Colorblind

He walked towards those of us who were at least fifty people back in the TSA line, opened up the mesh strap barricade, and with a slight repetitive flick of his hand waved us toward a newly created line to the left. 

When I got to him, as he was verifying my documents, I thanked him for the small courtesy he had shown several of us. 

“No problem, sir,” he said, with just the faintest hint of a smile. “Have a very nice trip and rest of your day.”

“Looks like the usual early morning wait for screening in Atlanta,” the young man behind me in line said. 

A stocky, jovial-looking fellow in khakis and a blue and white striped polo, he was obviously traveling light. Not much to put in the gray tray but shoes and belt, wallet and phone. 

“Yes, ” I answered, “but they seem to be moving us along pretty well.”

We got to the steel rollers of the conveyor, I deposited everything per protocol, and inched everything forward, waiting for the mashup in front. 

“I can push that forward for you, sir,” he said, flashing me a big smile. 

I smiled back, saying thank you. Didn’t need to say anything more.  I turned toward the electronic screener and walked through. 

I handed her the two bottles of water and my debit card, ready to check out. 

“Why, good morning, Mister Gregory, and how are you this morning?”

“Can I interest you in some gum, too? Gum is always good, you know.”

I smiled broadly at her, declined the gum and the bag she offered for my drinks, and took the card and receipt back. 

“I love that bright smile of yours, Mister Gregory, I really do.”

After which, of course, I smiled even more. 

“You continue to have a blessed day.”

“Yes, ma’am, you too.”

I’m a middle-aged white male.

How many of these people do you think were black? 

You’re correct, and I commend you, if your answer was…

…it doesn’t matter. 

I’m going to New Mexico to feel the cool mountain air on my skin, the sun on my face, and to thank God for my family, friends, love, laughter, and life. 

I hope you all continue to have a blessed day.

Connecting the Shots

I don’t understand it. Do you?

I’ve spent my entire professional career, over three decades, trying very hard to understand people. To listen to their concerns. To hear their fears. To share their joys and accomplishments. To listen to their stories. 

I like most of my patients, very much. I love listening to their narratives. I love the fact that they trust me enough to share intimate details of their lives. 

Many times they ask me, “Have you ever heard anything like this before?” “Have you ever seen anybody as sick or crazy as me?” “Does this shock you?”

I just smile and reassure them that there is very little in this world that shocks me any more. I’ve heard it all, as many psychiatrists and other physicians have. It’s part of the toil and heavy responsibility and awesome privilege of this vocation we’ve chosen.   

One thing, though, continues to shake me to my very core. 

I don’t understand it. 

We humans take it upon ourselves to judge, hate, and kill each other.

The catastrophic shooting in Charleston, SC, a city I love and plan to visit again very soon, is just one in an ever-lengthening string of blatantly heinous crimes committed by individuals who take it upon themselves, for what ever reason, to decide the fate of one, two, a dozen, hundreds, or even thousands of innocent people. 

It hurts me personally, as I know it does you. It hurts me to know that I have spent years trying to help people, to make the world just a tiny bit better than it was when I got here, only to see that someone with a grudge and a gun can swiftly snuff out lives, hopes, and dreams. 

It hurts me as a healer. It hurts me as a man. It hurts me as a human being. 

This twenty one year old killer will be caught. We’ll hear many many details of his life, his story, his motivations. Many will mourn. Many will pontificate. Many will try to analyze. Many will use this event to further fan the flames of a destructive fire that will not die in this country. 

Will we ever learn? 

When evil incarnate can walk about unchallenged even in the Holy City, a lovely, serene, genteel place, and rip the fabric of civility and harmony like the temple curtain, can we dare to hope that we’ll ever get past our flawed nature and survive?

May those whose lives have been forever changed in Charleston and countless places like it find the peace that they, that we as a human race, deserve. 

Now

She was in her eighties, but after speaking with her and her husband for only a few minutes I knew she had a frustrated twenty-five year old soul. 

“I’ve been depressed,” she admitted, almost apologetically. “I just don’t feel right. ”

It was a story I’ve heard a thousand times. 

He lives in an easy familiarity with hearth and home, yard and garden.

She longs for travel, the open road, activity anywhere but here. 

He turns his tanned, weathered, wind swept face to the sun, and is content. 

She dreams a young girl’s dreams of the stars, and is not. 

Both are still sharp, intact, cognizant of the march of time but nonconformists as only sweet, fabulously feisty eighty year olds can be. 

“I think some of it is the medicine,” she says. He agrees. 

So do I. 

In an octogenarian, it’s always at least partially the medicine. 

“Bring me the updated medication list from home,” I said. Of course, it was sitting on the kitchen table. “I think I know how we can help you feel better.”

She smiled, hopeful. 

He smiled, relieved.

Because he loves her, you see. 

He looked into my eyes, smiled a genuine sun splashed smile, gripped my hand, and shook it. 

“Thank you, doctor. Thank you.”

Some days, my patients give me a marvelous gift. 

They help me rediscover my purpose. 

I give them what little I can. 

They give me the gift of now. 

Summer

Jim Nightshade.

A solitary three foot tall blue heron painstakingly plods softly at water’s edge, then moves jerkily onto the bank. 

Mallards swim, no, glide over the green water, then hop out and chase and waddle and scoot and slip back in the pond.

Eighty four on the way to one hundred. Is that the temp I’m musing over or the depressed geriatric patient I just saw? 

Hot, flashing sparkles on the gently rippling lake. 

Edamame on my tongue. Hot pepper. 

A nap would be nice, but there’s no time.

There’s no time. 

  

Not Like That

It was the same drink I often order at Starbucks. A venti Americano with three Equals. Simple to make. Simple to drink. Hey, I’m a simple kinda guy. 

Daniel, one of the baristas at the local store, was busy behind the counter as usual. Hands flying, shots brewing, hot water streaming, steamed milk frothing. He’s the kind of guy who memorizes his regular customers’ orders and has them ready by the time they walk in the door. 

He made my drink quickly and efficiently. I didn’t have to wait long. He passed the double-cupped beverage across the bar to me. Well, he almost did. 

He pulled the coffee back, and I heard him say something very softly to himself. 

“No, not like that.”

You see, there was a very small puddle of hot coffee that had sloshed through the hole in the lid and sat there. As coffee does. 

It was not up to Daniel’s standards to pass the first coffee of the morning to me in less than perfect shape. He was not going to put out a product that was less than the best he could offer. 

He deftly removed the lid, quickly replaced it with a pristine white one, and slid it back across the bar to me. 

This action took all of three seconds. It spoke volumes about Daniel’s work ethic. 

Think about what you do, what you say, what you produce today. Think about how you treat people. Think about what you ship. 

“No, not like that.”

Make whatever you do today the very best you can offer. 

  

Time

Several things have prompted the thoughts about this piece and the writing itself on this Mother’s Day 2015.

Seeing the many glorious pictures of mothers, lovingly posted with comments and reminiscences by children, spouses, grandchildren and friends.

Feeling my age, almost fifty-eight now, and that associated middle-aged angst, quite normal I’m afraid, that we all experience at this time of life. If you’ve navigated it and come out on the ¬†other side, bravo. If you’ve not yet arrived at the rocky shoals, don’t worry. Your time will come soon enough. Don’t rush it.

Feeling others’ expectations and reading others’ thoughts about time and what it means to them, how it affects them as they age.

At any rate, all these tiny bright droplets have coalesced in my brain into a trickling, sun-dappled stream and then a rushing, rapid-filled course and finally into a broad, slow-moving, deep-running river of thought and feeling that, while hard to explain and write down, has burst its sluice and will be written, whether I want it to or not.

Ideas, rushing, wet, powerful,  ideas, will crash through the locks and dams we build to hold them back and carve out their own winding ways towards the ocean. They will not be stopped. Nor should they be.

So, my dear readers, time.

Time.

Time may be spent, enjoyed, reveled in, soaked up like sunshine on a spring afternoon, full of promise and tenderness and the expectation of joy that never ends.

Time may be wasted, frittered away on trifling and trivial matters both large and small, things that in the long run mean nothing, but in the short run consume us like fire.

Time may be squandered, absolutely obliterated by the ceaseless worries we give ourselves as gifts, the mental torture that feels like productivity but that disappears like acrid smoke borne off on the chill wind of autumn.

And, yes, friends, time may be used, wisely used, to live life and enjoy all things bright and beautiful and wonderful and good and holy and miraculous. It may bend and slow and wind deliciously through the exquisite waiting for Christmas or the lazy, hazy enjoyment of a summer’s day with catfish dancing on the line and leafy green shade and fluffy cotton candy clouds at end of day, tinged with the pink light of an afternoon well-spent and another grand memory made.

Time is finite for all of us. There’s the rub, isn’t it? This thing called time will end for all of us one day. It is the natural state of things, at least in this physical world that we inhabit now, to be born, to grow, and to die. This stream of consciousness, this awareness, this taking in and processing and living and being, all of it will cease one day. That is the natural course of things, as natural as that slow, relentless roll of river from mouth to ocean.

Yes, time rolls, is fluid, is as slippery and hard to hold onto as that glistening water is if we scoop up a handful of it from Vicksburg or New Orleans or the Gulf of Mexico. It is still the same water, life-giving and nurturing and absolutely necessary for survival, but it has been changed somehow, from north to south, from trickle to rapids to torrent to smooth ocean egress. It has been polished, filtered, imbued with tastes and packed with sediments and particles so small that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. It has been changed with the experience of the ride from birth to death.

Time cannot be controlled, oh no. We fool ourselves daily, dear readers, with our calendars and our schedulers and our theories of time in a box, take it out and wind it up and watch it go. We control time no more than we control our own breathing. We can manage it, yes, I’ll give you that, just as we can make ourselves breathe in and out until the tingling starts around the corners of our mouths and the fingers start to tingle and we know that if we keep doing this that we will soon pass out. We can manage lots of things in this life. We control very few. Time will not be controlled by us, not by anyone. It is fluid, it rolls on, relentless, purposeful and yet with absolutely no certain purpose except to be, to watch, to bear witness to the world that was, the world that is, the world that might be, just around the bend.

Time will end for all of us one day, today or tomorrow or next month or next year or in fifty years. Even so, it will go on, infinitely as far as we will know in our then state of non-being.

We often speak of the past, thinking about it, reliving it, remembering it, dissecting it, wanting somehow to bring back the very best parts of it, the good old days. Some of it we want to change, so desperately. The accident, the diagnosis, the failed love, the loss, the shame, the guilt, the mistakes, oh, the mistakes that if we could just go back and re-do, would change our lives and bring us to that present place called perfect that we all think we need to be.

That’s the fallacy, don’t you see?

There is no past. It does not exist.

There is only the present that was.

We lived it then and it shaped us, just as that rushing river shapes the ground underneath it, carving out a course and direction that even mighty dams cannot alter forever.

We lived our present that was, every one of us. Over and over and over again, we had present moments, opportunities to do the right thing, say something, feel something, reach out, make a difference, change the world. We lived those present moments, as did our great-great-great-great grandparents. We made our choices. We acted, or we did not. Simple as that.

Do not despair that I’ve taken away your memories or your second chances. My words don’t have that power.

Neither do they have the power to give you the hope of a future that will correct your mistakes or bring you happiness.

Because you see, there is also no future for any of us.

There is only the present that will be.

All the worry and the preparation and the mental machinations and the planning and the scheming in the world will not change a thing for me, or for you. I have learned that as I grow older. I have plenty of time, all the time I need, in fact, to get to the present that will be. When I arrive there, I will do my very best to do the right thing, make the right decision, say what needs to be said. But I will not drive myself mad by worrying about how I will get there, whether I will get there.

The only time that exists for me, for you, is this present that we live in today. It is the only thing that is real. It is as real as this hot cup of coffee that sits by my right hand and sends off steam from liquid that will burn my lips just as surely as the sun will rise this morning if I drink it too fast.

The past will not burn me. Neither will the future.

The only time for us, dear readers, is now.

What to do? How to embrace this knowledge that the present that was and the present that will be are things that don’t need our attention? That we don’t need to spend one more second of this river of time rushing past us worrying about how to fix them or change them or anticipate them so that they will be perfect?

1) Embrace the time you are given today. Accept it gratefully and with an open heart and mind. It is the only time you have.

2) Mark it as your own. It does not belong to your memories or your failed expectations or the dreams of others. It is yours.

3) Use it fully. Do not squander a single minute of it. You are not too tired, too busy, too preoccupied, too worried, too important, or too overbooked. You have today. Do something with it.

4) Enjoy it. Immensely. Ridiculously. Over-the-top. Crazily. Like it is the last present day you will ever have. Because it is. Tomorrow it will become the present that was, and it will be out of your reach.

5) When this time is over, relinquish it with the same gratitude that you greeted it with at the start of the day. No anger. No regret. No fear. No sadness. No second guessing. Let it go. It is finished. There will be time enough tomorrow, the present that will be. Enjoy the letting go with as much gusto and gut-wrenching feeling as you enjoyed the gift of time in the first place. It was never yours to keep. Remember that, and you will never again fear letting it go.

My friends, there is only now. Today.

When my time is up, I will be no more. That is as it should be.

My time to make a difference, to live, love, learn, help, to make a real mark on this world, is today.

This post is my gift to you today. Thank you for taking some of your present, your precious time, to read it and to think about it.

Live.

Today.