Monday, May 31, 2010

A book excerpt...

Okay, I can finally add "published author" to my resume', gravestone, business card, or whatever I am going to do with it. I do indeed need to thank all of you who have followed, read, or encouraged me along the writer's journey. Even though I have not even minutely touched upon the steep incline of the marketing path I now must venture upon if I want this to be more than a coaster on my mother's coffee table, I still feel like I have accomplished something - something that many were happy to tell me either I could not do it, or that it was too hard. Well I did it, so there!

My book is a series of essays in which I became able to be blessed to see the underlying lessons life was trying to show me, that were often shrouded by my ego, diminshed by my lack of "presence", or that I was simply not "awake" enough to see what was being presented.

I find that we do not need to always be in either a place of worship, watching Oprah or Dr. Phil, or being counseled by a guru to get extremely valuable, enduring, and enlightening life lessons. Often they are presented in very subtle, simple, and "normal" ways to where we must turn on our "receptors" to be best able to receive the message.Some messsages are powerful in and of themselves. Some are simply part of a greater curriculum we must completely sit through to better ourselves. Many we find in our daily mundane life situations.

Below is an excerpt from one of my essays from my book "Artisan of the Human Spirit" called "The Fort."

In my book, I open each essay with a comment, present the essay, add a closing comment, then I post a page of reflections in which I hope the reader will take a peek at their own experiences and make the message their own.

The one example I present here is part of "my curriculm." I realized "class" is always in session. My professor is quite good. Care to join me?

The Fort

                             In life, not every classroom has a desk, nor every church a steeple!

                                       _____________Opening thought...______________

I loved this essay as I was capturing a special moment that happened to me. Although I cannot choose a favorite, due to the fact a message‘s impact will be different depending on where a person is at the time of reading, this essay is special due to the simple fact it was my first time putting pen to paper for my own benefit. Not only was I trying to create a vivid written recollection, but I wanted to share the impact it had upon me.

This essay captures, for me, a shift. As I wrote, I realized a shift in perception can create a shift in an experience. I saw where my perception of the situation and my ability to get outside of my own head, if even for a brief while, created a special and significant moment for me. The moments I described, now upon reflection, are much more magical to me. Regretfully, in my older ways of thinking, perhaps something like exploring with my son may have seemed trivial or cumbersome, or perhaps would not have occurred to this degree. However, by surrendering to living in the moment, I was able to have a special experience. A moment that I wish I were able to have had being a son myself, but now was blessed with a second chance.

                          _____________________ The essay________________________

I am blessed with two children. My daughter Alexa is ten years old; my son, Austin, is five. Alexa is athletic and active. She has played soccer for a handful of years and has developed it into a budding passion.
On many evenings and weekends, Austin and I are a captive audience on the sidelines of a soccer game or practice, as my wife often works during my "soccer mom" obligations. I felt badly for my son, realizing he would rather be home playing video games—or pretty much anywhere else as opposed to waiting on Sissy. To no avail, Austin often found his desires trumped, and he accompanied me to frequent games and practices.

Spring season allowed the local parks to be the site of said activities, one in particular, Thompson Park, is the setting for many soccer practices and games in our community. It is a well-manicured, beautiful expanse of fields and play structures, with hills to aid in spectator comfort and tree lines that separated the playfields.

The trees are lush, full, and inviting to adventurous minds. They are the type a kid could easily hide, climb, and escape in, with all the wonder fueling an active imagination. The brush at the bottom of the trees is thick and full and creates a perfect division between the fields. Random manmade openings, and some created by the active imaginations of young explorers, allow foot traffic to pass through. Other trails were created over time by people awkwardly finding their way through the trees and underbrush. In the most yielding of pathways, through a mixture of young and mature trees, you can find bushes, stones, and patches of barren ground. It is littered with nature‘s compost of leaves and twigs and is punctuated by random branches that have fallen.

One warm, sunny evening my daughter was practicing on a field flanked by a tree line that sprawled right to left approximately one hundred yards, and was about as wide as half a football field with a tree height around sixty feet. A sidewalk went through the middle and, on the other side of the sidewalk; nature continued and repeated this majestic divider for another hundred yards.

My son and I were milling about with about an hour to kill, so we went in search of some stimulation. During games we would show our sideline support, at least I would; Austin would play games on my iPhone. We cheered with the other parents if it happened to be a game. During practices, however, we often did our own thing to entertain ourselves, trying to appeal to the quick-to-bore mind of a five-year-old.

As we walked along the aforementioned sidewalk, I noticed to my left an opening in the tree line that was approximately six feet high and three feet wide definitely inviting us to enter. It was apparent others had ventured before, although the opening was not obvious unless you happened to look in that direction. Even though we were not dressed for the woods, both in cargo shorts, no socks, and me in a polo shirt and my son in a T-shirt, nature beckoned and we answered.

The growth was full, lush, and green allowing only sporadic rays of sunlight through. The branches allowed just enough sun to dance about the floor of the wooded area choreographed by the gentle evening wind. Austin quickly found a stick that became his walking companion. It was as crooked as a dog's hind leg, but I thought, "Are there really any written rules to walking sticks?" I noticed I was sinking into a long-lost appreciation for moments of my childhood—the innocence of a "who-cares, let's-explore" attitude. All that mattered was happening then and there. My son was "Lewis" and I was "Clark."

The symphony of birds chirping and the whisper of the wind rustling the leaves dominated our journey‘s soundtrack. Even though we were close to the cheers and guttural yells from the coaches, the acoustics in our new world made all the noises appear miles away. I can hear the crunch of the brush, the snap of small twigs, and the soft carefree humming of my son. How I could hear these soft sounds over the screams of kids yelling and whistles was magical, and yet had a special acoustic sensation I appreciated.

We came to a small clearing about halfway in surrounded by numerous trees with trunks the diameter of a car‘s hubcap. Dense brush and bushes flanked the path and opening. Many branches had fallen, sheared from the tops of the elder trees during recent storms and had created piles that reminded me of toppled bowling pins. My son was milling about picking up stones, branches, and other trinkets that dirtied his inquisitive fingers only to be cleansed with an innocent brush of the hand against his pant leg. He looked up at me with a grin and said, "We‘re buddies, aren't we Dad?" I replied, "You know it, pal!" I knew our simple walk was becoming a bonding experience, one that I do not recall having in my young life with my dad, but something I had always longed for. The meaningless stuff seems to mean the most.

A few sturdy branches, about three to five feet in length, rather straight and the diameter about the size of an orange, were strewn about. I decided to create a teepee. Actually it was three sticks in a pyramid, but to a five-year-old it was a testimony of my years of wisdom and a gift from the gods of architecture, validated with a "Coooooool!" Austin proceeded to adorn the foot of each branch of our pyramid with rocks he carefully selected, placing them with the precision of a young engineer. I continued gathering branches, filling in our creation to give it more substance and strength, more sticks, more stones. I was a kid again, gathering like a pilgrim building his log cabin, or a survivor on a desert island.

I had a strange determination to create something for my son, as if it was in our backyard, as if it was our woods, our creation, and our moment. My energy was abundant, and the job seemed effortless. Austin kept interjecting our task with an occasional, "We are buddies, aren't we Dad? And I replied with my standard response, "You know it, pal!" This was acknowledged with a quiet "hmm" of appreciation, a smile, and then it was back to work. After forty-five minutes or so we had built a lattice of branches, caverns, walls, and teepees that would make a tribal elder proud. We gathered, placed, evaluated, replaced, and built our "Fortress of Solitude" for a private membership of two—the "buddies."

I don't know what it is about young boys, but they retain liquid. My son is king at having to "go" at inopportune times. Nature called, he answered, christening the ground behind the original teepee, which from then on was designated "the bathroom." A few more additions and adjustments brought us to an awareness that Sissy was about done with soccer. Our journey was fading back to a reality I didn't want to enter. I sat for a moment in silent reflection of our adventure and was joined by my son. His arms struggled to reach the height of my shoulder as he exclaimed, "I love you, Dad!" "I love you too, pal," I responded.

The joy was overcome with the melancholy realization that we had to leave our fort behind. This masterpiece, this testimony to a father and son, it was ours yet we had to leave it behind. It was back to the car, back home, to homework, to baths, to our normal routine. The story was over.

I grabbed my phone and took a couple pictures of my son with his arms spread with pride and artistic triumph. We ventured onward to retrieve Sissy, back to the real world, wondering how long our fortress would remain before succumbing to vandals, nature, or both. It was heartbreaking leaving our creation behind as my son wanted to show the world, as did I, our creation. I thought it was the fort that mattered. I was wrong.

A couple days went by and soccer practice once again came into the rotation of our lives‘ schedule. Alexa asked me if I had been back to see our fort. In asking, she had a look, a concerned look, to tell me what I already knew upon her posing that simple question. It had only taken three days for vandals to destroy our fort.

I thought it would bother me, but all along I had a feeling the fort wouldn't last long. I guess the hopeless romantic in me pictured another father and son coming by to only improve upon our design; creating an eventual Robinson Crusoe structure for all to enjoy. I am a realist, a hopeless romantic, and not a pessimist, and although a bit saddened temporarily, I see it as a clean slate calling for another adventure; another reason to return to my childhood once again.

The lesson I learned was interesting: I have no control over what can happen. I need to savor each moment, and drink in as much of the present to leave an indelible stamp on my memory to where nothing has to fade or be lost. The better my presence is now, the better my recall is later. In the past, I tried to hold on to things for their sentimental value, but I realize the values I place upon the objects themselves are insignificant to the value they retain in my memory and the memory of others.

The images from that day are vividly stored in my mind, heart, and spirit. I have them forever, and in sacred condition, untouchable for eternity. In that memory, it is not the fort I cherish; it is the precious time I shared with my son. In that memory, Austin will always be five years old, I will be the brave explorer; we will be buddies, and the fort: enduring.

We are destined to have things come and go in our lives, and we often place too much identification of who we are in those things, and we sometimes feel if we lose those things, we lose the memories attached to them as well. Things are fleeting and their value diminishes, but the human experiences and our ability to remain vividly connected to those experiences through our memories does not have to leave us.

True, it is difficult to lose items in times of disaster, theft, or loss, but we do not have to lose the value of the experience they represent. Mementos and objects connect to the ego and not to the spiritual blessing that placed them in our lives in the first place. I have had and lost many things, money, and titles. To some that fort may have been a simple pile of dead or dying organic material, scattered, without value, and forgotten—but to two ―little boys‖ lost in a moment, it was priceless, even if only for short time. I realize there is no greater thing I acquired that day, or any day since, than the title of "buddy."

               _______________________Closing Thoughts______________________

A few months after writing this, I revisited it for the first time. I was able to go back to that moment. It was emotional for me, as I experienced a state of gratitude for the ability not only to have had the experience and to be able to share it with my son, but also for the ability to feel and see the blessings therein. This experience showed me the importance of being present and to realize what is of true value in this world. When the simplest of moments are shared, they can become genuinely special.

I implore you to "be where you are when you are there," and to also realize that what may be tedious or boring to one, can be monumentally significant to another. Some things may seem unimportant now, but once put into spatial perspective with the passing of time, these experiences can become treasures.

(Note - *Pictures of the fort and other photos related to the subject matter can be found in the photo gallery on my website - (as well as ordering info! - That is not a hint...okay, yes it is!)