Amidst the Pines.
THE COOL OF MORNING drawn into his lungs felt like forever. The sun more friend than foe, he could run all day, which seemed eternal.
Only buried men know time so slow, as a child lost in wonder.
Late again, Jack frantically shuffled through the heaping pile of papers and reports adorning his desk. Somewhere lay the answer he needed, if he could only find it. The report prepared for his boss explaining this and that detailing what could be done better about what was being done worse. On the back of Jack’s this and that report relied the hope of tomorrow - the boat, the lake house, the feeling of making it there finally and almost certainly a corner office. For years, Jack toiled in the obscure numbers of overachieving hopefuls aiming to impress. He too, set his sights on corporate glory, a day free of worry and full of desires met. To helm the wheel is what every man wants. How he gets it - well, that is the fight each man decides to square up to and arms to win, typically, at all costs.
The desk moaned under the weight laid upon it. As its drawers slammed and doors pulled, you could hear its cry for stop, but Jack would find the report, even if it meant savaging the desk to pieces. When the last drawer pulled revealed no sign of the report, Jack lunged for his bag placed atop a sadly drooping box labeled, ‘kid stuff’, inscribed with a big, bold crooked X. Just below the crooked X clothed in pure kid genius parenthesis, as if to always remind himself, a rather forthcoming description: “Your treasure”. Suddenly, the smell of pines and adventure filled his nose, and then, the leather of his father’s belt which drove him away - maybe to this very desk, frantically trying to prove himself worthy of acceptance and achievement. He reached into the bag to find his report, his ticket to an achieved tomorrow, and a corner office and the adoration of those others in obscurity, too. To Jack’s elated relief, the report was there in the bag just as he had left it the night before as he reviewed it one last time.
But the labeled box, his a lifetime ago, marked with a big, bold crooked X begged for his attention so he pushed it out from under his desk to examine more thoroughly later, after his tomorrow achieving presentation. First things first. Jack stood from his desk and followed the routine: pour a drink, straighten his tie and give himself one last pep talk to rally the confidence still lacking. The boy he spoke to rarely felt comfortable in situations such as these and usually needed motivating. The kind his father used worked best, so he berated the boy looking back at him from the mirror, too, leaving Jack small and fearful, but motivated; the kind of motivation worthless men feel - starved for acceptance and willed to achieve at any cost. He wasn’t always this way, but long gone away were those days when Jack was last free.
The long road home was lined with pines as tall as the sky and thick ground brush which covered like a coarse, prickly blanket. Every so often, an opening into the thick woods appeared, an invitation to adventure that knew no time nor aware of consequence as priority. As a boy, Jack lived for adventure; to be lost amidst the pines and brush, that was life. It was simple and pure. The world made complete sense, just as it should, revealing itself through wonder, adventure and the wind whispering through the pines the way home. Jack knew himself there in the pines - how far he could run without stopping, where to find protection when he sensed danger, when to head home as the sun slunk into the lower branches, which paths to guide someone new on so as to care for them well and their experience - this was his sanctuary where he felt alive in the wonder of it all.
On a particularly cool day, as the fire dulled to glowing embers and last light kissed the lowest branches, Jack’s eye beheld golden glory - all the branches swaying in the fall breeze blowing, the flowers illuminated in the sun now behind them, the day-lit sky falling into the stars awakening - everything busy with life unfolding. Life beyond the trees and brush, larger than his home and family and all the little knowledge he knew, opened up to him just like one of the clearings he’d discovered in the thickened brush . God introduced himself there in the branches and intricate colors of life surrounding, and Jack felt the universe expand within. All made sense in everything discovered, in each flower appreciated, like Someone bigger tending to the smaller. He felt like no one but himself truly.
The last of the embers crackled inviting him to leave for home. Jack stood from the warm ground, breathed in deeply the mix of smoke and pine, and headed for home - his head and heart both full of sacred wonder.
Outside of the boardroom, Jack was a long way from the woods and the Wonder which once found him. His presentation was a hit, his promotion sure and the coveted corner office, his soon-to-be new home, but somehow, his heart was smaller than ever before. He could barely feel it apart from the fleeting moments of success and a few empty pats on the back congratulating him. Between those moments nothing but the craving to be found again.
Jack’s dad left the day after he was laid off at the factory - said a man wasn’t worth the home he couldn’t own. Uneventfully, his dad hopped in his pickup and sped passed the trees leaving behind what he once called everything. Straight from the driveway, Jack walked into his room, packed away his hiking gear into a cardboard box and never again stepped foot into the woods. That was the day wonder died.
The bourbon helped Jack land softly into the abysmal loneliness of success at any cost, that place where all aim be and most never find. He propped up a picture of his family he said he was doing all of this for, but deeply he knew it was his heart that needed it the most. The new chair swiveled with silent ease as Jack turned to take in the view from his 12th floor corner office. Everything below seemed dull, a monochromatic view of faceless people shifting about the streets below. He felt like them, only higher and older.
As the day aged to old and done, the light shone through Jack’s office panoramic window view. The moment which should’ve been filled with celebratory thoughts was lackluster to say the least, as expansively empty as his smaller, older heart. He sipped his sequel bourbon and tried to recall the last time he felt happy, in the sense of unhindered pleasure, not born from achievement or acclaim. All that could be found there in his heart was a drive to succeed at any cost that had ushered him through adulthood to this empty spot.
The box labeled in his own script, for whatever reason, it had made its way from the forgotten recesses of his home garage to his newly achieved office.
Jack pushed back from the window and pulled the box from underneath his desk. He noticed the inscription again: ‘Your treasure’. Without much more thought than curiosity, he pulled apart the top of the box opening a world long forgotten. The light of last day danced on the dust pushed into the air from the box opening. Jack’s eyes squinted in the animated golden glow, much like the day before, long ago there amidst the pines and God’s creation. Once again - though it had not through the decades of chasing his father gone - Jack felt the universe expanding within and the gentle tending of Someone bigger than all he could ever hope to achieve.
It would be a long road home, but lined with wonder and glory, God’s invitation to adventure that knew no time nor aware of consequence as priority.
And he felt again like no one but himself, truly.
of regret and learning again to live.
THIS DAY ONLY always felt like a day that belonged to others. Now he feels it - age pushing down on him like gravity suddenly doubled its strength. “Only old men think about such things,” he thought, caught off guard by his thinking of age and how short life now looks.
What matters - that’s all that matters now.
His hands look of time and strain, shackled by time keeping count. Lines cut deeper into his hands revealing time more accurately than the slipping watch wrapping around his thinner wrist. All these things stand out more.
Down the aisle he shuffles, mostly lost in memories of days disappeared. His briefcase swings off his slumped shoulder with the rhythm of an effected gait. Of course he knew he’d grow old, but he never figured age would feel this way - the guilt, the fear, the tiredness and sentimentalism and loneliness. “The golden years . . . what a cruel joke!” he muttered as he slumped into his seat. Years and careers have grown thick, separating the family that remains.
Family hasn’t been the same since losing his wife of 26 years to a long, taking bout with the C. They don’t speak much of it directly, only look at pictures during the holidays and smile at a kept distance. She wasn’t one of those women who singlehandedly held the family together, but she was his piece of completion. Life dimmed to half bright since that day and all the family felt it as the kids watched their father lose more than a wife, but his way. The charismatic bounce in his words flattened and so did his faith. All you had to do was talk to him for a few minutes to tell that he wasn’t the same man who believed the day was for taking. No, that day had taken too much for him to have enough to reach for anything more. Loss will do this to people. Bore right out of them all that was settled and accepted, leaving a void mysterious and unfair. Like people halved they walk on empty, clumsy and unknown.
This is mostly who his kids know now. This is the second losing suffered. One dies suddenly and the other lost and unfound dies again and again. There’s a way out that not everyone finds, or accepts. Either way, lost is disorienting the longer you stay still. It’s been years now and friends have faded. His kids try, but life twists and turns with complications of five hour drives, aging kids and blooming careers. A little boy quizzically pops up from the seat in front of him as the stewardess unenthusiastically goes through the motion of placing the breathing mask over her head. He remembers that look on the boy’s face - half smile, all curious. His son was such a handful of a boy who adored his dad’s time and attention. All the camping adventures and walks through the woods behind their family house, that was when his heart was young and courageous and alive. Now, he barely knows how to talk to his grown son whose attention centers around career.
The keys of his laptop are stroked delicately or reluctantly. He only takes halfway to technology and the computer his kids bought for him last Christmas. But still, he strokes slowly the words of eventual truth. He will die. Tenderly, he attends to the keys telling those he loves how to fold his days as neatly as possible. He will die. He seems to have accepted it and so he cares for the words which will carry him beyond the end. This is his last will and testament. How he slow cares about the eventual arriving of death. In a way, his elder heart beats younger knowing that death is lurking. No one has needed him in years, but now, his affairs need to be ordered. His family must be gathered closer together.
The captain’s update of decent and arrival time cut into his thoughts of how he would break the news of his health to his son, and all of the things he wanted to leave him with and tell him and remind him of. The work. The finding finally of the path he once left. After all, a father should always be on path. That’s where his own look for him - a steady gaze when in youth and in needful glances as they age. The man feels like a father again raising his caved chest taller - his rebirthing as the end begins.
Back to the keys, his fingers pushed the name, John, into a blank space on the document saved as Last Will and Testament. Then one name at a time, each of his kids, deliberately and with care.
Two weeks before, he went alone to receive news of his diagnosis. He sat alone for days after wondering how to break the news to his kids spread in different places. A sole picture, a beckon of light rushing into the dark corner he backed into by himself, drew him out. A picture of his family, young and hopeful, caught up in the glow of dawn’s light waking up Yosemite. Smiles adored each of their faces like they had the rest of their lives together - they lived like it then, too. Feeling weans in suffering and that happy family warmth sometimes cools in years thinned in life’s taking, but the father then lifted the man now. His kids would need the father to die on the path, not lost in the brush. That’s why he boarded a plane to see his kids, to be with them all again in the breaking of his news and the ordering of his business; to be human and man and father able to swallow fear, grasp faith long enough to outlast doubt and die well. He would lead them again and not for the last time, for our paths continue beyond our years breathing echoing on in those following.
We all die, but not all of us truly live.