Pondering the Pavement

June 15, 2015

The Blue Set Me Free

Filed under: Uncategorized — cfilius @ 3:47 am

MeetYou“I ask that you look within yourself for the strength and focus you are seeking. It is said that the best way to hide something is within plain view. I assure you this is the case with you. It is right there before your eyes, within your heart.”

— Robert

We often focus on all of the huge monstrosities of life but, when push comes to shove, we always come back to the things we think should be insignificant. Have you noticed that thinking generally leads to trouble? We can fail to remember some remarkable things but find ourselves focusing on that playmate unseen since the second grade. Why is that? I think that on some subterranean level we know that the big things are, indeed, made up of all those small things. When I hear from a Spirit I find that their ‘regrets’, for lack of a better word, are not those of overwhelming tsunamis. I have yet to have someone relate to me something along the lines of, “I wish I had ignored more people” or “I sure wish I had six cars instead of the four” or even “I so wish I had spent even more time at the office and less time with my family.” What I am told is that they wish they had truly stopped and smelled the roses along the way or that they had spent more time being aware of those around them. Sounds like something out of Jacob Marley’s mouth, doesn’t it? Let me tell you there’s a lot of truth within the quill of Charles Dickens. I have been told, on more than one occasion, how they wish they had taken the time to simply smile and greet a total stranger while passing on the street.

Once I hit the infamous “Big-Four-Oh” I have made a point, each year, to take a trip to mark my birthday. I’ve never been one to acknowledge my birthday in the past. As a child I would literally run and hide in a closet while the party-goers caterwauled an ear-splitting rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”. It didn’t matter if it was my birthday or someone else’s. The song would get my feet moving and my heart pumping. Is it because I’m an adoptee and my birthday somehow reminds my subconscious of the ultimate personal rejection? Or is it because I’m just plain weird? I’m sure the therapists reading this are just salivating over the prospect of writing a thesis on me and my phobias.

I had decided to celebrate my 45th in The Emerald City of Seattle for a few days stretching over the day my peephole was opened, as Mr. Vonnegut would say. However, my plans were sidetracked by a sudden and unplanned illness so I had to postpone my flight. I was infuriated at the prospect of being stuck at home for my birthday. After all, this was the obviously larger-but-never-gets-the-same-press “Damn-Big-Four-Five”. With notoriety like that under my belt I had no intention of celebrating at the local IHOP. I don’t have anything against IHOP. It’s just this isn’t the venue to write about my obsessive, bordering on the perverse, love of Boysenberry Syrup.

I boarded a train bound for Santa Barbara and, from there, planned on renting a car for a two-and-a-half hour tool up the highway to Morro Bay. I’d never been there so, what the heck? Different scenery, different attitude, and all that hype. But there was a method to my seemingly aloof madness. All the best divine madness has a basis; an epicenter. Just 30 minutes further north from the coastal paradise of Morro Bay is the quiet little town of Cambria. And it was there, not Morro Bay, that I had marked the true X on my map.

Cambria was where she had lived. Her turf. Sherlock Holmes referred to Irene Adler as The Woman. A title that was given by Mr. Holmes out of intellectual respect for Miss Adler as well as personal emotional heartbreak. My Irene Adler went by the name of Michelle. Yes, her. The woman. The nightmare. The train wreck in stilettos. I had one last bit of business with her and the time for the stockholders meeting had arrived. I dared tell no one what I was doing because I knew I would get a series of lectures accented with an avalanche of rolling eyes. This was for me and, I assume, for her as well. OK. Who am I trying to kid? It was all about me. By the way, if anyone would appreciate this narcissistic streak it would have been Michelle.

The Amtrak ride to Santa Barbara was uneventful which was fine by me. The sprawling Pacific stalked me on my left most of the way up only to be obliterated from time to time by various islands of billboards and warehouses embellished in graffiti. I dozed, as is my custom, so my visual memories of the ride were almost a panoramic Morse code of images and sounds. After retrieving my suitcase—I was the only passenger who checked luggage (a tribute to my own divine laziness)—I embarked on the quarter-mile stroll to the car rental agency. I take great pride in my ability to correctly select the car I will be given nearly every-single-time. My slate blue eyes scanned the lot and fixated on a small red sedan off to the left. “That’s it,” I thought to myself. And I smiled smugly knowing that “Super Psychic” had done it once again.

I was knocked down a few pegs within seconds of entering the sparsely furnished lobby of the rental agency. The clerk behind the counter, who couldn’t possibly try harder if his life depended on it, slammed a lone key attached to a plastic tag onto the counter encased in genuine fake paneling. I saw the word WHITE staring up at me from within the cozy rectangular key chain. The Universe: 1. Psychic Boy: El Zippo. Upon further examination I discovered that I would be, for the next three days anyway, the proud legal guardian of a Chevrolet Cobalt. Cobalt: as in the color. Leave it to me to get my hands on a white car named after a shade of blue. It’s sad that I find little snippets of information like that even remotely interesting or amusing. Just take my word for it when I tell you that it is a vital sliver of this tale.

* * *

I entered the city limits of Cambria just after eleven on the morning of my 45th birthday. After some thought I’ve decided that there’s no better time to seek a rebirth than on your own birthday. The best thing about that idea is that I won’t have to remember a different date in order to celebrate. Enlightenment and ease make great bedfellows. This is the same logic used when a man insists his upcoming wedding be on Valentine’s Day: the chances of forgetting are virtually nil. Laziness cleverly described as romance. You’ve got to love that logic.

I was actually somewhat stunned to find that Cambria is quite a rural community. From the way Michelle had described it I was expecting anything but what I found. Finding that this upper crust snob was actually living within walking distance of cows was nothing short of astonishing. If she were still alive I would have called and heckled her. Well, actually, I’m pretty cheap. I would have just sent a post card.

With directions gripped firmly in one hand and the steering wheel of my misnamed white rental car in the other I drove straight to her former home. I have no idea why I needed to see this house. I felt the overwhelming urge to see some physical representation of her brevity here on earth. I wanted to see, once and for all, the place she had spent so much time with me (via the telephone or computer). Is it possible to return to an unknown home? I couldn’t figure out why but, for one of the few times in my life, I really didn’t care about the ‘why’ of it all. ‘Why’ suddenly became replaced with ‘Why Not’. What a kick. Rebirth brings on change whether it is big or small. Come to think of it there is no such thing as a ‘small’ change. Change takes courage, desire and determination (none of which deserves any form of mockery). Any type of change is definitely anything but small. Remember, my friends, ‘small’ is never to be confused with ‘insignificant’.

I found the home with ease. This is, of course, quite a surprise, since I get lost more frequently than an amnesiac. Even with directions I can still get lost. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, honestly. So I just do both. It keeps people talking… I parked the white Cobalt across the street, slowly stepped out of the car, then just stood there and stared. I began to slowly shake my head in disbelief as a half-laugh fell from my throat. The first thing that caught my eye was the front door of the house.

The cobalt blue front door.

* * *

I spent, at best, ten minutes there. I figured I should leave so the neighbors wouldn’t call the police thinking I was casing the joint for a future burglary. I tried to imagine Michelle pulling into her driveway and sitting on her deck like any normal person. But I suspect that there were more fireworks going on in that house than on the Mall in DC on the Fourth of July. Normalcy, in her home, as in her life, was probably quite the rarity. It was difficult to view a home that I was, at one time, planning to share with the woman I loved. If things had worked out—if she had actually been the person she pretended to be with me—that would have been where I would be parking my car. I would have been sitting with her on that unspectacular deck under the stars. My life—our lives—would have been completely different. Yes, when I first heard of this home in 1997, I fully intended to be standing before it but not as I am at this writing. I barely remember the person I thought I was going to be at that time and place. But he did, and on some level, still does exist. And the time had come for him and me to meet once more and then, for the last time, part company. There is no animosity between the two of us. Why would there be? But we do share the regret of what had been promised and knowing now, full well, that it would have never turned out that way.

I silently bid her farewell, returned to my temporary car, and left. I left the memories and the realities of her waded in a ball dropped on her former doorstep. I left her energy and her memory behind… I left the illusion of us behind… I left her behind. Or so I thought. It was barely twelve noon and the day had only just begun.

* * *

As I drove away with Michelle Estates diminishing in my rear view mirror I found myself muttering, “OK, now what?” (When will I ever learn?) Before I could give myself a chance to answer—yes I admittedly not only talk to myself but often consult myself on a great many topics—I made an abrupt left turn off the Cabrillo Highway and headed straight into downtown Cambria. Once again the classic ‘why’ had been replaced with the Perry Como Mellow ‘why not’. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bulk of downtown consists of antique stores or, as I like to call them, ‘Expensive Flea Markets’. I pulled into a parking lot of one of these fine touristy establishments and waltzed inside. I was immediately enthralled with more useless junk than I could ever imagine. I was in nirvana. I wanted to own virtually every single item within my sight. It really would be pointless for me to win the lottery because I’d blow the bulk of my wealth on inane bobbles. Case in point: I spent nearly 30 minutes talking myself out of buying a walking stick that was made of a pool cue. The handle was an 8 ball. I have absolutely no use for that monstrosity but, ya know what? I almost bought it. This is a perfect example when ‘why not’ is not the best attitude!

WimpyBankInstead, my eye was caught by a piggy bank of all things. I was drawn to it as if it owned me. It stands eight inches in height and weighs nearly five pounds. What is this antiquity that screamed ‘take me home with you’ at the top of its imaginary lungs? Wimpy. Yes, Wimpy, of “Popeye” fame. As a small child my grandmother—Mamaw as all three of her grandchildren called her—dubbed me ‘Wimpy’ because of my cult-like devotion to the almighty hamburger. “I will gladly pay you Tuesday yadda-yadda-yadda…” The instant I saw the bank I just laughed. The same giggle one expects from a child or the Pillsbury Doughboy. After the morning’s excursion into the memory of Michelle I needed a boost and Wimpy certainly provided just that. The instant I saw it I felt as if it was already mine. Of course, since the proprietor would probably not go along with my instinct, I felt it was best if I paid the $32.50 plus tax. In all honesty it was this purchase, and not my common sense, that prevented me from swaggering out twirling a pool cue cane in my chubby hand.

Wimpy called shotgun as I slid under the steering wheel. For a brief moment, as I snapped my seat belt, I thought that maybe Mamaw had her hand in my newly found treasure. I shook my head and laughed, as is my custom in most cases, and shrugged it off. Despite my working with Spirit I still have a hard time believing that they will take time out of their daily schedule and mess with us in the oddest of places, such as when we wander through an antique store. When will I learn? (My Guides have asked that very question countless times…)

So, off I went, with Wimpy at my side. I swear I fully intended to leave town at that point. But that thought burst into flames when I saw a sign with one word printed upon it; one word that could make me salivate in a Pavlovian response that only rivaled my love of mass produced cream-filled pastry. The word was “Cemetery”. Without even a flash of hesitation I turned the car up the winding hillside road leading to the structured resting place of several unknown souls (well, to me anyway). Another why/why not moment.

If you even vaguely know me you know that I’ve always adored cemeteries. As a small child I would want to stop at every single one that we would pass in the car and, of course, cry if they would not do so. It goes without saying that I cried in the car a lot. I feel a history beneath my feet as I walk through the rows of stones bearing names, dates and messages. I find it nothing short of totally fascinating and, interestingly enough, calming. Calming to my body, my mind, my soul.

Congratulations, Charles. You’ve just become a psychiatrist’s wet dream.

* * *

I parked the Chevy Cobalt beneath the spreading limbs of one of those tree things that nature-folk seem to go ga-ga over. Maple, oak, Norwegian moss dangler—I have no clue what kind it is. It was big and leafy; that about covers it. It’s a good thing that Euell Gibbons isn’t one of my guides. He would have torn a hole through the veil and bonked me over the head with a box of Grape Nuts for that.

As I got out of the car I was mesmerized at the beauty displayed before me. This was certainly a graveyard that was treated with great respect, love and honor. It’s not one of those generic cookie-cutter corpse farms. You know the kind? The ones where all the head stones are flat plaques so the minimum wage ‘landscaper’, who usually boasts a monosyllabic surname, can easily roll over them on his John Deere while guzzling a brewsky wedged in his beer helmet. The tombstones in the Cambria Cemetery range from old and ornate to stylish and new. Flat, upright, carved statues, you name it. And the flowers! Oh, the beautiful flowers! And so many of the graves were decorated with statues, windmills, personal belongings… Each individual resting place was an extension of not only the person laid to rest there but of their loved ones as well. It was moving. A lot of care went into this sacred place and it showed. Of all the beauty sensed and demonstrated in this small cemetery the one item of note that blew me away was that even the unknown graves were not forgotten. If a simple rock marked the resting place of one known but to God it was embellished with some flowers. Someone was making a point to honor the memory of these individuals, even if we had no conscious memories of them. Some were marked with a simplistic verse: “Lost in name but not in spirit.” Simply put: ‘wow’.

Mae HarrisonI was immediately pulled, harshly, to a small headstone off to my left. I learned a long time ago to just go with the flow in times like this. It was the resting place of a woman by the name of Mae Harrison. Mae had lived well into her 83rd year on this side of the veil. Neither the name nor the dates meant anything to me. But the other inscription on the simple marker stopped me in my tracks. Mae was forever honored with the title “Loving Mother & Mamaw”. Yes… Mamaw.

So, I was right. Mamaw had, indeed, directed me first to the metal Wimpy bank and now this cemetery, and then specifically to this grave just to let me know she was pulling the strings. What could I do but listen and watch? You know, I honestly believe I have spoken with Mamaw more now than when she was alive! I could feel her around me. The aroma of Murphy’s Oil Soap often accompanies my grandmother when she’s with me. Not this time, however. I only felt her. There were no parlor tricks or her usual barn-storming techniques she usually utilizes to snare attention. She was a bit of a ham in this world and, by golly, it’s only been enhanced on the other side. She wants to get her point across and she will not stop until she succeeds. However, I can honestly say, she comes through with complete love and support. There is no doubt about that. She’s been quite adamant about her desire to keep me on my spiritual path and she’ll stop at nothing to make sure I do what I’m supposed to do.

“OK, Mamaw,” I said aloud, “what do you want?”

I heard, or more accurately felt, “Talk to her.”

Talk to her? I thought I was talking to her! I looked around and then I knew. My reason for being there in the first place… Her. I took a deep breath, centered myself, and asked, “Michelle? Are you here?” And, low and behold, she, indeed, was there, just behind me and to my left. Ya know what? I think this was the first time the woman ever did something she was asked to do.

In my mind’s eye Michelle pointed to a tombstone ahead of me. “That’s me,” was all she said. I approached the marker and found this inscription:

“I am not gone
My soul lives on
But in a better place.”

 I nodded and smiled. “I understand,” I whispered. She then pulled me to another stone that read:

“A soaring spirit
A peaceful heart”

Then I ‘heard’ her say, “Now.”

I had written a memorial for her in a newsletter catering to an organization in which we both held lifetime memberships. I had written, in part, “She was a classic tortured soul who, I pray, has found the peace she dodged so readily here.” So, ‘now’, she has that peace I had written about. I could feel it, too. She was an intense woman—and some of that energy is still flowing strong—but there was a tranquility seeping through. She then directed me down the grassy hillside to a wonderfully decorated gravesite. This headstone bore the personal tender title of “My Beloved” and then this eloquent message:

“Surrounded by this light of God
In all his glory and grace.
Life was a grand adventure!”

 And then I heard her laugh. God, but she had the greatest laugh I have ever heard. It was loud, heartfelt and oh-so-very-real. That laugh was perhaps the most real thing about the girl. Yes, for her, life was truly a grand adventure. But, like an idiotic poster child for tom foolery, she made every action and thought a risk. Risks that she, more often times than not, lost. And it’s because of those foolish risks that she now rests in the terrain of Oklahoma. As beautiful as these ‘messages’ were I had to blow the whole thing by letting our friend, Mr. Doubt, creep in the picture. Could I be leading myself around and just finding meaning behind random epitaphs? After all, how many graveyards are void of anything spiritual or moving? Give me a break. This could, after all, be the result of my overactive imagination. Right? Of course, right.

“Idiot.”

Michelle would always call me an idiot when I would let my brain wander off in that kingdom of negative realism. For all of her shortcomings I will say that she had zero tolerance for self-pity or self-loathing in others. There was a tone that would emit from her; a sardonic pitch that was the audible embodiment of rolling your eyes. I don’t know how she did it. In one word she could speak volumes. Sort of in the same way that a southerner can add eight syllables to the word ‘shit’.

I was abruptly turned around as I heard, “Look!” At that moment I saw a bird resting on a bench. It was a bright surreal blue that nearly glowed. This bird was the brightest blue I had ever seen. As I took in this picture about 30 feet away from me, the bird soared into the air and was gone. I immediately hiked toward the bench, grass and sticks crunching beneath my feet. When I approached the small concrete bench I stopped—dare I say it?—dead in my tracks. The surface of the bench was covered in a wide variety of small, brightly colored stones.

Cobalt blue stones.

Right next to the bench was the final resting place of Dr. Henry Lee Wintz, Jr. According to the epitaph he also held the esteemed titles of ‘Farmer, Philosopher, and Writer”. It was one of the loveliest headstones I’ve ever seen. It depicted a large graphic representation of a tree on a hillside and it bore this quote:

“Life is fascinating
when one is conscious.”

—Lee Wintz,
Notes from the Hills, 2003

Wintz

I didn’t know what to say. I must have read that verse twenty times. It was her past and present summed up in seven words. At the risk of sounding redundant: ‘wow’.

But we weren’t done. Not but a long shot. Once again I found myself being directed to yet another spot. This time my energy was focused on the far end of this once small cemetery which, by now, seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds. Off in the distance I saw a grave that was more decorated than any I had seen. The only thing missing were search lights. So, still reeling from what I had just gone through, off I went to the adorned stone on the nearby horizon. When I reached our latest destination I felt my heart leap up into my throat. It was the grave of a baby; a sweet young boy who had passed away just days shy of 14 months of age. He had only been on this earth for this go around less than a year and a half but his family certainly went headfirst into truly celebrating his short but momentous life. Toys, flowers, personal items, and notes, among other things, were scattered about the plot of land. Nothing was held back. I could feel the joy and love despite the sorrow. How amazing! My eyes immediately went to the epitaph on the headstone that was larger than the child himself. But, of course, that is only in the physical sense. The stone read:

“They say it takes a MINUTE to find a special person.
An HOUR to appreciate them.
A DAY to love them.
But then an entire LIFETIME to forget them.”

I chuckled and said, “I see you haven’t lost your vanity over there, Michelle!”

I almost felt her slap me in the back of the head as she said, “That’s for youidiot!”

As I laughed—at her attitude or the absurdity of the overall experience—I noticed something else. Something that I had overlooked as I approached this message in marble. To the immediate right of the headstone was a simple yard ornament perched above the ground on a dowel rod; something you would see displayed in just about any average lawn or flower garden. It was a simple wooden bird. A simple brightly colored wooden bird. But it wasn’t just any color, you know?

It was a bright, brilliant blue.

Blue BirdMy laughter ceased almost instantaneously as the reality of the day hit me. And then I cried. Hard. Sure, I had cried when I lost Michelle so long ago. But that was over and done with by now. This was different. This was the first time I had actually cried since I had heard of her death. In her memorial I had written, “Personally, I am wrestling with exactly how I feel about her passing. I feel a need to grieve in some way but I am, at this writing, bewildered on how to go about it. There are no external tears.” Well, that reaction, or lack there of, had certainly changed. This cry came from my heart and soul. I cried a cry of understanding. A cry of joy. Even a cry of love. But, more than anything, it was a cry of forgiveness… and release.

I had been toying with the idea of including some of Michelle’s own words in this writing. I couldn’t make up my own mind as to whether or not it was a good idea. As I wrote the above paragraph I received my answer. Near the end of my typing the above text I heard a loud crash behind me. I turned around to find that a book had fallen off a table. My cat, Max, was sound asleep on my bed so I can’t blame him. There were no fans turned on and the windows were shut so I certainly can’t point my finger at a breeze. What makes this so interesting is that the book fell directly on a box that just happened to contain Michelle’s letters. Well, how about that? I opened the box and, right on top, I found the perfect words needed. Michelle was never lacking in personal commentary and I believe it’s safe to say she hasn’t changed. Well, at least not in that way.

I’ve learned a lot from her. And I’m quite stunned that I can say that with complete sincerity. When she left me I truly wanted to die. I was broken in a way that I had only experienced once before. I cursed her name as well as her memory. I wanted to literally forget everything about her—about us—just as she had obviously done. But now, with so much that has changed within my own mindset, I see the value of her in my life. I see the significance of the brevity of the good, the overwhelming tragedy of the bad and the ugliness of the soul searching. I see and understand that everything has a reason for being. Individuals walk in and out of our lives and none of them do so on a whim. Don’t try to figure it all out—the mystery is half the fun—but make sure you take the time to be aware of those around you. Smile at the total stranger and move on to the next. The supply never ends.

Happy Birthday, Michelle. I love you and, more importantly, I offer you a simple, yet eloquent, thank you.

* * *

“This is THE all-time, numero uno letter of all time. I have NEVER been spoken to like this. Almost makes me afraid I’ll disappoint you and lose you… There is nothing on the planet sexier than this letter. Nothing. Besides what it did to my soul, it actually affected me physically. I cannot elaborate on this detail without getting REALLY crass. Nuff said or your damn head won’t fit through the doorways…”                                

—Michelle
A letter to the author, 1997

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