Graffiti

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Until earlier this year, if you were near downtown Austin, you might happen upon a local oddity.  The Graffiti Park at Castle Hill was one of the most unique sites Austin had to offer.   For nearly eight years graffiti artists from all over would come to imbue the park with their creativity, even if it was only to be covered up by another artist soon.

Vibrant images and swirls covered every available surface of the park, even the trash cans were ornate from graffiti.  Some of the work was intricate, detailed images of faces, animals, monsters, stylized words.  Amazing and detailed portraits that would astound visitors.

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Austin’s Graffiti Park – CREDIT JORGE SANHUEZA-LYON / KUT

Others were crudely constructed attempts that looked more like something I would do if given a can of spray paint and freedom to express myself.  Undisciplined scrawling across every available surface.

But overall there was this sense of awe.  You could visit the park in the morning and by afternoon the artwork could be different. The countless hours, artists and amateurs it took to create the beautiful chaos was inspiring. 

The Graffiti Park reminds me to appreciate the beautiful chaos of life.  Some days are intricate, detailed portraits of life;  a lazy summer day reclining on warm sand as my two young sons’ attempts to bury my legs in the sand are continually thwarted by the tide. A late afternoon car ride, windows down and the smell of honeysuckle on the warm air as it fills the car.  Then there are the days filled with the boys fighting, the dog barking,  and the car breaking down. Life becomes a scrawled four-letter word on a trash can.

If I focus too long on either, I miss the big picture.  The beautiful chaos of life.  And just like at the Graffiti Park, sometimes it’s best to step back and take in the whole picture, to view life like one work of art made up of a billion unique moments.

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. – Charles Darwin

 

 

 

Trouble Letting Go

“Wanna walk side by side a while
Just a few blocks up 7th Ave
By the time we hit the park
You’re gonna be too old to wanna hold my hand
It feels so good I’ll have trouble letting go”

Trouble Letting Go, The Avett Brothers                                                              Songwriters: Scott Yancey Avett / Timothy Seth Avett / Robert William Crawford Jr.

I am sitting in a hospital waiting room before dawn listening to the Octonauts theme song blaring from the wall-mounted television. The bright fluorescents are almost profane at such an early hour. I close my eyes hoping when I open them the brightness will subside.  It doesn’t. 

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My youngest son is having surgery. Countless forms and signatures, check-ins and waiting before he’s in a hospital bed, his tiny frame lost in a tangle of monitors and IV.  The nurse gives him some red liquid to drink, a mild sedative to calm him before he leaves.  A few minutes later, he is smiling but his bright eyes have a dull, heavy haze to them.  Finally, the nurse comes and unlocks the wheels to the bed with an authoritative stamp of her foot.  We hold his hands until the last moment, and he is pulled down the hall toward the operating room. With heavy hearts and worried minds, his mom and I both let go. 

That is always the hardest part, the “letting go.”

And lately, it seems like parenting is various stages of letting go.  When he was a baby, we only let go long enough for him to sleep.  Then we were letting go at daycare, at overnight stays at grandparents. But soon it will be letting go of the bike, letting go to elementary school, sleepovers with friends., middle school, high school.  Letting go to drive, work,  date…More and more letting go, and to be honest, I have trouble letting go.

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In the end,  I realize there is some good in letting go.  I understand life is sometimes like a paper boat on a river, it only moves when we let go.  So even though I have trouble, I will eventually let him go to dream, to hope, to be his own man. I will be letting go so he can make his own path down the river and I will hope he doesn’t let go of the memories, the laughter,  and the lessons as he does.

For now, though, he is still young enough to wanna hold my hand, so I am not letting go just yet.

Learning

“The years teach much which the days never know.” –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have always loved learning.  I love finding some new amazing piece of information.  In school, I loved the feeling of accomplishment that came when mastering some new topic or challenge.

Learning doesn’t stop as you become an adult.  It simply changes. As an adult, the lessons I learn are not about Mitochondria, Colonialism or Algebra but most often about myself.  And take it from me, it is not easy to learn about yourself.

It’s not easy because sometimes you don’t like what you learn.  Recently, the years have taught me that I can be selfish, moody, angry, lazy, hurtful, impatient and unwilling to change.  They have taught me that I am not as creative, smart or talented as I sometimes think I am.

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So what do I do with the knowledge I have gained about myself?  Do I accept that the years have made this of me? Or do I take what the years have taught me about myself and use it to make my days better?

I choose the latter.  I choose to acknowledge my faults, failures, and shortcomings over these past three decades and do my damndest to be better today.  Does that mean I won’t act selfishly today?  Of course, I will be selfish, but I will also strive to be generous.   I will still be angry but I will try hard to deal with it in positive ways.

I will work at learning from the years so that my days are better.  So that in decades ahead the years find that I am generous, kind, caring, hard-working, patient and accommodating.  I hope they find that I am a good parent, husband, and person…. in spite of myself.

The Grinch

Grinch_growing_heartMy wife likes to compare me to the Grinch. Not because I hate Christmas, but because, according to her, my heart grew three sizes when my son was born.

I have never been a very affectionate person.  I don’t say I love you enough to the people I care about.  I am not much of a hugger, an arm-around-the-shoulder or cheek-kisser. It’s just not in my nature.  Maybe I just assume everyone around me knows exactly how I feel about them so there is no need to express it physically or vocally.  The word “love” slips out of my mouth less frequently than so many other four-letter words that when it does I almost feel the need to apologize. 

I was worried my son would be like me, a heart noticeably small.  Certainly, there are traits I own that I would gladly see reflected in my son.  My undersized heart is not one of them.   Not only did I never want him to wonder whether or not I loved him, but I also didn’t want his future wife or children feel distant from him.

This past Sunday, my fears were assuaged.

sean-do-782269-unsplash.jpgThe headset crackled with my son’s loud laughter.  He was only a few rooms away but he always insists we use the headsets when we play video games together.  It’s our favorite way to spend lazy, rainy Sundays together.  

“Okay Dad, I am gonna switch teams now so you won’t be able to hear me anymore.  I love you.” With those words, the mic goes quiet for a split second before gunfire erupts in my ear as he begins to mercilessly kick my butt once again.

At that moment though, I was no longer concerned with winning the game.  I was too busy beaming with fatherly pride.  My son, who is often more teenager than first grader, just told me he loved me without any prompting.

It may seem like a small moment, but it was important.  It was confirmation that my efforts to be more vocal about my feelings were working.  It was some sense that, in spite of the million mistakes I make daily as a parent, I was at least getting something right.

I don’t know if my heart grew three sizes when my oldest son was born or not, but I do know, hearing him say “I love you” makes my smile three times wider.

“Love, and you shall be loved. All love is mathematically just, as much as the two sides of an algebraic equation. ” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

Daylight Savings

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As I wind through the streets of our quiet, suburban neighborhood, the sounds of a video game streamer coming from my oldest’ sons phone and Peppa the Pig from my youngest’s, my wife and I are complaining about the upcoming Daylight Savings change.  Mostly I’m whining about the disruption to the boys sleeping schedule, the difficulty in getting them to bed an hour earlier.  Our complaints are interrupted by flashing blue and red lights less than a block from our house.  As we pull closer, we can see the entire block is closed off with yellow police tape.

Just two houses down from ours, a 15-year-old boy was shot in the chest and killed.

It wasn’t long ago he was likely watching streamers on youtube, playing Minecraft, chasing his friends on the playground and doing the things little boys do.  Maybe, like me, his mom told him multiple times to pick up his shoes from the floor, struggled to get him to eat healthily and scolded him for his cluttered bedroom.   She hugged him, teased him, laughed with him and cried with him.  Today she cries beside him.

It is so easy to fall into the routine, to forget how truly special and fragile life is.  To complain about the little things and miss the big picture.  I’ve thought about that boy a lot since then.  I didn’t know him.  I don’t know his family, but still, I imagine him at my son’s age.  Too few years ago he was full of innocence.

So in the coming weeks, I hope my children forgive me if I hold them a bit closer.  If I hug them just a little longer every time I remember the mom just a few houses down who can no longer embrace her son.

This weekend, I lost an hour.  She lost a lifetime.

 

 

 

Holidays

Christmas Circa 1998 - pictured is Me, My Mom and Little BrotherChristmas Circa 1998 – pictured is Me, My Mom and Little Brother


Two decades of life have gone by since that Christmas morning.  Nineteen more Christmas mornings have passed.  A High School Graduation.  A Wedding.  More jobs than I could count.  The birth of my oldest son followed by the birth of my youngest.  Funerals.  Anniversaries.  Triumphs.  Failures…..

Sometimes it’s good to stop, take a moment and simply remember; to slow time to a crawl and relive those moments that have passed so suddenly.   

I didn’t know that Christmas Day in 1998 what the next 7,305 days would bring any more than I know today what the next 7,305 will bring.  What I can do is hold the memories from these days as holy.  Learn from the failures, relish the triumphs, and
be better for them both. 


Holidays
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 – 1882
The holiest of all holidays are those
    Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
    The secret anniversaries of the heart,
    When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
    The sudden joys that out of darkness start
    As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
    Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
    White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
    White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;— a Fairy Tale
    Of some enchanted land we know not where,
    But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

Visible: A Short Story

Still soaking wet from the shower, James sat at the dining room table. The wooden handle of the large kitchen knife was in his right hand, the blade of the knife over his heart. He took a long drink from a dark bottle on the table, the only alcohol left in the house. After a long deep breath, he eased the knife into his skin, screaming in pain as he traced the memory on his chest with the blade.


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Somewhere in human evolution, before recorded history, there was a random mutation. Ever since the random genetic event, around the age of sixteen, memories would begin to appear on human skin like vivid tattoos. It didn’t matter how dark or light the person’s skin, the memories showed as vivid and bright on any skin tone. In fact, by the time a person reached middle age, their skin was mostly a bright tapestry of memories, making it nearly impossible to distinguish what skin color a person was born with.

The images could stain the skin like snapshots, first-person views of a moment frozen in time or they could appear more dreamlike in their representation of the event. No one really knew why they appeared or how your body chose which moments to permanently press onto itself. Maybe it was the memories that carried the most emotional weight or even simpler than that, it was the memories you thought of most frequently. Sometimes they were almost immediate, sometimes it would be days, weeks or even months after the actual event when the memory would appear. That too was a point of much debate.

James was seventeen when his first memory appeared. It was a large one too, extending from his left wrist up to the inside of his elbow. The memory was a swirling dark purple and black night sky speckled with gold stars. The night sky was broken by the outline of his old yellow jeep parked on top of dark green grass. Inside the Jeep, the two occupants were almost glowing as they leaned into each other, only a sliver of space between the driver and the fiery red hair of the passenger. Both were looking up at the stars, a solitary arm pointing above the open top of the jeep towards a gold-tailed shooting star streaking across the blackness.

After the first one appeared others slowly made their way onto James’ body. Just a few weeks after graduation, a small memory appeared on his left leg. It was a sea of black robes against a blue sky dotted with graduation caps. Another, after he turned twenty-one, on his right leg. The same fiery red hair from his first memory, this time standing in the midst of colorful slot machines, hands outstretched in an invitation to grasp them. Even though the memory was a little blurry and completely sideways, it was still one of James’ favorites.

Not all of the memories were pleasant, though. A month after his grandfather died, a memory of him appeared on James’ right calf. The bald, hollow face looked nothing like the boisterous man James had loved. Every time James caught a glimpse of it, he could feel his throat tighten a bit.

peter-bucks-685005-unsplashIt was late August, the year he turned twenty-three when one of his most beautiful memories appeared. The image extended over the upper half of his right rib cage. It was different than all of his other memories. There was no background, no context for the image. It was as if everything else had disappeared from the memory and only the single, solitary figure of a woman remained. Flowing red hair braided on either side into a crown and laced with jasmine framed porcelain skin that nearly matched her white dress, bunched at the bottom into large concentric ovals. Every once in a while, when he saw it in the mirror, he could still smell the jasmine.

James was thirty-one when the memory appeared that led him to the dining room table and the knife. The memory was his largest so far, it started on his left shoulder and spread over most of his chest, covering his heart. It was upside down. Black leather, white skin, and red hair, all covered in dark, thick red blood. A grey seatbelt pressed tightly across a soft yellow shirt. Blue eyes staring lifelessly ahead with too-large pupils. James was in the shower when he first noticed the memory. After three hours lying beneath the cold patter of the shower, he was able to drag himself to the kitchen. He found the knife in the sink, caked with weeks old white frosting.

Still soaking wet from the shower, James sat at the dining room table. The wooden handle of the large kitchen knife was in his right hand, the blade of the knife over his heart. He took a long drink from a dark bottle on the table, the only alcohol left in the house. After a long deep breath, he eased the knife into his skin, screaming in pain as he traced the memory on his chest with the blade.

The blade sliced through his multi-colored skin easily enough. He was only a few inches across the memory when a hand reached from behind him, grabbed the knife from his hand and slammed it onto the table. He looked at the knife confused, the white icing now soaked in red blood. He hadn’t heard the footsteps, he hadn’t even heard the door open. Before he could turn, arms wrapped around him and fiery red hair fell over his body, covering the memory on his chest and soaking up blood from his open wound.

stephanie-mccabe-65991-unsplashJames stared at the arms wrapped around him. The arms he knew better than his own, arms that reached to him from his favorite memory, arms he hadn’t seen in weeks. He looked at the pale, freckled arms full of vivid memories and noticed something new. On the right arm was a new memory, one he had never seen before. A bright, colorful memory of red and blue balloons tied to their dining room table rising above mounds of brightly wrapped presents. On the table was a white cake with colorful sprinkles and a large red candle in the middle, shaped like the number five. James’ heart nearly stopped when he saw the face staring wide-eyed from behind the cake. Unlike his newest memory, the red hair and yellow shirt bore no blood stains, the blue eyes flickered with life and young rosy cheeks pursed to blow out the number-five-shaped candle.

James didn’t move. He sat taking in deep breaths of her. Even if this moment never showed on his skin, it was a memory he would need. One he would replay in his mind for years to come. A memory that may fade with time but never fully disappear.