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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Traveler

When she was four and a half I took my daughter to her first movie in a theater. Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound”. Five minutes into the film the momma fox is hiding her pup in the forest to protect him. Upon hearing the approach of hunters, she dashes off to lead them away from her little one.

The cute, confused face of the baby fox.

A distant gunshot.

And silence.

Uh oh….

Courtney looked up at me, unblinking. “What happened to the mommy, Daddy?”

Do I lie? God, look at that little face. I want her to be able to trust me. No, I think she can take it. She’ll understand. Be honest — gentle, but honest.

“She…… died, honey.”

“Waaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

There was no consoling her and we had to leave. So much for candor.

The disappearance of a dear one from our life will never be a feat of ease for those who must reckon with it. About six months later we found a dead finch in the yard and she started asking me about death.

“Am I going to die someday?”

“Every living thing has a beginning, a time to be, and an end. It happens to everyone, sweetheart.”

“Are you going to die someday?”

Do I break her heart again? Those adorable eyes…..

“Yes.”

Long thoughtful look at my face. Then finally, “Where will you go when you die?”

“Well, I’m kinda hoping I’ll get to go to heaven.”

“Where’s heaven?”

And that kicked it all off. I thought she would have been satisfied with a stock Sunday school answer. But she had to take it further and I was suddenly on unsteady turf.

At this point in my life I hadn’t really warmed to any kind of faith and her question got me thinking. There she was with those precious, searching eyes, waiting for an answer. Barely five years old and so curious about the big issues. When I was five I was lucky if I could figure out how the bathroom doorknob worked.

But still, that’s the eternal question, isn’t it — Where do we go? The answer I finally gave her is the answer I still hold to today.

When my mother passed away two years ago, I kept hearing my daughter’s question returning from 21 years before — “Where’s heaven?” For weeks after the funeral I could only think of all the wonderful things my mother had been to me — a personable, kind, morally decent, insightful, generous and witty woman who read aloud to her children. Also the single funniest person I ever met.

In my reminiscence of her, I tried to consider how Mom might have answered my daughter’s question had I been sharp enough to ask it of her myself. This is how I imagine she would have explained it…..

Going Places
(© 2013 Michael J. Cahill)

“Where Shall We Go?” has always been
My favorite game with you
When you were small upon my knee
What traveling we would do

The yard beyond our windowsill — ?
An icy mountain steep
Or a Viking ocean full of storm
Or a jungle forest deep

The universe was ours to roam
By land and sea and air
By hawk and mule and rocket fuel
What journey’s we would share

There is one voyage separate
From all that we will take
But oh, my love, though by myself
I will not you forsake

Yes, by and by, one day I’ll die
As all God’s creatures must
But I shall spend eternity
As something more than dust

And if I go to heaven
We will not be far apart
For don’t you know, my darling child
That heaven’s in your heart

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