Bucket

It happened during halftime of a Texas State men’s basketball game when a man entered the arena with a dog.  The Yellow Labrador Retriever led him down a flight of steps, sniffing right and left as he went.  Occasionally, the man stopped to shake hands with acquaintances while his companion obediently waited by his side.  “C’mon, Bucket,” he said to the dog. “This way.”  As they descended the steps, students lifted their heads up from their cell phones.  Word quickly and excitedly spread, “Look! Look at the dog!” Within this shift of interest—from phones to a dog—it dawned on me that no matter how advanced technology becomes, it can’t compete with the animal kingdom (or nature for that matter) in capturing our attention and making lasting memories.

No dog tricks were required to notice Bucket. No jumping through hoops, laser light show, or walking on hind legs were needed for his introduction.  Rather, it was simply the slow and methodical meandering of four soft paws that had us all curiously drawn to the dog’s purpose. Why was Bucket here? Tap the man on the shoulder, ask a few questions, and before you know it, word has spread that Bucket is a 2-year-old K9 detection working dog who has been trained to identify 16 scents used in making explosive devices. But as impressive as his background is, that’s not what intrigued us at first sight. What excited us and made us smile was his mere presence.

In a similar setting, I once attended a San Antonio Spurs basketball game when a bat entered the arena.  Its seemingly erratic flight sent it all over the court, often coming close to the players. Of course, the bat displayed no obedient personality, but everyone was fascinated, and quickly caring less about the game itself. The bat’s unpredictable movements kept us inquisitively engaged.

*          *         *

We all know the feeling of acquiring something brand new like a car, TV, cell phone, or a computer.  That initial infatuation—so clean, unscathed, and seemingly perfect within their flawless designs.  We handle them with utmost care, like rare artifacts that will fall to ruin if we don’t.  But time passes quickly, and soon we get so accustomed to their function that they become nothing more than objects of service.

In a world that expects advances in technology, there is no going back to earlier versions of computation, graphic display or engineering.   Either you continue to build faster, sleeker products or you pay the price for not having met people’s expectations.

And then there is the constant of nature that requires no innovation to attract our attention. We are forever intrigued. Wasps building their nests the same way they always have. The Monarch butterfly migration repeats itself century after century.  A field of golden Nebraska wheat swaying in the breeze.  The heavy grumble of thunder following a lightning strike. A dog named Bucket.  Nature plugs along at the same pace it always has, and yet it is what truly enthralls us. In a world that demands innovations and technological advances, given the choice, it is the unchanging world of nature that holds our memories best.

*          *          *

A man drives his brand new, fully-loaded, 2-door black Acura through the streets of a Colorado mountain town. The car is nimble, handling perfectly. The sound system punctuates the machine’s interior with a bass that powerfully thumps as if the man were inside the artist’s recording studio. He runs his hand over the leather upholstery, totally in awe of the car’s craftsmanship. Everything is simply too good to be true.

But then, he sees a cluster of brake lights ahead of him, and all traffic comes to a stop. He turns the music down, and looks ahead to figure out what the issue is.  There are no police cars or fire trucks. No signs that a fresh accident might have occurred. Not even a stranded motorist with a flat tire.

Then he sees it, and it all makes sense.  As if out for an afternoon stroll, an elk takes its time crossing four lanes of traffic. It even stops to face the front row of cars, as if contemplating whether or not to walk across their hoods. People are taking pictures, pointing through their windshields. Several get out to find a clearer view. But everyone’s fascination is doubled as the elk begins walking between the rows of cars, as if it were conducting a security checkpoint inspection. The man in the Acura watches intently as the elk passes by his window. Seven hundred pounds of Rocky Mountain wildlife drifts by in nonchalant fashion, and then exits the street to disappear into the woods, leaving behind a grateful audience.

We are completely content with the constant of nature. It exists and excites us within its original version. There are no bells or whistles needed to improve it.

As the years roll by, the man’s experience will forever be remembered and passed on….

“So, we’re all stopped in this big traffic jam, and I have no idea what’s going on.  I had bought a new car that day.  It was an Acura.   Anyway, I then see this big elk, just taking his time like there was no tomorrow. He stops and looks at us.  And we’re all looking at him. And it’s like you could tell we didn’t want him to leave.  He then starts walking around the cars, and right by my window. I almost reached out to touch him. He was that much of a gift. I’ll never forget it.”

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

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Ros Hill

This story is not about me.  Well, it is.  But it isn’t…

More often than not, my name is misspelled. The vast majority of the earth’s population insists on adding an additional “s” so that Ros becomes traditional Ross.  Or my name is edited in the other direction and an “e” is added so male Ros becomes female Rose.  It’s been a hard life correcting the billions of misinformed and assuming editors.

So, for the record:  Ros is short for Roscoe. (My parents shortened it just after my birth.)  Therefore, if you want to add anything to my name—if that one “s” is nagging you like an evasive mosquito—then just add “coe”. I have a good friend, Ross King, who tells everyone that the reason I spell my name with one “s” is because I’m illiterate.  (Correction: he’s not that good of a friend.)  I tell Ross I spell my name that way in order to save ink.

Though there are not a lot of one “s” Ros’ to be found, there is, however, one in particular that I would love to meet: in fact, another Ros Hill.  The trick is it’ll take a transatlantic flight to do so.

There is a place in northern England where I want my picture taken.  All I have to do is fly to Edinburgh, Scotland, rent a car, then head south along the North Sea and make my way into the region of Northumberland. The drive will take a little under two hours.  Enough time to take in the scenery and, for the first time in my life, feel as close as I ever will to the ancestral land of my distant relatives. Relatives whose names dating back to the 1700s show no resemblance to mine. Not even close.  And yet, my name—however this coincidence arose—is linked through its spelling to a place 4,700 miles away.

The place has a hill with an elevation of 1,033 feet. Its name: Ros Hill.

How strange connections can be.  This odd coincidence has evoked a curiosity of unfinished business in me.  I want to climb Ros Hill and look out over the surrounding countryside so that this Ros Hill can see where he came from.  I want to get to know all sides of Ros Hill.  I want to return with a small jar of soil from its peak.  I want to ponder the possibilities that my ancestors, some 300 years ago, might have travelled there, or even stayed a night at the base of the hill, to rest for a long day’s trek into southern Scotland.

We live in a time when future generations will be able to look at our lives with the click of a button.  Photographs and video files will always be accessible.  But no matter how advanced our technology may become, they, like us, will have to rely on written records of our ancestors who lived before cameras captured moments in time.  What did our great, great, great, great grandparents look like?  Brown eyes or blue eyes? Tall or short?  Smiling or the hardened look from arduous labor? Endless questions that can only be answered with speculation.

But if you’re lucky enough, may I suggest you go to the place where you know your oldest ancestor lived.  Do whatever you must to get there—call in sick at work if needed.  When you arrive, talk to the locals, talk to anybody.  Listen to their accents, and listen to the way they laugh.  Drink it all in.  You never know what shared traits may be going on, handed down from centuries past.

Then find an open field, or a hill, and look out at the land.  And there, in that moment of solitude, let your imagination open up as you watch your ancestors sitting around a campfire.  Watch them sharing memories as they eat cooked meat off a stick.  They are tired, and they are worn, but they are also history.

And history has everything to do with why you are who you are.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

Twig

Lauren was 20 years old when she woke up on a bed of hay in the landscaping trailer.  She was the rear passenger on a motorcycle that had collided with the pickup truck towing it.  You would think that when you’re catapulted from traveling at a high rate of speed, your flight would be nearly as fast, and your trajectory would lead to no happy ending.

For Lauren that was not the case. She recalls it was as if something had gently guided her into that trailer. As if something were looking after her. To this day though, she has no idea what that something was.

But what she does know is that had it not been for the trailer being in the right place at the right time, chances are she would not be here today. Nor would she have had the chance many years later to read the name tag of a 91-year-old grocery store employee. After all, it was the name tag that made all the difference.

Strange coincidences are always the best. Even if they take nineteen years to occur.

*          *          *

It all began in 1997, in a high school English class taught by her mother, when the name caught Lauren’s attention: Terwilliger. Such a different name. But a fun name. A name whose syllables playfully skip off the tongue. It could be a character from a book of fables…Prince Terwilliger raised his golden sword atop his winged stallion. It could be a hobbit….Terwilliger was the greatest carpenter of all Middle-earth. Or it could even be a gift shop…All bracelets are 50% off at Terwilliger’s!

It could also be the name of a professional baseball player.

Wayne Terwilliger is his name. He played in the major leagues from 1949-1960. He was a second baseman, drafted first by the Chicago Cubs before going on to play for four other teams. His most notable experience was with the Brooklyn Dodgers when he played alongside the great Jackie Robinson.

From the moment Lauren came across his name, it became a part of her life—infiltrating her in such a way that she felt committed to it. She used it for computer pass codes. She said Terwilliger was worthy of being the name of her first-born.  Though said in jest, the statement had a sincere undertone—a way of acknowledging that no other word rivaled it.  What was the highlight of her English class? Reading a short essay by Annie Dillard entitled “Terwilliger Bunts One”. Just saying that title made her smile. An audible alignment of words that sounded perfect.  As if better off with no spaces: Terwilligerbuntsone. It became a catch-phrase that she would never forget.

*          *          *

Nineteen years have passed since her high school English class. Lauren has spent time broadening her horizons by travelling to Korea to stay with a friend and explore a culture literally foreign to her. She visited Hawaii to learn about the healing powers of herbal medicine.  But it is her love of music that guides her to an occupation suiting her perfectly. She acquires a degree in music therapy that channels her passion to improve the lives of people with autism. The non-threatening medium of music reaches far into their psyches where other methods of treatment have not.  The music taps into the tight crevices of the brain that struggle to make sense of things most people take for granted.  It’s a masterful style of therapy that opens up the mind, instead of confusing it.

Lauren’s life has been well-travelled and not wasted amongst the bane of typical everyday living. She’s favored taking the paths that explore her curiosities. It has been a productive life that has also encountered the miraculous….

*          *          *

It is summer 2016, and Lauren is driving on I-20 with her 2-week-old daughter, Dorothy, to a pediatrician appointment in Ft. Worth, Texas. Halfway into the thirty-minute trip from her home in Weatherford, Lauren realizes she is out of baby formula. The small town of Aledo is just ahead, so she exits the highway for a Brookshire Brothers grocery store.  Grab the formula off the shelf, put a few other items in the basket, pay the cashier, and off you go.  What could possibly interrupt such a simple errand?  Perhaps a name tag.

What happened next came with no warnings.  No signs indicated something magical was about to occur.  There was no strange feeling like the time she went airborne from the motorcycle and felt as if some kind of guardian had steered her safely into that bed of hay. There was nothing like that.  There was only a 91-year-old man watching her struggle with her bag of purchases while trying to maneuver Dorothy back into her car seat. He was an employee of the store who often helped customers with their groceries.  He offered his help, which she accepted, and when he finished she noticed his name tag.

“‘Twig’,” she said. “Now that’s an interesting name.”

“Oh, that,” he said, smiling. “That’s actually my nickname.”

“It’s a great nickname,” she replied. “It’s unusual.  In fact, I have an unusual one myself.  For the longest time, people have called me ‘Linky’.”

“Well, Linky, my real name is Terwilliger.”

Lauren did a double take, uncertain if she’d actually heard him correctly. “Did you say…Terwilliger?”

“Yes I did.”

“This is so strange, because I’ve always loved that name.  Came across it in an English class.  There was a baseball player named Terwilliger.”

Caught in a moment of disbelief, he paused, reciprocating the double take, then said, “That’s me. I’m Wayne ‘Twig’ Terwilliger.”

Two people. Neither knows the other, but they are immediately connected through the magic of a wonderful coincidence.  It is a moment rich with immeasurable value.

When you’re 91 years old, you can pretty much say that you’ve seen and heard it all.  You’ve got more memories than there is time left on the earth to tell of them.  But each day that you awaken leaves an opening for something new, and perhaps something unlikely.  The marvel of an improbability will always be welcome.  After all, having the soul stirred with amazement simply never gets old.

Lauren told him of the essay she had read that introduced her to “Terwilliger” and went on to explain how much she liked his name.  The coincidence of her crossing paths with him was something they both found unbelievable. Unable to wait till he got home to tell his wife the news, he called her from the store.

It took nineteen years for Lauren to finally find a person whom she had never been looking for.  For nineteen years she had never forgotten about the allure of Terwilliger.  But what were the chances of meeting him without any premeditated plan? Her nickname, Linky—was there any possibility that it was in some way a clue or premonition of things to be linked by some unexplainable cause?  And was it at all possible that whatever had guided her into that soft bed of hay had somehow been involved, directing Lauren’s path to Aledo, Texas? It’s anyone’s guess.

At the time that Wayne Terwilliger called his wife, Lauren took out her cell phone and dialed her mother. “Mom,” she said.  “Remember my English class you taught back in 1997?  Well, have I got a story for you…”

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

Did I Lock My Car?


People, there are not enough criminals to go around. And if there were, they would not be rising at the crack of dawn to steal your stuff, including your car.

But there you are, living in small town America, on your way to the grocery store to get a gallon of milk. And lord knows, the criminals will be waiting.

It’s 6:30 Sunday morning. Driving down the empty neighborhood streets, the homes look as slumbering as their occupants. Occasionally a person moves in the windows, sipping coffee, or someone is walking across a dew-covered lawn to fetch the newspaper.  Overall, the scene is dark and silent as you head into downtown, passing by closed shops except for a convenience store and a donut shop. It is small-town America. What could possibly go wrong within this pastoral setting?

Not much except for the crazies in your head.

Pulling into the grocery store parking lot, there are ten cars, including yours. The lot is aglow in a lemony bath of halogen light as sunrise is still thirty minutes away. You wave hello to Mrs. Anderson, a longtime friend, who’s entering the key code on her door to allow access into her car. There will now be nine cars. Surrounding this sparsely occupied lot is a small retail center (hair salon, art/framing gallery, and embroidery shop), and a plant nursery. Their parking lots are empty.  Apart from the every-so-often annoying sound of a grocery cart’s crippled wheels, what we have here is an area that is as quiet as a funeral.

You’re driving a Honda CR-V, which happens to rank as one of the top ten least stolen vehicles in the country.  In fact, your car includes some not-so-aesthetic features: rear bumper damage from a telephone pole; hood, roof, and trunk indentations from golf ball size hail; and a problematic rear view mirror that is adhered to the windshield with silver duct tape. Miscellaneous papers are scattered across the top of the dashboard, and a disorderly pile of clothing and running shoes make home on the back seat.  It’s a mess, but it gets you to where you need to go.

You park in a space that makes for a fifteen second walk to the store’s entrance. As you get out, your golfing buddy Don Jenkins is exiting the store, carrying a watermelon.

“Seriously?” you call out, “6:30 in the morning and you’re buying that?”

“A request from the misses,” he says, then fumbles with his keys to unlock his 1984 Ford pickup.  Once he leaves….eight cars in the parking lot.

Fifteen seconds is all it takes for you to enter the store. Such a contrast from the outside world. A bright fluorescent enclosure busy with stockers working the aisles, making sure the shelves are plentiful for the after-church crowds.  It doesn’t take but five strides into the store before the look of uncertainty drapes your face: Did I lock my car?

 Did you lock your car at 6:30 on a Sunday morning in small-town America with eight cars in the parking lot? How did we ever get to this point? When I was a kid I would ride my bike into town and leave it leaning up against the side of the theater.  Two hours later it’d still be there, untouched.  From a criminal’s mind you’re driving one of the least cared about cars on the planet, and, to make matters worse, it’s such a hail-plastered eye-sore, it screams, NOT EVEN WORTH YOUR TIME AND HASSLE!! 

 The other morning you went to the post office to mail a letter.  Three cars were in the parking lot.  All you needed was a stamp from the automated postage machine just inside the front door.  Of course, you made sure you pressed that remote security anti-theft device first.  When you finished (two minutes max) you drove away only to discover there was a second letter that you found on the passenger side floor.  A U-turn took you right back to the post office.  There were then only two cars.  Beep-beep!  You locked the car.

If there are no cars in the parking lot, we lock our cars.  We go to a friend’s house–we lock our cars.  We go to a friend’s house in the country–we lock our cars. After all, we never know when the next person to arrive will have a mischievous agenda. But we certainly suspect he’s out there.  Even Don Jenkins wasn’t comfortable leaving his old and worn 1984 pickup unsecured in the near-empty parking lot.  All he had to do was get a watermelon for the misses.  A five-minute errand at most. We are creatures of habit.  He locked his truck.

Before the Sunday crowds descend upon the grocery store, the worshipers will have locked and unlocked their cars at church.  Chances are every single person will have fallen victim to this habit.  I find the church environment peculiar. It’s the place where we go to lift ourselves, to reconcile, to understand, to have faith in mankind.  Church parking lots themselves are like sanctuaries, as if the vehicles themselves are in prayer, and the unwritten creed is not to disturb them. No, they are not immune to theft, but if there’s one place that’s given plenty of space, it’s the church.

In addition to small-town churches, plant nurseries, barber shops, hardware stores, post offices, and grocery stores rank as some of the top places to feel safe.  Other than a matter of convenience that the remote security anti-theft device is in your hand, why lock your car in those places?  I know, I know…it’s going to feel like jumping off the high diving board at the swimming pool when you were eight-years-old, your belly stuffed full of high anxiety.  I realize car theft and vandalism is a daily occurrence in this country, but it seems like we need to step outside of our comfort zone and have a little faith in areas that aren’t as risky, as a way to decondition our fears.  After all, how are we even to begin having faith in mankind if we have to constantly lock our cars?

We have to start somewhere.  I’m urging people to take road trips to small communities across the nation.  Go to the local grocery stores with only two intentions:  to NOT lock your car, and to buy a watermelon.  And when you return to your car that will be in the same place you left it (and it won’t have been tampered with), take that watermelon to the nearest city park, find yourself a picnic table under a tall shade tree, and have faith that your first cool, watery bite will indeed be the beginning of something remarkably and wonderfully unexpected.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Money

I want to shout a big “Thank You!” to all the people we don’t know who make good money. Because if it weren’t for you, I’m not sure we’d have much to talk about regarding you.  We know what kind of car you drive, how large your house is, and we’re pretty sure your lawn mower wasn’t cheap.  But outside of that you’re pretty much an unknown.  Thank God we know you make good money, because that alone brews great conversation…

“Hey, that new guy down the block…did you see what kind of lawn mower he has?

“Of course I did.  He makes good money.”

“Like how good?”

“Real good money.”

“You know him?”

“I know he makes good money.”

“But do you know him?”

“Well, yeah, I know he makes good money.”

“So you don’t know anything about him? Like is he nice or not? Does he have a temper? Does he have a sense of humor?  Is he married?”

“Of course he’s married—he makes good money.”

“And if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be married?”

“Chances are less.”

“All because of money?”

“All because of good money.”

And on and on our mystery man is given plenty of accolades because of his lawn mower.

It’s as if no explanation is necessary regarding someone who makes good money.  Already he or she is off to a great start. That phrase has a way of tagging worthy qualities onto someone that don’t even need to be mentioned, because they are understood to already exist.  He makes good money—he’s got it all together.

I’m curious about the people who live in not-so-lavish homes with weedy yards, and whose lawn mowers are…oh, wait…they don’t have lawn mowers.  I mean how could they?  They can’t afford one. They must make bad money.  Bad money? The only time I’ve ever heard that term used is regarding money acquired illegally.  The drug dealer donated bad money to the church. I know…not likely, but maybe he’s trying to come clean.

Good money. Bad money. Whether someone’s house is expensive or not, why can’t we just say, “That guy over there….he makes money.”?   Why should we care if his money is good or bad? Or indifferent for that matter. Why does money have to play such an important role in classifying?  Can’t we just look beyond each end of the financial spectrum and start describing people from a different perspective?

Like character.

Good character—isn’t that really anyone’s ultimate achievement?  The world is always coining new phrases, so why not:  That man over there…he makes good character. It does have an interesting ring to it.

Strip a person of his or her possessions and money.   Put them on a deserted island with a bunch of other stripped people, and the only thing you have to measure them with is character.  A poor person with great character is far, far richer than the wealthiest of all people with poor character.

(ENTER: Two men talking on a deserted island. Behind them is the vast open sea.)

“See that man over there in the Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear, t-shirt, and sandals?”

“Oh, yeah…they really stripped him. What about him?”

“I think he used to live down the street from me.  Had the best house in the neighborhood.  Perfect lawn. And you shoulda seen his lawn mower!  Man, he made good money.”

“Okay, but what’s that have to do with now?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he’s on this deserted island.  He has no house, no yard, and no money.”

“No money? That’s crazy.  Look, I forgot, but what’s the name of this place?”

“This is the Isle of Disposition.”

“And just what is there to do here? I mean, I’m in boxer shorts and athletic socks. They took my pants and my shirt.”

“Talk to people, and from there let things happen as they will.”

“And what’s going to happen?”

“Eventually everyone’s disposition will surface.  Are they of good character or bad character? Or somewhere in between?

“We have to be stripped of our belongings to understand this?”

“Actually, yes. You’d be surprised how long it takes some people to decondition themselves from classifying others by whether or not they make good money.  The Isle of Disposition is designed to do just that.”

“How do you know about this island?”

“I work here.  I’m an Identifier.  My job is to spot people who can recognize others for their character, and send them back home.  Instead of pointing out that such and such makes good money, we want people to say that such and such makes good character. Or even bad character.  The point is to understand that how much money a person makes is a non-issue. Those who are still stuck in the money mindset will stay on the island until they catch on.”

Makes good character? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Makes complete sense.  Think about it: our bodies make antibodies, tissue cells, hair, saliva, cholesterol, plasma, and energy to name a few. Our minds—part of our bodies—make thoughts and personality traits.  And from that character is born.  Thus, we make character—good and bad.

The Identifier paused, then pointed at the ocean’s horizon where the sun was beginning to set.  “Let me ask you something.  Do you like that sunset?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What do you see?”

“I see a golden, shimmering reflection on the water that I wish were a sidewalk to help get me off this god-forsaken island.”

“And if that were the case, then who do you think would have built that golden sidewalk?”

“A wonderful person who makes good money, that’s who!”

“And how would you know he’s wonderful?”  The Identifier thanked him for his answer, then walked away.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

The Last Day

I can only hope that my final moments in this life will be spent living instead of dying. By that I’m referring to my mental state, not my physical. Of course I’d like to have the best of both worlds, but given the choice, I want to be aware—to be cognizant of my surroundings. Even if I’m destined to be confined to a hospital bed, I want to be able to ask the nurse to please turn the light off as she leaves. I want her to know that what I said wasn’t a metaphor to be interpreted as her playing the part of Death, encroaching to forever turn off my light. As I acknowledge the dispelled notion of such a metaphor, I hope that she will respond with a chuckle. Because, after all, is there really any better way to enter darkness than immediately after making someone smile?

But what if you are dying? What if your sickness is getting the best of you? In my previous story I mentioned my Uncle Ike who had lived a very full life immersed in the medical fields at Duke and Vanderbilt universities. His last day of life was not comfortable, as he had been experiencing a considerable amount of pain.  My mother was in his bedroom that night when he asked her, “What is today’s date?” She told him, then asked why he wanted to know that. He said, “Just want to know the date I’m going to die.” Here he was, the scientist in his final hours of life, and wanting to collect the facts before he took his last breath.  Information that he would never retrieve, but important information to him at the time, because he was alive, not dying.

He needed the medical attention that only a hospital could provide. When the paramedics arrived, he was strapped onto a gurney to be loaded into an ambulance. He knew there wasn’t going to be enough oxygen to make it to the hospital on time. This was it—he was going to arrive unconscious. His final words to his family were: “Be sure to shut down the oxygen tanks…you don’t want to have the house blow up while you’re gone.” He was now the scientist, the man watching out for others, the man coherently thinking in the right direction, and the man who would never relinquish his unrelenting style of dry humor.  He was just engaged in, and keenly aware of, his surroundings.

Again, he was alive.

I am not a scientist.  My lifeblood flows with creative juices.  While I see the facts of life, I have a tendency to dwell on the what-ifs of impossible wonders.  My mind travels to many places obscure, and somehow, within the obscurity, I find normalcy.  My Uncle Ike, however, would comically just roll his eyes and, in effect, say to my mother: “Lucy, this child of yours—he was certainly born half-baked.”

So, if I may be so lucky to have all of my faculties together, I wonder what my last thought will be before I die. Will I be so lucky to engage in something creative?  Perhaps an interesting perspective will strike me to such an extent that it will later be recalled that… ”He left us with the quintessential Ros.”

Go ahead, sheath me in discomfort and confine me to a hospital bed. But at least give me a window so I can gaze at that portion of the world.  Maybe I’ll see a young bird attempting to fly, and that will remind me of the Wright brothers, who will remind me that creativity and science can be beautiful partners.  And the word science will remind me of Uncle Ike, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’m in the exact point in life where he learned of the date that he died.  I’ll smile, because, like my uncle, I’ll be in a place of full clarity.  And what better way to enter darkness than immediately after a smile.

“Nurse, I’m going to get some sleep now. Please turn off my light.”

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

The Burp

Last week, I burped several times during a run. Not little innocent burps, but rather the heavy-duty kind that grumble with the guttural force of a mufflerless hot rod.  Up through the esophagus the gas climbed, before its volcanic pressure spewed a foul aftertaste into the atmosphere.  Each time I had to stop to belch.

All I wanted was one continuous easy run. Just an easy pace through the flat and shady neighborhoods that captured the serene ambience of a lazy summer day. But that was not going to happen.  Acid reflex was in control.

Why did I stop?  Because the alternative not to would’ve resulted in an implosion of gas distributing massive amounts of pressure against all walls of the belly chamber—much like a birthday party of 6-year-olds bouncing their indestructible bodies in all directions inside an air-filled jumping castle. Did I want to stop? Hell, no! We distance runners are a stubborn species.  We’ll push through any pain or discomfort just shy of a broken femur.

But apparently not gas.

We take a lot of pride in not stopping on a run.  In our obsessive minds, if we do stop, it can be classified as “FAILURE”.  As I feel the gas percolating, my mind wanders, imagining a dreadful encounter with another runner….

He’s running on the opposite side of the street, and notices me bent over. I can feel his eyes. I look at my watch, as if that’s a reason for me to have stopped.  He says, “Gas, buddy? That was quite a burp.”

“No,” I reply, “No gas. Just a side stitch.”

“In your throat?”

“Yeah, it’s a big one.” I wave him off like a mosquito.

“Don’t wave me off like a mosquito!” He says, raising his voice to a mild but pointed holler. “All I did was ask a question.”

“I didn’t wave you off. It was a fly.”

“Fly my ass, buddy.  I know your kind.”

My kind?  I’m now a kind? What kind of kind? Like a mischievous vagrant? I swear this mosquito is a pest.  I take a stand and say, “You know what…buddy…you’re a…”

My sentence is interrupted. I can’t speak. The gas pressure fires up through my esophagus, then quickly expands into my mouth that, for an instant, inflates my cheeks like a pufferfish. And then…that all too familiar sound: the comical quick burst of a burp.

Busted.

“You got issues, buddy. Not that you’re burping, but that you feel guilty for stopping. As if checking your watch made for a legitimate reason to stop. Like it’s against your running religion. You, my friend, need the Twelve Stop Program.

And that’s where my imagination peters out, and the man continues his run, dissolving into the distance. I’m left alone with a superego that is creatively trying to convince my ego that despite the discomfort of acid reflux, stopping during a run for a some needed burp relief, really isn’t such a bad thing.

I never did get to explain to myself just exactly what enrolling in a Twelve Stop Program would entail.  My imagination decided I might be better served just accepting things and moving on. So, I fess up and shoe denial away. After all, like the man said: it wasn’t the burping that was the issue—it was everything else in my head.

We humans can be an obsessive breed for sure. Stopping on a run is really small potatoes. No need to feel guilty. Life will go on. And, eventually, so too will the run.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

 

I Can’t Even Think That Little

When I think about the enormity of the universe and all that it contains—planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies—and that, stars alone, there are too many to count in a lifetime, it becomes an impossible task to grasp that enormity. Try as I may, but all I’m left with are shards of a blown mind.

How contrasting it is to be sailing on a deep sea fishing boat, where there are no land marks in sight. Where I am eclipsed with one predominant thought: I am tiny. But that’s only in comparison to the ocean, which on the scale of the universe is no larger than a mere microscopic fragment of an atom. As I wait for a fish to tug on my line, I realize that putting my diminutive size into perspective is so much of a chore, that I can’t even think that little.

Within the moment of that thought, as I spin on a planet that never ceases to stop orbiting the sun, I measure myself on a scale that is so large, I can only describe its size as infinite, which leaves me unable to even think that big.

But think big I do. And sometimes too big of myself.  I think big about big money. I think it’s going to make a big difference in my life.  And in my mind, that’s a big deal. I think big about winning a running race.  About winning a big argument. I say to someone challenging me: “Well, if you’re so big, do it yourself!” I get a big ego over what I think are big accomplishments…I mean, those were some pretty big weights I put on the bench press today. And yet, the bigger I think, the less important I reveal myself, and truly the smaller I become.  Unless it involves thinking with big vision and doing things for others that will make a big deal.

Of course, thinking too little of myself can lead to little self-worth.  If my confidence is too little, then there’s little I can do for others.  All it takes is a little determination and fortitude, and I can make a big difference on a little planet.  Help a little elderly woman across the street. Give a little hug to someone in need. Pay a little bit bigger tip to a deserving waitress.

Somewhere between this yin and yang of big and little hangs a balance of good.  It’s a place where the two contrarians mutually benefit from each other.  It’s a place of alliance and understanding where the ego shrinks and the heart expands.

The enormity of the universe is incomprehensible. Its sheer size is beyond measurement, especially if it’s infinite.  But whether or not that is the case, is irrelevant.

In a world that seems larger than life, surprise someone today.  A little effort can make a big difference.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

The Ending I Never Got

Three years ago I had an pleasant encounter with a friendly motorcyclist. At a busy intersection on the campus of Texas State University, I gave him the right-of-way.  He raised a thumbs-up while giving me a thank-you nod.  I followed him in the rainy, congested morning rush hour traffic, making sure to keep a safe distance between us.  Such cordial driving.  Such respect for each other.  Such a wonderful morning.

Such an outright lie.

*          *          *

Three years ago I had a rotten encounter with a jerk (okay, he was a motorcyclist). I didn’t give him the right-of-way, because I couldn’t—he was driving by his own rules.  He appeared unexpectedly, having taken the bicycle lane to avoid waiting in line like everyone else. As I took my turn to proceed into the intersection, he ran the stop sign and, without looking, cut directly in front of me.

The instant had arrived—that immeasurable fragment of time when a mood can turn a one-eighty with no warning whatsoever.  Your mind is sailing under blue skies on an ocean calm. How is it possible that not a single tremor was felt before the tsunami unleashed itself right before your very eyes?

 This is wrong. This is very wrong. And I’m supposed to abide by the laws of your fee will?  I’m supposed to just sit back and accept your crass and conceited misconduct? My hand hovered over the horn.  If I don’t honk at him, he’ll go about his autonomous way, feeling almighty and exclusively untouchable. If I do honk at him, I risk the chance he might want to defend his own wrongful actions no matter the repercussions.  But wrongful hits me hard, and I can’t stop myself from wanting to call him out.  This, however, is not my common territory.  I’m a patient and forgiving guy.  I’ve never been in a fight.  I don’t prefer agitated situations.  But in this instant, he exudes an attitude that I just can’t let continue.  I will always give someone the benefit of the doubt, but I doubt this guy can benefit from anything except for someone to confront him.

I lay into my horn with a heavy hand that doesn’t give up for a good five seconds. I give a momentary pause before I hit it again.  As I’m hoping the sound waves will shatter his helmet, this is the precise moment when the tsunami hits.  He takes both hands off the handle bars, raises them in the air, and proceeds to emphatically flip me off with a double-bird.

How quickly I wanted to floor the accelerator and stamp him into the pavement.  He blatantly runs a stop sign, disrespecting everyone, then expletively defends his actions. Sure, I pushed him to that point, but still, all that he is doing is wrong.

There were no more bike lanes for him to cheat the system.  We were in a single-file line of stop-and-go traffic comprised of college students.  Judging by his backpack, he was probably one as well.

My daughter—who I was taking to class—was sitting next to me.  As my eyes were intently burning through the windshield, I’m sure she was wondering if this moment were marking the beginning of irreversible insanity.  Ladies & Gentlemen, This is my dad about to lose his mind. He’s not happy with the motorcyclist.  Whatever craziness happens next, I’ll be sure to pass this on to my grandchildren—a story for the ages…”Grandchildren, gather ‘round and I shall tell you the story of my father, about the time his mind went bat-shit rabid…”

Here’s the part of the story that truly spotlights one of the more colorful and intellectual conversations I’ve ever had. (Okay, so maybe not quite a conversation, but more like an exchange.) My horn wasn’t doing a good enough job as my spokesman, so I rolled my window down, craned my neck out and, completely oblivious to the incoming rain, yelled, “Are you serious!!?….ARE YOU &#@%!ing SERIOUS!!?”

My fervid state of agitation had become embalmed in a hoard of analogies.  My mouth had become the proverbial raging bull. My temper was tornadic.  I was a heat-seeking missile, or perhaps more accurately put: a fully loaded F-16 Fighter equipped with nothing more than a load of hostile F-bombs. Like an emergency siren, my voice had no restraint with its harsh emissions. My entire &#@%!!ing projection was aimed at annihilating the &#@%!ing enemy. My concern of self-dignity was as non-existent as a beggar heckling for money on a crowded city sidewalk. And amongst the sea of students walking to class, they were the least of my concerns as my bombs rained down upon these civilians as well.

I can’t stand being part of a public scene—being that person who becomes the target for anyone’s ridicule.  That person who becomes known as “that person”.  And there I was…that person.  But my consensus was: Oh, well, guess I’d better finish what I started.

 I told my daughter to roll down her window. “But it’s raining,” she said.

I gave her the look: ROLL…DOWN…THE…WINDOW. There was no hesitation. She rolled it down.

The motorcyclist had moved his position to the far right, as he was sizing up the narrow gap between the line of cars and the curb.  I moved my car over to the left to ride the broken lane line, and then inched forward so that he was in full earshot near the front right corner of my car.

“HEY, YOU &#@%!ING idiot!! YOU’RE A COMPLETE &#@%!  GET OFF THE &#@%!ING ROAD!!!!”

Such maturity.  Such an exemplary father.  Such an angry rut I was stuck in.

The line of traffic we were in led to an intersection at the base of a hill.  This is where the motorcyclist and I would go our different directions.  Of course, I had to have the final say.

For some reason (and still to this day I don’t know why), when it was his turn to pass through the intersection, he crossed the street then positioned his motorcycle sideways, so to have a better view of me.  Perhaps he wanted to follow me, to get my license plate numbers, or just give me a good ol’ stare-down.  I proceeded through the intersection, my pathway taking me right by him.  I ever so slowly creeped past, and in the heat of my boil, pointed my finger at him and said not a word, but simply let the weight of my gesture speak for itself. His helmet had been on this entire time.  He gave no response.  For all I could tell, he was frozen.

*          *          *

I hadn’t driven two blocks when I realized how I would’ve done anything to turn back time and erase my trail of anger.  How certain I was of myself for letting this guy know that his self-imposed rules of the road do in fact have repercussions.  People like myself will aggressively ride his tail.  But all that I had done was so unlike me.  I had been in the same situation countless times, and had always let things slide.

Just before I dropped my daughter off for class, I said to her, “You know, all that stuff I said back there, all that rage…I can’t believe I just did that. And now that it’s all done—this feeling stinks.”

“It’s okay,” she said, “He shouldn’t have run that stop sign like he did.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but I shouldn’t have acted how I did. It was stupid.”

I was overcome with regret.  I wanted to drive back there and offer to buy him a coffee or breakfast, or something where we could sit and talk it out.  Discover some kind of common ground where we could both acknowledge our faults. And if, in the process of that offer, he might chose to flip me off again, then so be it.  But at least I would’ve felt good for having tried.

The reality is that I never did drive back to find him.  I let that opportunity slip away and, instead, chose the path of least resistance by going onward about my day.

I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

Copyright Ros Hill 2016