Scars

She had her 6-year-old daughter by the forearm. Tugged on her in the produce section, then hurriedly pulled her into a vacant aisle.  Like an eagle—-even with piercing eagle eyes—-her talons clenched onto that arm as if she were truly preparing to take flight. As if she were willing to do whatever it would take to bust through the ceiling of the grocery store, then upward, exploding through the roof, breaking into daylight, and taking her prey far, far away.

“Stop acting like a child!!” She snapped at her as discretely as possible, while restraining her voice. “Stop touching everything you see!! Can’t you just act normal!?”

“But, Mom…I…”

“STOP IT!!!!”

And that was it.  That was where the beratement ended, just before those talons clenched her arm one last time to leave a final impression of the mother’s anger.

I watched the entire scene. I wanted to intervene, but kept my distance. Probably because I hadn’t witnessed the daughter’s supposed unruly behavior that warranted such a stern scolding. On the other hand, the mother might have been the type of person who was upset by the slightest infraction. Maybe her daughter had simply picked up an orange to innocently study its texture. Perhaps, before they entered the store, something had happened causing the mother to lose her last bit of patience. I hadn’t a clue of the scene’s history, so I stayed quiet.

*           *          *

A week later at the store, I met a man in the checkout line whose hand was badly scarred. He’d obviously had reconstructive surgery. The scene I had witnessed between the mother and daughter had stayed with me. When I saw his hand, I began to think about the mother’s fierce grip on her daughter, and wondered if her talons might have pierced her skin—deep enough to make a scar. I thought about how our lives are full of scars. Some are physically visible, while others have penetrated deep within our memories and will remain there until we die. And some scars have pasts that, over time, have clouded and become hard to recall, their details muted.

But there was something about the man that compelled my curiosity. It was one of those feelings where things just felt safe. Perhaps I’ve trained myself to feel comfortable asking people about things that others might deem as intrusive or stepping over their boundaries. But I don’t see it that way. I simply go with my gut. I go with my radar of reading people’s character. It’s something I’ve done all my adult life, and, honestly, sometimes I can get that read in just a matter of seconds. Such as the man in line with me. Unlike the angry mother, he had a kind expression—-he was approachable.

“Excuse me, sir” I said. “But I have a question.”

“Okay,” he replied. “What is it?”

“Your hand…what happened?”

“What happened? Well that, my friend, is a story.”

“I don’t mean to pry. I—“

“It’s quite alright. I’ll be happy to tell you.”

*           *          *

Whenever there is a threat to our survival, we instinctively use our flight or fight response to protect ourselves…or someone else.

That’s why he defended his grandson during an evening walk. There was no concern that the pit bull might turn on him. He had found himself caught in the line of duty—-a place he couldn’t avoid, He would be cursed forever knowing he had failed to protect. But he was a good man, and the thought that he would opt for self-preservation was utterly absurd.

The pit bull charged at the boy with primal and deadly intent. The dog’s chain leash slapped at the concrete sidewalk and whipped itself in the air as it gained speed, having broken free from its owner’s hands. Just seconds from reaching the boy, the grandfather positioned himself between the two, and took the hit with an outstretched arm.

He remembers the pain as being horridly torturous. He recalls his hand being trapped in the dog’s iron jaws, and how it was shredded as it shook its head side to side.  And yet, as quickly as it attacked, it suddenly chose to run away.  He referred to the dog’s retreat as being part of a divine intervention, that it was more than just happenstance.

“I often wonder,” he said.  “If my scars were sort of meant to be. I know this sounds crazy, but I wonder if they’re intended to remind me of just how much I love my grandson. And if it happened again, I’d lose all my fingers if I had to. Anything to protect that boy’s life.”

His grandson will never forget how fortunate he was to be able to walk away without a single tooth mark, completely unscathed. Not one single scar.

As for the 6-year-old girl who was vehemently yelled at by her mother, maybe her day took a turn for the better. Who knows what her mother may have come to realize when she tucked her into bed that night. Who knows the depth of her sorrow that finally bubbled to the surface.  This was her only child, and she knew she had frightened her.  She knew she had lost her patience and wound up going in a direction she never intended to.

“Sweetie, mommy’s really sorry about what happened at the store today. Please understand that. You’re all I’ve got. I love you.”

“It’s okay, mommy.  But my arm does kinda hurt.”

The mother’s eyes welled up as she leaned in and hugged her daughter. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “I must have come across as a monster.  I’m so sorry.”

“No, mommy.  Monsters only live under my bed.  You’re not a monster.  You’re my mommy.”

The mother lifted her head up with tear-filled eyes and a smile, and then tenderly kissed her daughter on the forehead. And that’s when the scars began to fade away, as the mother stayed in her room and slept with her through the night.

Copyright Ros Hill 2018

 

I Never Knew He Drank

If it had happened on white carpet, it would have been far more difficult to clean. The dark red carpet made it ideal for hiding the blood.

He was a friend of mine who had fallen late one night while walking through his bedroom. His feet dragged over the carpet as he made his way to the bathroom. The heavy friction caused his knees to buckle, and down he went, lacerating his arm and back along the edges of a countertop and wooden chair as he fell.

It’s what happens when you’re 80 and you’ve had one too many highballs.

*           *           *

It was 12:30AM when I received the call from a fireman. He told me he was at the house of a friend of mine named Walter, who had asked I be notified of his accident.  He said that paramedics were tending to him.

“Is he okay?” I asked. “What happened?”

“He took a little spill in his bedroom. Caught his foot on the carpet. Said he had to crawl across the room to call 911. There’s a fair amount of blood, so they’re assessing whether or not to take him to the ER. Can I call you back when they make a decision? Shouldn’t be too long.”

“Yes, please do.”

I was pretty much the only person to call. There was no one left in his ancestry. He was the lone survivor. He had a few friends, but none he felt comfortable asking to make a late-night trip to the ER.

Walter did, however, have a habit of sorts attributed to his recurrence of making 911 calls. This was one of several that he’d made in the past few months for falling as well. I’m sure the first responders were quite familiar with his address, and, for that matter, him. While he thrived on medical attention, there seemed to be more to it than that. Being that he lived alone, I often wondered if his emergency calls were also intended to mitigate loneliness.

He was a daily walking billboard of bandages and gauze wraps that partially circled his arms and legs like a shabbily wrapped mummy.  He was covered with an array of bruises, cuts, and indentations. They were conversation pieces, and he was always up for sharing their origins.  His favorite was the brown recluse spider bite that left a divot in his calf, as if he had endured a small spill of hot battery acid. The spider’s venom is notorious for causing severe necrosis.

The fireman called me back and said that the paramedics were going to take Walter to the hospital. Their decision was based on a high pulse rate which they felt needed the attention of a cardiologist. “Nothing to be alarmed by,” he said. “Just a precautionary measure.”  Walter, I’m sure, wasn’t about to pass up an ambulance ride. No matter the cost, it would enhance any story that might come from his fall.

I called the ER about an hour later, and was able to speak with a nurse assigned to Walter. She told me he was doing fine, and that he was going to be admitted to the hospital since a cardiologist wouldn’t be available until the morning. She said I was welcome to come visit him in the ER, but to understand that his condition was not critical.

I told her thank you, and that I’d stop by the hospital in the morning.

*        *        *

Have you ever walked into a situation where you felt like you knew what was going on, then found out that you knew nothing of what was going on?  Perhaps you had a friend named Walter who was 80 years old. Perhaps you knew that his mother had suffered from dementia in the last two years of her life, and that there was no escaping its crippling grasp.  And perhaps, judging by occasional episodes of disorientation, you figured he was entering an initial phase of the disease.

Or perhaps you were just flat out wrong.

“Hello, are you Ros?” Asked a nurse, working on a computer outside Walter’s room.

“Yes,” I said. I had just arrived at the hospital the following morning.

“Walter said you might be coming. Said he talked to you from the ER last night.”

“How’s he doing?”

“Well, you know…bruised, sore, and hungover.”

I looked at her with inquisitive eyes. “Hungover?”

“Oh, yeah. It was all over his breath when he arrived. Slurred speech, disoriented, and couldn’t stop talking about some kind of spider bite.”

I chuckled. “A brown recluse, I’m sure.”

The nurse nodded and smiled as she gave a thumbs up. “He’s quite the story teller.”

“Oh, trust me,” I said. “I’ve heard them all. I know the guy inside and out.”

Or did I? Hungover? Walter? How could I have missed this?  I’d known the guy for decades, and not once did I ever suspect that he drank in excess. Not that it mattered, but, still, how had I been so clueless to never notice? His slurred speech in the evenings, paired with disoriented thoughts. I had reduced this to dementia? Who had I been kidding this entire time? Only myself.

The nurse led me into the room. “Walter, you’ve got a visitor. I think you might know this guy.”  She checked his IV bag, made note of some readings on a small monitor, then turned to leave.  “I’ll let you two be. Just holler if you need anything. I’m just outside your room.”

He was sitting on the edge of his bed with his head down.  His hospital gown hung crooked on his shoulders and was split open in the back, exposing bandages covering cuts from his fall. There was an air of exhaustion about him.

“I’m a mess,” he said.

I made my way to the side of his bed and sat next to him. “Anything I can do for you?”

“Yeah. Get a cardiologist in here so they can see that nothing’s wrong, and then discharge me.”

He looked like he hadn’t slept all night. His eyes were puffy, and his hair ruffled.  I suggested he get back into bed and try to get some sleep.

“Sleep?” he said. “With this headache? Not happenin’.”

“Then at least try to give your eyes a rest.”

He agreed to try.  I closed the window blinds to cut out the morning light, which was nothing more than a rainy gray that had pushed its way into the room.  The overcast skies had added nothing but gloom to Walter’s despondent mood.

A cafeteria worker brought by a breakfast tray, which Walter shook his head to.

I took a seat in a bedside chair, and quietly looked at him.  For over thirty years I had known Walter, and had never seen him intoxicated. He’d have an occasional beer or glass of wine at dinner when he invited me over, but I never had suspected an overindulgence.

*        *        *

And this is where my story takes a turn. This is where I come forward to profess that it’s no wonder I never connected his slurred speech or disorientation to alcohol. After all, I don’t drink.

I found myself unable to offer anything more than superficial questions: “Can I turn your light off?” or “Do you want me to get some magazines from the lobby?”  Thoughtful, but mundane. I wanted to pry into the history of his drinking. I wanted to tell him it sucks having a bad headache the morning after. I wanted to tell him to watch his limit.

There was so much I wanted to say, but so very little that I could. I had no voice of experience. I had no testimonies of intoxication. I was simply not privy to any hard nights that I could share.  But I was concerned for my friend. His trip to the hospital was completely preventable. In my mind, all he had to do was abstain. Yes, in my mind—a mind that couldn’t relate.  I was, without question, out of the loop.

Laying there in bed with his eyes shut, Walter broke the room’s silence and said, “You never knew, did you?”

“I never knew what?”

“Don’t kid yourself. You know what I’m talking about.”

I paused, then said, “Yes, I know exactly.”

He opened his eyes and gazed at the ceiling.  “If there’s one thing I truly love, it would have to be clarity. Because even in the worst of times, you’re aware of what’s happening. Nothing is traveling through your bloodstream delivering conflicting messages of lies and confusion. It may not be a happy situation, but you can at least make rational decisions, or clearly admit to mistakes. My blood is soiled in the red carpet in my bedroom. I get to go home and get on my hands and knees and scrub it clean. And the entire time I won’t be able to escape the grim reminder that I chose to be this creature of habit. No one but me is responsible.” Walter then lowered his eyes to me and said smiling, “Now, how’s that for a good morning devotional?”

I smiled back, happy to see the Walter I knew. “Well,” I said, “at least you’ll be scrubbing with clarity.”

And there he laid, smiling a little wider, and said, “Open up those window blinds please. I want to watch the rain.”

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2018

The Very Last Time

As a parent, when it happens, you are completely unaware. And after it happens, you will never reflect on it, because the fact that the moment even occurred will never cross your mind. But once you realize that it did happen, you’ll sit there scratching your head, until you realize, perhaps, it’s just something that you’ll never figure out.

Sounds like a riddle, but it’s not.

There came a moment in all of our lives when it was the last time we were picked up by our parents. The day came when they stopped reaching down to grab us by our underarms, and lift us up to giggle, coo, and rub noses. They stopped sweeping us up from around our waists to hold us in an arm hammock. The day came when it simply stopped happening. It wasn’t planned, nor was there any awareness that it was to be the last time. It just happened without anyone knowing. And for many, if not all, it was never noticed or even discussed. It was a sort of silent rite of passage in our childhood development. We were a little heavier, a little taller, a little more vocal, and preferred to do things a little more on our own. Our arms no longer reached out for our parents. We walked on our own throughout the house. Instead of carrying us, they called us to come to them. And if they didn’t call us, it was because we were leading the way.

Whether it’s you the child, or you the parent, I’m intrigued by how nearly impossible it is to trace our footsteps back to that moment, where the first signs of independence and separation began.

Our lives are full of many “last” moments. Some we are well aware of, like our last day at high school or college, our last day at a job, or the last time we wore braces. They are milestones in the chronology of our lives.

And yet, as traceable as those dates may be, I find it interesting how unnoticeable it is when a parent picks up his or her child for the last time. But not being aware of that moment occurring or having occurred is probably a good thing. Otherwise, to be cognizant of it might be a complete soul crusher….

* * *

It’s early morning as a sliver of magenta creeps upon the horizon outside the mother’s bedroom window. It’s been a long, restless night. It happened with her two older children, and now, she could sense that the inevitable was about to occur with her third child. She gets out of bed, and lugs her heavy feet through the house and into the kitchen, where she makes a cup of coffee. But she can only manage a couple of sips. The memory of yesterday clogs her mind and triggers pangs in her gut. Why must it be this way? Time was moving at a nice slow pace.

She hears the soft footsteps approaching the kitchen. There is a teetering about them, a newness of sorts. Her youngest child enters through the doorway, knuckling the sleep out of his eyes.

“Sweetie,” she says, “Why are you up? It’s very early.”

“Smell Mommy’s coffee. It wake me up.”

“I’m sorry. Let’s get you back to bed, okay?” She stands up and approaches him. “Let Mommy carry you back to bed.”

“It ok, Mommy. I go myself.”

This has come to an end all too quickly. Why?

There is no way of restraining her tears. There is no way of escaping this moment. Her little boy….a bit heavier, a bit taller, and a bit more vocal, turns and leaves the kitchen, leaving nothing but the sound of his footsteps trailing off in the distance.

She sits back down, and peers into the dark abyss of a 4-inch mug of coffee. This morning….it is a confirmation. Gone are the days, when, like yesterday, she picked him up for the very last time.

* * *

So, maybe it’s a fortunate thing that we aren’t aware of the last time we picked up our child. There seems to be a mechanism of some kind within us that’s designed to soften that blow, or rather, bypass it altogether. And I’m good with that. Because the alternative would be forever painful recalling those footsteps walking away for the very first time.

Copyright Ros Hill 2018

70 Million Years

It’s midnight, and I’m alive. But feel free to bury me up to my neck in the sand, near where the surf rolls in.  I want to feel the pull of the tide as it recedes and tries to take me with it. I want to feel that initial tug that says, “Come with me.” There are a myriad of primeval forces around us, but it’s the moon-driven tide that impresses me most. We and the earth are comprised of so much water, that it’s no wonder the attraction exists.

Then, as I shift my body and break free, I stand covered in wet sand that sticks to me like a second skin. I’m not sure I want to shake it free, because I’m immersed in a connected and ethereal moment that I don’t want to end.

Stare at an ocean long enough, and you won’t want to leave it.  Travel far out to its deeper waters, or listen to the arrival of its tide and you’ll come to understand its ever-changing moods. It can rattle your comfort zone with a violent thunderous pounding, or it can sing you a lullaby with the soothing sound of its gentle, foamy surf, and put you to sleep like a baby.

I’ve stood before mountains that make my jaw drop. To say that they are magnificent only touches the surface. To say that they have stirred my emotions does far more justice to defining their presence. Yet, as spectacular as their size and formations are, given the choice between mountains and the ocean, it is the ocean that catches my attention most.

Its movement and sounds are ever-changing, as it ebbs and flows, and rises and falls. It is truly as if it is alive—an organism of its own kind—restless, and never sleeping. A Jekyll & Hyde. A monster and a best friend. It can support massive ships just as easily as it can sink them.   Its danger and beauty are equally enthralling.

And it loves to surprise us…

Just outside of Denver, Colorado, there is a lookout point that provides a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains to the west. They consist of peaks climbing to over 12,000 feet. While the sight is impressive, there’s something else about it that completely challenges the imagination…

Prehistoric fish.

There was a time during the Oceanic era when the Rockies were underwater—when aquatic life was abundant. Aquatic fossils have been found thousands of feet high up in the mountainsides, confirming just how great the volume of water once was.

And so my imagination goes to work:

I’m standing at the lookout point. Well, I’m trying to stand, but I’m actually floating. After all, I’m in scuba gear, and it’s 70 million years into the past. I know, I know…as unrealistic as a hot air balloon ride to the moon, but bear with me…

The Rocky Mountains are about to enter a period of formation, but they’re obviously too far to swim to. The water is murky, and I have no idea how far up the surface is. I suddenly feel a turbulent current as my feet are swept from underneath me, but it is only momentary as I soon regain control of myself. However, in that moment of losing balance, I saw it pass by—obscured by the cloudy water, but close enough to partially make out: dark gray, scales along the ridge of its back, a large head, and at least ten feet in length. Was it carnivorous? Was it hungry and now on its return? Or was it docile and simply enjoying an afternoon swim?  Uncertain, I figure it’s as good a time as any to leave the lookout point, and swim upward.

I swim until the murky water gives way to the first signs of penetrating daylight. Soon, shafts of sun rays are beaming down around me, and before I know it, my head breaches the surface. I push my mask up to my forehead, take out my mouthpiece, and then look around. Water, water everywhere. Not a mountain peak to be seen. I taste the water’s salt, and feel its sting in my eyes. Bobbing up and down, it dawns on me that I’ve traveled 70 million years into the past, only to confirm that the ocean—for as long as it’s been around—never gets old.

                        *         *        *

If you drive 236 miles east of Denver, you’ll come to an outcropping of chalk formations called Monument Rocks in Oakley, Kansas. And what an unlikely place it would seem to be where an archaeologist discovered the 14-foot fossil of a carnivorous saltwater fish—Kansas, of all places. But the region shared the same seaway that extended from the Gulf of Mexico through the Rockies and north into Canada.

The locals in Oakley will tell you that after a rain, the chalk monuments will emit a smell like that of an ocean bay. Seventy million years later, and in flat lands of Kansas, you can see and smell the remnants of the ocean.

If you’re fortunate enough to make the trip to Oakley, do yourself a favor and look out at the surrounding prairies of tall buffalo grass, and even beyond, to the sprawling fields of wheat.  What you’ll notice is the sound and movement of the fields as they sway in the breeze.  And, like the ocean, it’ll captivate you.  It’ll put aside any concern you may have with time by simply drawing you into its near-hypnotic rhythms.

Funny how land can have a way of mimicking water. Perhaps those waves of grass are paying homage to prehistoric times when, after all, it was water that carved the landscapes of the continents and allowed life to exist.  The Monument Rocks are far more than just a place where a large fish skeleton was found encased in a tomb of Kansas chalk.  Instead, it’s a place that is alive with the history of the ocean.  A place where the sea once rocked hard on stormy nights, and rolled gently on lazy afternoons.

A place where the ocean receded, but really never left.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

All He Had To Do Was Turn Around

I’ve never been in prison. The closest I ever came was not related to any crime, but occurred when I was a UPS driver. The prison was a daily stop on my delivery route. I arrived mid-morning, and went through a security process that allowed me access to proceed down a hallway to the mail room.  It was during that short walk that I passed by a window giving full view of the inmates milling around in a recreation room.

I remember they were loud, and walked either with a slow shuffle or a swagger.  Some greeted each other with structured handshakes reminiscent of gang brotherhood. Others jostled each other with elbows and shoulders in a way that was rough, but full of camaraderie. And then there were the few men who appeared isolated from all groups. Perhaps they were–as I would learn—the “new fish” who had yet to find their place in the prison cliques. Or perhaps they were simply individuals who preferred their isolation. Looking through that window, it was hard to tell.

I don’t have a clue what life is like in prison. We’ve all heard stories, but they only give us a glimpse of what it’s like to live within the razor wire-surrounded walls.  What I do know is that going or not going to prison teeters on the one second difference between a wrongful or rightful decision.

*          *          *

One second.

I have a friend whose 18-year-old grandson, Derek, was recently sentenced to prison for a first-degree felony aggravated robbery charge. He and his buddy had the foolish idea to arm themselves with guns and rob an apartment occupied with several people.

One second was all that was required to stop in their tracks, turn around, and call it a day. But they didn’t.

Their plan was to barge in through the front door, point their weapons, yell a few expletive orders, then take the drugs and money, and run. Pretty straight forward.  Except they didn’t factor in a rifle pointing at them. Or being fired at, for that matter.

In the end, two people were killed. One was an occupant in the apartment, and the other was Derek’s buddy. Derek was lucky, though, and fled the scene with only a grazing shot to the leg, but was apprehended by the police just a few blocks away.

It was an irreversible moment as he was handcuffed and put in the police squad car. His soft-spoken and gentle good nature had gotten him entangled in his own ability to hang with any group of people. Be it the jocks, the geeks, the punks, or the wayward kids of mischief, he was intrigued by them all. Unfortunately, this time, he had hung with the wrong kid at the wrong time and place. While it was Derek’s choice to be there, he simply didn’t realize what he was getting into.

Although he never fired his gun, Derek’s involvement in the robbery proved catastrophic in terms of the prison sentence that justice dealt him…

Forty years.

*                 *                    *

Our lives are full of seconds, some of which have far greater repercussions than others.  How quickly one second was to become the darkest 40 years of his life. And it is that thought where my imagination wanders…

At night my mind travels to the prison that houses him. I choose nighttime, because that is when people are the most reflective. My wandering curiosity quietly enters the front doors, then slips past the security check point that grants access into the facility.  I meander through the hallways until I find Derek’s cell. I recognize him from newspaper articles that reported the botched robbery. He’s just brushed his teeth, and has climbed atop a bunk bed. Lights out. The entire prison settles in for the night.

My curiosity, though, is wide awake, and in need of answers. And it is there that my presumptive imagination finds them.

I stealthily perched at the end of his bed. Initially, there is some slight tossing and turning, which is normal during your first week in prison. But then, you lay still with your eyes gazing far, far beyond the ceiling. Into the night, as my mind freely travels, his, too, escapes. It goes home to his mother and sister—the two people he most dearly loves.  His dad has been out of the picture for years.

Derek sees them in the kitchen, eating beef stew together on a cold, snowy night. Frigid tree limbs tap against a window as they eat in silence. This used to be a kitchen that was the centerpiece for jovial conversations and sharing the events of the day. Now, it’s as if those days never existed. It is bleak. The slow pace at which they eat their stew is indicative not that the food is hot, but rather that something is missing—that something has been unfairly removed from their lives. They don’t understand why the law must be so strict. It all seems so unfair.  But the law is that if more than one person participates in a felony where death occurs, then all involved are equally responsible—even those who didn’t cause the death. Forty years is too long a time to wait, thinks Derek’s mother. I’ll be dead by then. 

It is a bittersweet place that he visits each night. But his fondest memories are all from his home. Either his mind goes there or remains back in prison, where he must listen to the late-night, psychotic laughter of his cellmate—a convicted rapist, who lies beneath on the lower bunk.  Unfortunately, it’s never easy blocking out reality.

I visited his cell to find an answer. To see what it was that he thought of most.

Loved ones and happiness.

The human body can turn 180 degrees in one second. He missed that opportunity, and will forever regret his decision.

May we all be so lucky to take some time to learn from his mistake…even if it’s just one second.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

 

Wonder

Somebody stole my running shoes today. They were only a week old.

I ran fast in those shoes. They fit like a best friend. I remember taking them out of their box for the first time, and immediately trying them on. I wanted to sleep in them. I wanted to read them a book. I wanted to take them to a movie. And so I did. I took them to Wonder.

Wonder is about a young boy with a disfigured face. Much of the movie focuses on the bullying he must endure while at school. You have no choice but to feel for him, as all the other students keep a safe distance for fear if they touch him, then they each will be plagued with a disfigured face as well. It can be a cruel world for kids who must go public with such pronounced scars.

The disfigured boy is a wonder though, with a brilliant mind that knows exactly what’s going on. He learns to shake off the bullies, and embrace those who come around to understand just how special he is. How engaging and funny he is. How amazing he is.

That was the last movie my shoes and I will ever see together. Someone took them, leaving me in a state of wonder.

I wonder why you took my shoes. Are you, by chance, the bullying type who gains pleasure out of messing with other people’s lives? If so, then show me your face. Walk up to me in my shoes. I dare you. Because if you do, I’ll take a gamble and surprise you.

I’ll take you out to lunch. I’ll pay for your meal. But you don’t get to leave until we talk. Not just me, but you must talk as well. You see, I believe that many of us are just one conversation away from being helped. It’s not always the case, but you never know when it just might be someone’s lucky day.

So sit there and wonder about why I’m being so kind to you. Wonder about what a fool I must be to think that I can make a difference in your life.

Or wonder about what a difference you can make in your own life.

You do that, and the shoes are yours.

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

October Christmas

There’s something unsettling about walking into my local Lowe’s Home Improvement store to buy a chainsaw in mid-October.  You quickly discover that the only path to that chainsaw is to pass by a display of massive inflatable snowmen, Santa Clauses, sleighs, and a holiday-dressed Mickey Mouse, as well as enough Christmas decorations to outnumber all the drills, hammers, screwdrivers, clamps, batteries, and bags of concrete in the store.

There are a few mannequin-style vampires, zombies, and skeletons dressed in tattered clothing. In addition to some plastic pumpkins, spooky-themed door mats and boxed inflatable Despicable Me yard decorations, that’s about it for Halloween.

And Thanksgiving? Well, good luck, Thanksgiving. Of course, ceramic turkeys will be on the way, but for now, not much of anything is there. It is Christmas which has come to town, infiltrating store after store like a plague of unwelcome eye sores.

It’s interesting how we’ve evolved to become consumers of gargantuan yard decorations. Yet, I don’t recall anybody asking for them.  But, perhaps we did…

Dear Christmas Decorations Manufacturer:

 Is there any way you can push the envelope a little, and knock out some inflatable yard abominations large enough to hide our homes? You know…BIG inflatables that’ll make it look as if we’re putting on a grounded hot air balloon festival.  And slap a price tag on them for a couple hundred dollars, because you know us…we’ll buy whatever you put out there!

 Happy Holidays,

We The People 

Perhaps there were protesters outside Lowe’s whom I never saw, pumping their “OCTOBER CHRISTMAS!!  OCTOBER CHRISTMAS!!” picket signs into the air, while shouting, “WE WANT REINDEER!! EIGHT-FOOT INFLATABLE REINDEER!!”

Did a protester stand on top of one of Lowe’s riding lawn mowers, and speak into a megaphone to a gathering crowd of head-nodding followers?… “UNTIL LOWE’S SELLS US INFLATABLE GINGER BREAD HOUSES, ELVES, IGLOOS, AND COCA-COLA-DRINKING POLAR BEARS, WE SHALL REFUSE TO BUY THEIR CHAINSAWS, BIRD SEED, AND FIRE ANT KILLER!!!”

However these massive yard decorations came to be, one thing is certain:  a need to display them two-and-a-half months prior to Christmas has become the new norm.  And that goes for every Christmas tree ornament, string of lights, package of tinsel, artificial poinsettia, and mistletoe decoration as well.

There was a time when Christmas decorations weren’t sold until Thanksgiving.  There was something that just felt right about it—as if the month of December was meant to be festive.  Had massive, inflatable yard decorations been a part of that past, it’s quite possible they wouldn’t be so over-the-top as they are in mid-October.

Mid-October…really?

Until there’s enough public outcry to persuade retailers to at least keep Christmas out of October, then chances are that—and you guessed it—the greedy hands of September won’t be too far away.

But it is what it is.  Christmas, with its mass consumer grandeur, has been a multi-billion dollar generator for many, many years.  And it has no plan of stopping.  Without Christmas, the success of our national economy would never reach its celebrated numbers. And to that, as Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and Lowe’s watch the increasing sales of gargantuan yard ornaments, they have really only one thing to say…

“Thank you, Jesus!”

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

Twelve Bags Of Ice

The cashier was laughing to such a degree it seemed to magnify her state of happiness.  Seismic soundwaves of jolliness reverberated through the air, allowing me to feel the full effect of her laughter. Her cheeks jiggled with each successive giggle.  What was there not to like about this woman?

So she made a mistake.  Big deal.  It obviously didn’t bother her too much.  It had only confirmed the fact that it was sometimes better to laugh at one’s self, rather than take things too seriously.  She had charged a woman for twelve bags of ice instead of one.  In the process, she was laughing the entire time as she called for a manager to correct the mistake.

And there I stood, next in line, unloading my groceries onto the belt, and completely captivated by her infectious laughter.  I had no choice but to smile and marvel at the abundance of happiness which the cashier was displaying.  No doubt, she had been a “laugher” her entire life. Merriment was her prime mover.   We all laugh, but she had been born to laugh…often.

Not a sentence slipped by without her voice veering from the sound of its lively amusement.  “Oh, my!” she said. “I just charged you for twelve bags of ice!  Not two, not six, not eight, but twelve!  Looks like we’re gonna make a killing off you today!”

The woman wasn’t sure what to make of the situation as she played the part of concerned customer, rather than entertained audience member. Her eyes grew larger as the cashier’s laughter traveled throughout the shopping aisles with the apparent potential to rattle jars of spaghetti sauce off the shelves.

“O manager! O manager!” The cashier sang in a tune akin to O Christmas Tree.  “I need an override at cash register four!  Ma’am, I do apologize for this delay. It’s one of those days, you know.  Just a nutty day!” Her cheeks were rosy, and had become rosier with each laugh, as if the color was a barometer of her good mood.

Her customer, though, still hadn’t smiled. She was eagerly waiting for a manager to fix the mistake so that she could be on her way. “Ma’am,” she said. “Is this going to take long?”

“We won’t keep you here anymore than three hours, tops,” the cashier giggled.  “Just messin’…Oh, here he comes now.”

The manager swept in, did some rapid-fire taps on the cashier’s check-out screen, and then gave a thumbs up, “All taken care of ma’am.  One bag of ice. Sorry for the mishap.”

“You’re the best,” said the cashier. “The world needs more angels like you.”

The manager smiled, chuckling as he walked away.

As I stood there, watching the interaction between the two, I couldn’t help but notice a sort of amicable chemistry at hand.  Like the mutual understanding that life is too short, and it’s a hell of a lot better being in a harmonious state, rather than an agitated one.  So, when in doubt, laugh.

“Ma’am,” the cashier said, smiling at the woman, “Thank you for shopping with us. Do you need any assistance with the ice?”

“No, I’m fine. I can manage, but thank you.”

The cashier nodded and smiled, then looked at me, “Sir, please don’t tell me you want twelve bags of ice.  ‘Cause if you do, get ready for me to charge you for twenty-four.”

And that’s when I saw it:  the woman who had just checked out…she turned and smiled.

*                    *                    *

Nine hours later, I was sitting in an aisle seat at a college football game in my town.  As the second quarter had just ended, people were making their way up the stairs to the concessions stands and restrooms. It was a warm and muggy mid-September Texas evening.  I was cracking peanut shells and dropping them between my feet, when I noticed a woman further down the stairs, talking to some friends.  Her head was turned to the side, so I wasn’t catching her full view.  But in that moment, I found myself wondering just where had I seen her before?  Who was she?

She then turned, and began walking up the stairs. What was it about her? My surroundings became muted, including the marching band making their way onto the field.  I squinted my eyes and pressed my mind to recall just who this woman was.

And that’s when I saw it:  again…the smile…it was the woman from the grocery store. But was I sure?  Was I for certain?

Two steps from passing by me, I said, “Excuse me…ma’am.”

She stopped and gave me a blank look, as I was nothing more than a stranger. “Yes?” she said.

“This morning…you were at the grocery store, right?”

“Uh, yes. Yes I was.”

“Twelve bags of ice, right?”

It was immediate, as her face lit up with a smile almost too grand to be true.  “Oh my God!” she said. “Twelve bags of ice!  Yes, twelve bags of ice!”  And then she laughed—laughed with an abundance of happiness that sounded all too familiar.  The people on the crowded stairs had paused briefly for her, but then began inching forward, encouraging her to move along.  Like a raft caught in the brisk flow of a river, she was swept forward, then was soon out of sight.

But her laughter continued—so reminiscent of the cashier’s. Beyond the top of the stairs I could still hear her: “Yes! Not two, not six, not eight, but twelve bags of ice!”  Like a gift—like something that had been passed onto her—she had found good reason to share it with the world.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

The Remedy

It’s not often that I come along and steal your attention, but I felt compelled. So I stole it in such a manner that whatever it was you were doing, was temporarily forgotten.

And there you were, on your little blue marble, with an ability to predict down to the second when, where, and how long I will occur at varying locations. The evolution of your science leading to such predictions is highly impressive.

I hope you saw something different as you looked through your viewing glasses. I hope you saw evidence that it’s the simplest things that give you pleasure, such as being caught in wonderment of the apparent live chemistry of my shadows. And while you cautiously stayed clear of letting your naked eyes view the intensity of my dangerous light, you were completely drawn to my primal and short-lived beauty.  So many laborers around your country shared their welding masks for others to safely stare upward into the darkening daylight sky. Some things just can’t be passed up.

But I’m curious about something—your large corporations. Please tell me they stopped production to let your workers witness my presence. Please tell me they pulled the plug on their robots, conveyor belts, and assembly lines. For just a few minutes, is it possible they cared a little more about the alignment of two magnificent spheres in the sky and the lasting memories they would generate, and less about units sold per minute, and the revenue they would generate? Wishful thinking, I’m afraid.

I saw employees of small companies stepping outside.  All of them exhibited the excitement of anticipation.   There was clearly a difference in community between small and big businesses. Relationships in your smaller companies demonstrated a more cohesive atmosphere, whereas the larger a company’s workforce, then, exponentially, the greater was the disconnect between employees.

From my perspective, it was truly the relationships between your people that caught my attention.  As you were looking at me, I was looking at you.  And, oh, the wonderful things I saw.  There was sharing, smiling, and, for many, the giddiness of witnessing something new.  All it took was a darkened lens to look through, and millions of your people were suddenly united.

And to think that I had the ability to make an impact on people—that my infrequent occurrence touched lives.  In particular, two people stood out most:  A therapist and his client.  It was a dire situation in which the client was suffering.  His bloodshot eyes welled with despair.  His life burdened with depression.

“Take hold of yourself, John,” said the therapist. “This will all pass.  You just have to accept that, and let time do its healing.”

“But, I had no idea the fallout.  I had no idea the repercussions,”  John replied with his hands trembling as he then buried his face within them.

The therapist was without words.  He had counseled as best he could.  John’s rebound truly was at the mercy of time.  But time did not always comply fast enough.  Pain and suffering lingered in the tedium of time’s relentlessly slow pace. Especially in the dark insomniac hours of sleeplessness.

Dark, thought the therapist. Dark!

“John,” he said, looking at his watch.   “We’re not too late!”

“For what?”

He stood up and helped John out of his seat.  “Come with me. You need to see this.”

“See what?”

“Your remedy, John.  Your remedy.”

As they made their way outside, the therapist grabbed two pairs of viewing glasses from a nearby table. “Here,” he said, handing one to John. “Put these on, then look up at the sun. I’ll do the same.”

Less than a minute later they were standing in a parking lot, looking at me in awe. And for the first time in who knows how long, a smile widened across John’s face. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “Absolutely beautiful.”

“Keep looking at it, John,” said the therapist. “Take it all in. Total eclipses are not only rare, but pass quickly.”

“It’s stunning,” said John. “This is just incredible. I’ve been so locked up inside my head lately…well, for quite some time, that I’ve lost touch with my surroundings. I had no idea the eclipse was coming. I’ve been buried in the dark.”

The therapist smiled. “It’s funny…the potential of darkness, and the effect it can have on us. Here we stand in its shadow as it steals our light, and we welcome it with unanimous approval.”

“I don’t know how to explain it,” said John, “But I do suddenly feel better. I feel lifted, if that makes any sense.  Like I’ve gained some sort of clarity.”

“It makes all the sense in the world, John. Perfect sense.”

It wasn’t long after, as daylight returned and darkness faded, that my time came to an end. And in my parting minutes I had the privilege to watch John do something that I’m sure he never saw coming…

Holding onto that smile, he continued to look up at me.  And in a moment of newfound clarity, he took a deep breath, and then silently mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017

A First Taste Of Metal

It took her nearly 95 years to hear it.  When she finally did, you could see the look in her eyes as she sat in the car, staring hypnotically at nothing in particular as her vision seemed to fall just short of the dashboard.

I had come to train Rouye Rush on a Saturday morning at The Wellington—her senior apartment complex that had a small, but adequate fitness center.  As I pulled into the main parking lot, I saw Rouye standing under a tall shade tree.  I had been listening to music in the car when the thought occurred to share a couple of songs with her.

I rolled down my window and pointed to the passenger’s seat.  “Why don’t you get out of the heat and have a seat.  I want you to hear something.”

For six years I’ve been training Rouye, who’s hardly your typical almost-centenarian.   There is a durableness about her physiology.  Though her skin is thinning, it is the musculature beneath that refuses to weaken.  A year ago she was sidelined from working out due to an outbreak of the shingles virus, leaving her legs aching and itching for weeks on end.  But when she did return to the gym, it was as if she had never skipped a beat. Pushing 130 pounds on the leg press wasn’t much of a challenge.  Perhaps the secret lies within her motivation.  Ask her to throw a 20-pound medicine ball five times against a wall, and she’ll give you ten.  Ask her to dribble a basketball in a figure eight pattern around her legs and, for the first time in nine decades, she’ll get it right by the third try without any sign of hesitation.  While she knows her limits, and easily recognizes when something is beyond her abilities, Rouye has an open mind that welcomes trying something new. Even if it’s, well…a bit shocking.

Enter: Heavy metal music.

Sitting in the passenger’s seat next to me, I turned to her and said, “Rouye, before we hit the weights, I want to play some music for you.”

“Okay,” she said, “Let’s hear it.”

I had my iPod hooked up to my car’s auxiliary outlet.

“How many songs do you have on that thing?” she asked.

“Over two-thousand.”

“Good lord,” she said shaking her head. “When does anyone find the time to listen to two-thousand songs?”

“I know it’s a lot,” I said chuckling at her surprise. “But I love my music.”

“Well, that’s pretty obvious.  Okay, so what do you want me to listen to?”

“Metal. Heavy metal.”

“Metal? Of course it’s heavy.”

“Metal, Rouye, is a type of music. Like rock, but harder.  It has an edge to it.  It’s not uncommon for the singing to be full of rage.”

How could I have not lost Rouye?  I might have been better off describing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting in pig Latin.

Classic get-to-the-point Rouye stepped up. “You’re not making a lick of sense.  Just play the song.”

“Okay, okay…but there’s a reason I want you to hear metal.”

“Which is?”

“To show you just how talented these guys are—just how gifted their voices are.  Trust me, you’re not going to like this first song.  But bear with me, and let me surprise you with something.”

And that’s when I cued up my iPod to the song Down With The Sickness by the group Disturbed.  All it took was the song’s opening tribal drum beat making way to David Draiman’s corrosive and guttural voice, to elicit a lifted eyebrow of uncertainty from Rouye.  Approaching 95 years old, and I had invited her into my car to get a shattering head full of heavy metal.  Could her morning start any worse?  What nightmares might she potentially have had as she settled into sleep that evening?  Gargoyles hovering above her, playing 12-string bass guitars? Or her freefalling into the molten caverns of inner-earth, while weighted down in a suit of medieval armor?

I made sure to cut those possibilities off at the pass, by playing just enough of Sickness to give her a taste of heavy metal music. There was no way I was going to inflict the entire song upon her.  “What do you think?” I asked.

“What do I think? What’s he saying? Why’s he barking like a dog?”

I couldn’t help but laugh.  “A dog… ha! But, I know…I hear ya.”

“And this is what you wanted to share with me?”

“Actually, yes. But there’s more to it. You know…don’t ever judge a book by its cover.”  I scrolled through my playlist of Disturbed songs until I found their version of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence. “This is what I want you to hear.  It’s David Draiman—the same guy you just heard sing.  But this is his other side that not only illustrates his passion, but just how gifted he is.”

All it took were the first nine seconds of a piano leading to Draiman’s tender and beautiful voice.  So rich and captivating, you have no choice but to stop what you’re doing and listen. And if you’re Rouye Rush, you have no choice but to experience a reverent silence of admiration that slips you into a hypnotic trance just short of the dashboard.

Hello, darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

It’s hard to find a song that evokes as much emotion as this version.  I’ll never forget the sight of Rouye Rush.  Four months away from 95 years of age, and caught in the soaring notes of a heavy metal singer. At first impression, she’s not quite sure if the distorted style of his voice is, in fact, singing.  But make way for her open mind, and moments later she can’t believe that The Sound Of Silence is performed by the same person.

“He needs to do more songs like that one,” she said. “It’s beautiful. Really beautiful.  That song was meant to be sung that way.”

And that’s where I turned off the music, and we left the car to go work out in the gym.  As we walked, I couldn’t help but look at her and think about how different she was compared to the ten thousand people mentioned in the song…

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

David Draiman’s voice had delivered the song’s message like no one had done before.  And Rouye had not only heard it, she had truly listened.

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2017