Vulgarity in the Observer

In the winter 1998 issue of The American Scholar Joseph Epstein, its editor for over twenty years, gives his view of why he is leaving the esteemed journal. The Phi Beta Kappa senate had voted to remove Epstein as editor and the decision was controversial. Whatever the reason, the issue revolved around the use of the word gay in an unsolicited essay. A strict grammarian and writer, Epstein asked the writer(s) of the essay to not use gay to define homosexuality. Too soon he was attacked for being homophobic and the battle began.

Words! Remember the old lie that our parents repeated to us when we complained about someone saying something mean to us: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.” We now know better. Words matter and in the September 15, 2021 Charlotte Observer shows why.

In Sara Pequeno’s  article about Rep. Cawthorn attending a Johnston County School Board meeting, she describes many of the attendees: “It was hard to tell who was a concerned parent with children in the school system, who was a p***** off neighbor,….”

I only can suppose at what J. Epstein would comment about Ms. Pequeno’s choice of phrase to describe attendees at the school board meeting, but I think that she ruined an otherwise fine article when she descended to the level of the vulgar. She, in a sense, became as vulgar as young Cawthorn when she wrote as she did. Her decent to the common language drew attention away from him and his supporters and placed the spotlight on her in her choice of words. Yes, I am aware that some folks think that some words and phrases are of value because they express an emotion. I agree, but there is a place and time for them. A newspaper op-ed is neither.

In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell argues against the type of writing that the Nazis used in World War II. In his essay he offers his argument for clear (honest) writing and he offers guidance to that end. The essay shows Orwell’s great concern with truth and language and how deliberately misleading language is used to conceal disagreeable political facts. His rules are:

1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. 2.Never use a long word where a short one will do. 3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. 4.Never use the passive where you can use the active. 5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. 6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

In parsing the quoted phrase from Ms.Pequeno’s article, it is obvious where in her op-ed she ignores Orwell’s suggestions. She could have followed number 3 and instead of the vulgar phrase in question, she could have used any number of fine, Anglo-Saxon words. I suggest angry, but our great language offers many synonyms such as mad, irate, or indignant. Also, by following number 3 she would have saved a word, making her essay more active. It is obvious that she ignored number 6 because the phrase she used is barbaric.

My objection is not to the phrase describing the state of anger of some of the attendees. It is a useful phrase in certain situations, such as when I am speaking to a friend in a private conversation, such as, “The Observer printed an article that used vulgar language, and that ****** me off.” But not in a newspaper or public meeting or other such situations. The editors of the Observer should have followed Epstein and asked the writer to change the wording. That is their responsibility to their readers and a lesson they can teach their writers.

“Vulgarity is the effort of a weak mind to forcefully express itself” is an adage of which  I remind the editors and writer. While I do not think Ms. Pequeno has a weak mind, I suggest that she resorted to the convenient in describing some of the crowd. By taking the easy way, she ruined an otherwise fine article.

        Manny’s Last Swim

Growing up in North Carolina, we seemed to always have a dog for a family pet, but I was not a hunter of any kind, so I never trained or owned hunting dogs. Some uncles had beagles and coon hounds, and as a young boy I shivered around many campfires as they talked about which dog was leading the pack. A few duck hunting relatives used retrievers such as the golden, the Labrador, and the Chesapeake Bay on their duck hunts, so this is my knowledge of retrievers.  Therefore, when I met Manny after his family moved from the rocky Atlantic coast of Rhode Island to Lake Norman, N.C. I was unfamiliar with his breed—the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. That’s quite a breed name for a dog weighing at most fifty pounds.

Curious about Manny and his breed, I conducted a simple Internet search and discovered the interesting heritage of Manny. His long, roan colored hair, similar to that of the Irish Setter, not only protected him in the cold waters of Nova Scotia but caused him to appear like a fox. The hunters/breeders in Nova Scotia had discovered that ducks were fascinated by foxes, so they would come close to shore if they saw one. Thus, Manny and his kind, all energetic dogs, were bred to run along the shore looking like a fox and the curious ducks would be lured within gunshot range of the hunter. Then the strong swimmer would retrieve the shot ducks. The luring action explains their name because tollen is derived from Middle English which means, among other things, “to summon.” They literally summoned the ducks for their masters.

Unfortunately,  I did not get to know Manny that well or long because he was already thirteen when I met him. I missed his young days of swimming in the cold waters of Rhode Island while playing with his young owners. I like to think that he thought nothing of jumping into the northeast waters of the Atlantic when he was lured to it by one of them. I missed those vibrant days of his youth, but I would see him moseying along on an early morning walk in his front yard. Sometimes he would “slip away” from his human companion and walk in his cul-de-sac and sometimes try to make it all the way to our shared road. But better than the yard or road, he liked the lake. After all, that is what he was bred for. Water.

While I did not get to know Manny that well, I have gotten to know the middle child of the family. Gabby is in her mid-twenties and works in Boston. She is an independent, strong young female who carries herself well. She has a fire that I greatly admire and holds her family, boyfriend, and Manny close. So when her parents told her that Manny was fading, she and her boyfriend flew from Boston to the lake to be with her family, and her cherished Manny. 

My wife Mary Ann holds that no pet’s last day should be its worse, and Manny’s masters had watched him closely to ensure that he was now just old, not suffering, but fading in body and spirit. This week they decided that it was time because he was losing control of his bowel and bladder; he slept most of the time, and his days of swimming in the wild Atlantic had passed. The preacher writes in Ecclesiastes that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

Manny’s last day was definitely not his worse. His family fed him his favorites, they cuddled him in his blanket, and as for the past fifteen years, they unconditionally loved him. Gabby, the grown middle child,  honored him and his breed by taking him for a last swim in the lake. After all, Manny was a Novia Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who was bred for the water. It was her last gift to a cherished member of their family.

“Good People”

Just after moving to Lake Norman four years ago, Ethel and I met when I was riding my stationary bike near our road. As I would witness over the following years, she would appear on her morning walk, and she would stop long enough to chat. On that first morning, she asked me a  few questions about my wife and me and why we moved to the lake-the usual inquires that a stranger would make. Satisfied, she said, “Well, you seem like good people,” and turned to continue her walk home.

Many walkers dot our road, but she was one of the earliest every day. If I were any bit past early, I would miss her, except on Thursday’s when she walked after going to the landfill with her week’s collection of pine cones dutifully gleaned from  her well-tended lawn. Oh, and she walked after attending Sunday School and service at Williamson’s Chapel each Sunday, so I would often see her on my way home from our church. She would still be dressed in her “Sunday outfit.” And on Wednesday’s we always knew that she had already walked by because the Mooresville Tribune would be centered on the driveway, telling how she had rescued it from the ditch where the route person seems to enjoy placing it.

When she found out that we had three dogs, she began placing plastic, newspaper bags in our newspaper box. They were used for cleaning after dogs, and they were greatly appreciated. But most of  all, the manner in which she packed the bags was telling of her character. Each bag was folded in her particular way and carefully placed in a larger one. She packaged them as if they were valuable merchandise. And they were because those simple, plastic bags were a reflection, as she saw it, on her. She would not just cram them into a larger bag because that would not witness to her spirit.

Over the brief time Ethel and I shared, she became much more than an elderly widow who lived on the lower end of our  little road. Learning more and more of her life, I became aware that she, like so many of her era, are those who persevere. She was in her later eighties yesterday when she died, and she was a cancer survivor, but I learned not to be fooled by her slender frame that did not speak to her grit.

For the past weeks she has been house-bound, too ill to venture out on one of her walks. While I knew of her illness, I always held out the hope that somehow she would appear on our little road on one of her walks. This morning’s ride offered an absolute answer that no longer would Ethel come by on her morning walk and that our chats had ended.

But I hold to the thought that for these four short years, Ethel always saw us as “good people.” She certainly was.

What Air’s In Your Tires

Because we paraplegics use our arms and shoulders to propel our manual wheelchairs, the condition of our shoulders is especially important. It matters not how large our biceps may grow, if our shoulders suffer injury, we will be forced to use a battery powered chair or have someone push us anywhere we wish to go. In case the reader is not aware, battery powered chairs are expensive, and having someone push us to wherever we desire to go is not practical. Thus, when I recently developed a constant, stabbing pain in my left shoulder I was concerned.

I did what I think most folks do when a physical pain comes on—I took an inventory. I curtailed my riding of the stationary handcycle by riding less days each week and clocking less miles. I also made my workouts less strenuous. When that did not change the intensity and frequency of the pain, I strove to decrease the  amount of hard pushing of my wheelchair that I had to do. Even though our house is built on a slab, and our lot is mostly flat, I was cautious about the  ramp leading to our back porch and the ramp to my shop. I concentrated more on how I pushed my wheelchair in order to not stress my shoulders, especially the left one. Finally, the ache’s frequency and intensity did not change,  In a fashion, I just quit and, taking the convenient way out of my problem, decided that after twenty years in a wheelchair my shoulders were finally giving out from being used for what they were not designed to do.

Not long after that pathetic conclusion, I noticed that the air pressure of my wheelchair tires seemed low. While in my shop later that day, I pumped each tire to the recommended ninety pounds of pressure and went on about my business. Now, I am no Archimedes, but within a few days I noticed the pain in my left shoulder had lessened. I began my old riding regime and felt no sudden twinges when I went up the two ramps that I must use every day. While I never shouted, “Eureka”, I was, as they say, one happy camper. And paraplegic.

The 2010 van that I drive, like all contemporary vehicles, has an abundance of notifications that appear on the displays or even on a cellphone. Mine has this silly, yellow logo that appears on the speedometer’s lower left-hand corner if the pressure in any tire becomes too low. It is just one more example of, to paraphrase the slogan of one early pioneering scientific company, “Better living through….” In this case, through computers. But my wheelchair is manual and has no computer or intelligent operator it seems. Because of low tire pressure, my wheelchair required more force to move it, requiring more work from my shoulders, especially the left one. Gads, after twenty years of using a wheelchair, wouldn’t you think that I would know to check tire pressure?

My first wheelchair was black and had hard rubber tires. It took little time to realize that, while the tires would never go flat, the hard tires caused discomfort, and I despised the black. Quickly, I purchased a purple wheelchair with pneumatic tires–the color was cool and the ride comfortable. But a wheelchair is, after all, a machine and like any machine it must be maintained. But the air of the tires is so common, not complex like other parts. Air! It’s all around us and free. All life on earth depends on it, even in so simple of an invention as the  pneumatic tire.

A quick Google search reveals that the pneumatic tire was patented in the United States by Robert W. Thompson, a Scottish inventor, in 1847. (In 1849 he patented the fountain pen.) His “aerial wheels” were a hollow leather tire enclosing a rubberized fabric tube filled with air. However, because the price of rubber was so high, his inventor languished for over fifty years until a new way of manufacturing rubber lowered its price.

But never mind. The point is that because of such a simple cause, my shoulders suffered, and that sharp pain could have developed into something much more serious. And I think that our  lives are so much like the lack of  adequate air in my tires. We all need air in so many ways for our lives, but what air fills our souls? What air supports our dreams? What air refreshes our spirits? Our lives are made better when we believe in something larger than ourselves, and for me that is God. He is the air that I breathe. He is the air that keeps me afloat. He is the air that soothes my pains. He is the air that cools my burnings. He is the air in the tires of my wheelchair that allows me to push and roll easily as I traverse life.

75

The day of my birth has passed, and I recovered from it better than I think my mother did 75 years ago. After all, my birth took place when the medical belief was that a heavy dose of anesthesia was the only sane way for a woman to give birth. While we were both certainly groggy after the event, I like to think that I recovered quicker than she. However, that was in the short term because my mother showed me many times by her example how to continue in the longer span of living.

 In that last sentence I struggled with the best word for “continue”, and I am reminded of the dedication to me that Reynolds Price wrote in his book, Letter to a Young Man in a Fire: “Persevere, my friend.” And Reynolds knew what energy it took to continue in life. Yet, like the good writer he was, Price used the best word—persevere. So, looking over the years of my 75 that I know, I think that I have persevered. Fortunately, I have not had to (choose a synonym): endure, suffer through, persist, or survive any of them.

I have not endured these years because that implies too much suffering, and while I, like everyone, have had my troubles, I have not had so much trouble that I have had to endure any of it.  I have not had to suffer through anything over these years. That verb phrase, too, implies a horrible period or experience that one is barely able to “get through.” That, indeed, would be an awful ordeal. I have not had to persist, except in some of my wrestling matches when I was much younger, and in some of the marathons that I raced twenty-five years ago. While persisting in those was a great help, they were more or less recreational choices of mine, and not necessaries for living. To persist suggests that one is facing a long and arduous time and wrestling matches and marathons are brief when held up in the light of life. The last, survive, fortunately is not what my life has required. To survive tells of an escape from disaster or some other horrible event. Fortunately, no event during my lifetime has been so awful that I have been required to survive it.

When I worked in Pembroke College, Oxford each summer, I would shop in a favorite haberdasher’s on Turl Street for some ties. For several summers I encountered the same salesman, and we would chat. We both enjoyed the yearly exchange, and when I entered the store after an accident that made me a paraplegic, he asked about things, and we talked as I chose ties and as we continued talking, he shared some of his experience as a child during the London Blitz. When my shopping and our talk was finished, he said as he placed my purchases in a bag, “Well, get on with it.” His words are such an accurate description of Reynold’s word, persevere, and a good philosophy.

Yet, none of the verbs or verb phrase that I have written of can be done alone. To persist, endure, or persevere one needs family and/or friends. And when I look back over my years, I see many faces of folks who have believed in me, supported me, and trusted me. For instance, yesterday children, grandchildren, siblings and friends sent me good wishes: some cards, many phone calls, and several emails celebrated the day of my birth.  All of those folks and others have made my journey better and even, at times when I needed their support, possible.

75 is not that big of a number, but when placed as an adjective for years, it takes on a new dimension. William Wordsworth writes, “The good die first,/And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust burn/Burn to the socket.”  Many years later, Billy Joel writes a hit song, Only the Good Die Young.  Both are mistaken, but the image of a youthful death has romantic overtones for some folks. They, too, are mistaken. However, when I look at my years and realize that I have had three times those of John Keats or Wilfred Owen, I shudder. Why? Because I wonder if I have done justice with the gift of all these years.  And it is not just Keats or Owen that I think about when I count my years. I think of my friends who died much too early of disease: Hooper, Jim, Connor, and Willie. Each died twenty years before they reached my 75 years, and while I am grateful for the additional twenty I have been blessed with, I tremble that I have not done my best with them. I can now only hope that I have.

Once some years ago when we lived in the Shenandoah Valley, my wife Mary Ann met a man who was selling a truck. As they discussed the vehicle, he shared some of his life story. In telling her his age he said, “I’m 85. I don’t’ know how that happened.”

Indeed. That is, I believe, perseverance.

Slouching Among US

An Iredell County, NC  local paper carried the front-page headline “Extremely Alarming” above the fold today, September 01. A large bar-graph showed the rise in COVID from March 17 to August 31. The article quotes Megan Redford of the county health department, “Our current test positivity rate is 13.5%, up form a low of 1.6% in mid-June.” Redford went on to explain, “Our greatest concern at the moment is our hospitals being overwhelmed and reaching capacity.” This is in a county where 43.6% of the population has received at least one shot.

Below this article is a long report on the 85th Iredell County Agricultural County Fair which will open on Friday, September 03 at the county fairgrounds in Troutman. The article points out that because of COVID in 2020 the fair, sponsored by the Statesville Kiwanis Club, did not open, but this year will operate until September 11.

The juxtaposition of these two articles graphically demonstrates our relationship with this pandemic: On one level some of us are aghast at its lethal powers and take the jab, but others think that they have done enough concerning COVID and it is time to stop allowing it to run our lives. Some of the latter have taken medicine designed to rid cattle of worms as a preventative against COVID.

After my wife showed me the front page with the two stories, I read each article and thought of a poem written by William Butler Yates in 1919. I copy the entire poem for you, the reader:

“The Second Coming”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The world of 1919 was in turmoil: A world war, the Russian Revolution,  a world-wide pandemic, and other political, social, and economic ills threatened stability. It seems that Yeats’ poem could also be written about our present climate.

Yeats’ poem has been used and abused by writers since its publication in  Dial Magazine. Some of them simply used it while others abused it, but I only wish to use a few words and phrases of his to show our peril one hundred years after he penned them.

 Are we in a loosened tide so full of blood that it has created an environment where “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” Think of people who are so passionate for a cause that they will inject animal medicine or bleach to supposedly protect themselves against COVID while exhausted medical workers have or may have lost all their conviction.

Stanza two begins with the statement: “Surely some revelation is at hand;” and examines what that statement can be. The poet wonders if it is the promised Second Coming when a “lion body and the head of a man” rises from the desert sand. Like the poet, we in 2021 are being given a message, but do we understand it?

A “rough beast” whose hour has arrived “ round at last” does not, as Nick Tabor points out in his fine essay on the poem, plod as we expect it to. It does not come like a movie monster or Shelley’s Frankenstein with its heavy feet. Tabor explains: “But plodding is a conscious action; slouching is not. We can’t even tell whether the beast has a will of its own. The verb heightens the mystery and dread.”

We may not understand or believe in the dangers exhibited by the bar graph showing the  dramatic rise in COVID. We may not trust the CDC or  any medical person. But to deny the existence of this “rough beast” that has now slouched into our  lives is life threatening. It will not go away unless we act in a positive way to stop its spread. And holding a county fair or football games or other rites of our so-called “normal” will only allow this evil to slouch among us, enjoying the show and spreading its death.

Learning History

The cultural war is full of blather concerning how our schools teach history. In Texas, a heated discussion is on-going about a book’s treatment of one of that state’s icons, The Alamo. I remember watching the Walt Disney movie version of that battle and its heroes and villains but know now how wrong Disney’s telling was. But I remain curious about the process of our learning history whether in the classroom or during independent reading or watching a movie.

For instance, I am reading a memoir by President Carter. I am reading it because I liked the man when he was President, and, because I grew up in a small town, the sub-title of the book attracted me: “Memories of a Rural Boyhood.” The title, An Hour Before Daylight, offered me much to learn about a young boy’s life in rural Georgia during the early 20th Century. Now, I accept that because it is his memoir, President Carter is entitled to his memory and his purpose for the book as he writes in the dedication: “To my newest grandson, Hugo, with hopes that this book might someday let him better comprehend the lives of his ancestors.” I, too, hope the book gives Hugo a window into the lives of his grandpa and other ancestors; it has certainly taught me. It has also raised questions concerning President Carter’s interpretations of events during his early life, and thus how we learn history or what we are told is historical by writers.

On page 149, President Carter writes: “ I also knew about some of the serious crimes that were committed in our region. One tragic and horrible measure of poverty in those days was the lynchings that occurred, at least partially because of growing competition even for the least desirable jobs, which in the past had been saved for black workers. As the Depression deepened, an Atlanta organization adopted the slogan ‘No Jobs for Niggers [sic]Until Every White Man Has A Job.’ The number of lynchings in America quadrupled in 1933 over the previous year, and remained equally high during the hard time that followed.”

This explanation of lynchings comes from a Naval Academy graduate who also served one term as President of the United States, so what could be wrong? Well, Carter is correct when he writes of lynchings as “tragic and horrible.” He also is correct in that the lynchings of Blacks quadrupled in 1933 as compared to 1932. But is he correct when he credits the lynching of Black citizens “partially” to the Depression and its hard times?  Hardly.

Lynchings were not a “horrible measure of poverty in those days”  as President Carter writes. Every study of every lynching shows that the “tragic and horrible” act took place when the hate filled injustice of a white majority avenged any real or perceived violation of the Jim Crow code. Any minority could be lynched, but the violence was mostly reserved for Blacks as a way of striking fear in the local population. I don’t know why President Carter writes of the history of lynching as he does, but on that page his memory collides with historical fact, and he is wrong in his interpretation of history in this example and one more that I will mention,

“Worse Than Slavery” (Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice)  is the story of the feared prison farm in Mississippi by David Oshinsky. In his well-documented book, Oshinsky shows us an American gulag that allowed prisoners to be “hired out” to wealthy landowners to work on their plantations.  Parchman Farm would not have differed much from the chain gangs in Georgia that Carter writes of with the convicts, mostly Blacks, dressed in their horizontally stripped shirts and pants. He describes the chains used to tether the men together and he shares how he and his buddies romanticized the lives of the men they saw on the chain gangs. However, on page 61 he writes: “Georgia law permitted the chain gangs to be contracted out to private employers, so they helped with road construction, railroad maintenance, and other such jobs.” Oshinsky details the same system used in Mississippi and it is one of harsh treatment to any convict “hired out” to a private contractor. What Carter gives us is a romantic view of life on a chain gang much like that when he was young, and  I doubt that any prisoner brutalized under such a system would view his labors as helping with public works improvement.

I don’t know why President Carter would write such historically wrong interpretations. Yet he has, and that fact is dangerous because he is a respected person and his word, like the word of many well-known people, is revered. Years ago, when the brand-new alternator my mechanic friend Larry had just installed in my Jeep failed, he explained it this way:” It was made by people, and any people made thing can fail.” So can people’s view of history.

Fortunate Decision

Had I not changed my mind, I would have missed it. However, because I decided to take my coffee onto the screened porch instead of going into the library and turning on my computer, I witnessed the regular recurrence that is all the same, yet different.

Light had yet to penetrate the porch or any thing else. I could make out shadows, and I saw our four cats already lounging in baskets and favorite spots on the porch floor. The abelia bush was full of blooms and bees, which I could hear but not see. Male crickets called for mates from the pine needle mulch and way off a small boat engine revealed someone likely going to a favorite fishing hole before day broke. A dove cooed from a neighbor’s thicket of pine trees while a solitary crow called its mates from our trees near the lake. Off, over the  spit of Lake Norman we call home, the first distinct sunlight lit the darkness. Waiting for the sun to clear the horizon of Stutts Road, I drank the last of my coffee and knew that I had made the right, but fortunate, decision. After all, the computer could only offer me what I already knew-the news, a few emails, or WordPerfect.

The low clouds turned colors and began to look like a horizontal rainbow, I heard more birds join the dove and crow, and I could distinguish the bees from the blossoms. A cat moved and stretched in its basket. A car rumbled down our road, carrying someone to work. The day was here, and I witnessed its birth.

Enjoy it, compliments of God!

Twenty Year Journey

Twenty years ago this morning I awoke in an ICU ward in Fairfax Hospital. The night before I had had two nineteen-inch titanium rods screwed to my back because that afternoon a building I was taking down collapsed– pinning me beneath it. My broken back had to be stabilized, thus the rods.

I remember a little of  that morning: Seeing through the fog of morphine a friend who had flown on a red eye from California to see me; The ICU nurse’s long, black, curly hair that fell over my face when she leaned in to ask me a question; My body still carrying the dust and dirt from the collapsed building; My family huddled in fear and worry; But not much more. Snippets in memory that may or may not be accurate run together with what I know to be true. But what I know to be absolute is that that morning and many after it held doubt and fear and dread until I, as Mary Oliver writes, realized.

Like the narrator in her poem, The Journey, I realized one morning or at one moment or with a particular encounter that it was time—time for me to expel all the bad that I had allowed to enter into my life.  I realized that at times during those four years, my dark time, I ignored what I knew to be the truth and allowed the voices to continue tugging at “my ankles.” But as Oliver writes, “One day you finally knew/what you had to do, and began,…” And like most beginnings, mine was full of slow progress, but “Little by little” I improved, and I eventually left the “Old man” that Paul writes about behind. But like all journeys, mine was not just me placing a foot in front of another. I had begun journeying, but I was not walking alone.

After I set aside the leeches in my life, I was able to reckon myself and take an honest sounding. This sounds selfish, but when you find yourself so miserable that the only option seems to be to continue your denial or to admit that you have been at the bottom of a dark hole, digging and digging, all the while wondering why you cannot escape and see the sunlight and feel its warmth, it is then that you set aside the shovel those takers had given you and deeply consider where you are.  Finally able to lean the shovel against the hole’s side,   I began to stop going down and began to move up, ever so slowly. It was on that going upward that I saw my true friends and learned to allow them to help me.

One of the best advantages of any journey is the people you will encounter. You will meet them in unlikely places and in unusual circumstances. Because your journey is one of renewal, you will move slowly, so you will see and hear more. While your journey may not be one of steps,  you will still discover that your frantic pace to satisfy others has ceased, and you now see and hear what you had not experienced before. The ground you are travelling over becomes a sharing place for you to hear the stories of others, to smell the air of an autumn day, to feel the sun’s warmth through a  window, to hear a child’s laughter,  and more. You are alive.

My journey continues because of family and friends. While I could list all of them, there is no need to because they each know what they did to help me as I finally leaned the shovel against the hole’s wall. The hole, by the  way, is still there, however, and it will never go away. It is a reminder of life’s danger, but I have learned to accept its existence and walk around it.

When measured in years, twenty is many. But when measured as a journey, it is short. Therefore, wherever you are on your journey, enjoy each step that brings more people to share it.  They are the balm for your sore and tired feet.