Blur and static fill the memory of recent months. At August’s end I embarked on a planned 22 day solo backpack trip along the John Muir Trail. 150 miles and 14 days later, with emotions scraping at the sides of the deep end of a pool, unable to swim and looking for a life preserver, I emerged over Bishop Pass out of snow, wind, rain and a deep core experience of reality’s beauty and complexity.
Though the previous two weeks were difficult to process I soon came to receive a piece to the larger puzzle…a deeper understanding of my decision to leave the trail.
I had been home for four days, unpacking, cleaning gear and eating…a lot. My body felt wonderfully tired, my mind struggled to find balance as is the norm. My sister-in-law came to our door and said, “Roger, I think something is wrong with dad!”
My father-in-law was beginning his final graduation ceremony and passed away some five weeks later in his home, in his bed and in his favorite flannel pajamas—beautiful Valley light casting through his bedroom window. My wife and I were sitting with him when he rolled to his side and took his last breath…almost to the day one year earlier his wife passed away in the same peaceful manner.
It was not uncommon for Fred to approach me out of the blue. Perhaps as I walked into the kitchen or through his studio. He would quickly approach, wrapping his arms around me and squeezing as if for dear life…a man clinging to a life preserver as he sinks into the ocean. My last glimpse into his eyes as he approached for an ambush revealed the unmistakeable knowing that he was in fact the life preserver and knew that I was the one sinking.
Not a word was spoken while having the tar squeezed out of me…time and sound absent. A five o’clock shadow raking across my face, a kiss on the cheek, a final squeeze and pat to both shoulders and a brief yet deeply penetrating look into my soul—we would part and go our separate ways.
When this first started I felt taken aback. As someone with an extremely large personal space and one used to the traditional “step in, embrace, ‘pat pat’, step out” type of greeting, I felt ambushed, unable to prepare for or process the intensity of energy…for the conveyance of his message. It was beyond of my level of comfort and understanding.
Often we do not feel love because we do not allow ourselves to…for whatever reasons those maybe. For me, I believe it is fear of the conditional statement, fear for the lack of control and perhaps fear of my own unresolved emotions.
It took me until recently to feel the message that Fred was conveying during an “ambush”. He was telling me that he loved me, he loved me for who I was right then and there and in no uncertain terms. Had those words been spoken I never would have felt the meaning…I never would have truly received his buoyant gift. The power of words pale in comparison to the power his actions.
Perhaps blur and static were not the appropriate words to open this Dispatch. As I process the recent months through my being I experience unsettled chaos in my mind but clarity in my heart. It was not failure that brought me out of the Sierras it was an unconscious path, another puzzle piece provided me after stepping away from the card table yet again. Where there is chaos, often grace is as close as a change in perspective or distance of time.
Fred knew his graduation was close at hand. I could see it in his eyes when I gave him a traditional hug goodbye the evening before I left for the Sierras. My wife heard it in his voice of relief when he heard I was coming home earlier than planned—another piece of the puzzle.
With some creative reluctance, I have moved my photography exploration into his studio in an effort to continue expanding the creative energy that he and his wife started some five decades ago. His artwork surrounds us…his color and light hang on the adobe walls at every turn.
As this year comes to a close it becomes increasingly difficult to feel focused, to feel connected, to feel the radiance of a deep breath. I wake to the sun’s rise casting it’s light on the hills that Fred captured so richly in his work. I walk through his studio…walk through the kitchen…walk through my day…hoping to be ambushed.
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