffed out to make a wish come true
A prayer for things to be
Alive for but a precious few —
And for eternity

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