there's not a whole lot going on

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sarus's Simple Wisdom

Peacock spoke between beakfulls of feathers as he preened his beautiful tail. "There, Sarus, is no such thing as desert. Have you ever seen the desert? What use would a desert be? Nothing could live in the desert. You and I would die. Those who say that they've been there are either liars or crazy, and I would say that based on their behavior, it's some of both."

"But, Peacock, my own mother said that her mother said that her mother said that the desert existed and she had been there. She said the wisest of the wise go there for wisdom and that my great-grandmother was the wisest matriarch our flock has ever had."

"Nonsense, you cranes have never been known for being overly intelligent and you're always believing what someone else has told you. Believe me if you're going to believe anyone. I've reasoned it out, I know what I'm saying - there is no desert. Nobody can prove it - have you ever even seen sand except on the shore? How can there be sand and no water? How can there be life without water?"

"But, Peacock, my husband said he once flew over the desert after a terrible storm, and he says he saw little tracks in the sand and small bushes. My husband isn't crazy!"

"Sarus, Sarus, your husband is either crazy or a liar. If you believe that the wisest of the wise go to the desert, then don't you see he only wanted you to think him wiser than he is? It's very sad really. Animals have been spreading these lies for years, beguiling simpletons such as yourself into following them. Why don't you listen to my reasoning and let go of these childish beliefs. Recognize that there is no desert, that all there is are mountains and valleys, jungles and rivers - the desert simply does not exist."

"But, Peacock, those who have been to the desert speak with such wisdom of such beautiful things. They say the sunsets in the desert are magnificent, that when you look at the night sky, it seems as though you're standing in the middle of the sky. They tell us how we were meant to live, the ways that are best for us."

"Why don't you see that anyone can make up a beautiful imaginary place? Of course, they tell you that the way you should live is beautiful - you wouldn't live it if they said it was ugly. They drag you around, telling you what to do, how to live, where to go by feeding you ridiculous stories of sunsets and starry skies. The desert does not exist - it is a lie promulgated by those who are too simple to look at the facts and those who are too self-serving to tell the truth. I refuse to believe that others have seen something which I have not, that a place where animals live without water exists, that there is any magical place capable of imparting wisdom upon those who enter therein. There is no evidence that it exists, and so I tell you it does not!"

As Sarus the crane fretted over Peacock's words, Elephant, that wise old lady of the jungle, pushed through the trees.

"Good afternoon, Peacock, good afternoon, Sarus. Sarus," she looked concerned, "what is the matter? You look perplexed."

"Oh, Elephant! I am so glad to see you. You are so very wise and so very kind, perhaps you can help me. Peacock here has just been telling me that the desert does not exist. Tell me, Elephant, is it true? Does the desert truly not exist?"

"Rest easy, my friend, the desert does indeed exist. I have been there myself - once when I was a child."

"Oh, but, Elephant! Peacock says that those who claim to have seen the desert are either liars or crazy! Why would you lie to us?"

"Sarus, I am not lying, tell, me what has Peacock said that would make you believe I would lie to you?"

"Don't ask Sarus what I said. She hasn't yet come to terms with the reality that the desert doesn't exist." He began preening again. "I'm sure you won't even be capable of seeing the facts since you seem to think you have been there. Nevertheless, I will tell you why the desert cannot possibly exist. First, you cannot take me to the desert - the stories say that only those who wish to go may go unless they are specially called. Second, the stories all say that there are animals which live in the desert, but those same stories also say that there is no water there. Such contradictions clearly show that the desert does not exist for animals cannot live without water. Third, a place is not capable of imparting anything other than the material needs of those who enter, so there cannot be a place into which one may enter and thereby gain such wisdom as the stories claim. Fourth, and most despicably of all, those who promulgate this disarming and blinding lie all benefit from it - they receive food for nothing, they pretend to do valuable things but are merely playacting, they are lauded as wise though they merely seek to control us. Now then, Elephant, do prove me wrong. Prove to me that the desert does indeed exist and that all my reasoning has been for naught."

"Well, Peacock, you have certainly put a great deal of thought into your arguments. I hope you don't mind my saying so, but I'm afraid your mental energy has been poorly spent, for you have failed to prove the non-existence of the desert, but have instead succeeded in proving your own weak reliance upon yourself rather than accepting our common need for and reliance upon each other. Just the same, I will endeavor to help you see that your proofs have failed and I will give you the option of coming to know the desert's existence."

Peacock mumbled through his preening, "Do tell, Elephant, do tell."

"I will answer your objections beginning with the last. There have been many who pretended knowledge of the desert to lead the animals astray, and still more who falsely believed they had entered therein and so led themselves and others astray. There have been those who sought fortune and fame through false associations with the desert and those who though they had entered the desert left unchanged. That does not prove that the desert does not exist, it proves instead that we animals may do as we please.

"Your third objection concerns the impossibility of receiving wisdom from a place. But I ask you, have you ever looked upon a starry sky, or a beautiful sunset? Have you ever gazed upon the mountains as the clouds swirled around them and not felt your heart pause in wander? Have you not had your heart lifted beyond yourself to a realm you could not truly fathom? If we cannot receive something immaterial from the material, then how is it that your heart is so moved? Did something pass from the mountains to your heart or leap from the sunset into your chest?

"As to your contradictions, have you ever noticed that some plants are more succulent than others, that some contain more juices than others? Have you watched as the lions consume their prey that there is moisture within the animal he is eating? The desert is not bereft of water, it merely has no water flowing upon its surface and the rains are rare. There is no contradiction there - the animals and the plants are small because water is scarce, but there is water and there are plants and animals.

"Finally, if you wish to truly know if the desert exists, then come with me, and I will take you there. The stories say that noone may enter the desert unless he seeks it, but they never say that one cannot be led by another. I offer you the opportunity to witness firsthand the beauty and the magnificence of the desert. If you would like, you may consider this your call."

Peacock flapped his wings. "Bravo, Elephant, bravo. You have succeeded in proving yourself as ridiculous as all the others who believe the desert exists. You have proven your unwillingness to see the very plain evidence which I have provided, and I am sure your weak arguments have beguiled poor Sarus into believing once more in your pitiful desert. Farewell then, I'm going to find more reasonable company." With that, he was gone, leaving Sarus and Elephant behind.

"Elephant, I'm so glad you came when you did! I almost believed what Peacock was saying! Tell me," she looked sheepishly up to Elephant, "tell me, Elephant, can you take my husband and I to see the desert? When he flew over, he did not stay, because I was nesting, and I have always longed to see the desert for myself. Please tell me that you will take me there!"

"Gladly, Sarus, gladly. I will take you and anyone else who wishes to come with me"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sidewalk Defender

She pulled the umbrella from her side as though pulling a sword in a long-forgotten time, held it as holding a long sword and waited patiently for her enemy.

The cards in his spokes clicked as he pedaled toward her. He hadn't noticed his assailant poised and prepared to pounce, he saw only a young woman struggling with her umbrella, standing in the sidewalk - another pedestrian standing between him and class.

Suddenly, with a loud "THWACK" he found himself sprawled on the ground. He looked around - afraid of another blow from his unknown and unseen foe, but none was forthcoming. Too shaken to ride his bike, he walked the rest of the way to class.

Our valiant warrior smiled, tucked her umbrella back in its place and continued on her way to work.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Ursula's Remix

The scene opens with a couple's hands crossed over each other so that you can see their wedding bands. His hand is the hand of the working man. Hers is smaller and feminine but strong with 70s green nail polish.

Vince is a working man with an accent reminiscent of Sylvester Stalone in Rocky, but without the mush mouth effect which makes him incomprehensible. He is almost well built, as though he works construction, but enjoys his carbs a little too much.

Ursula is a slight woman, easily given to excitement with an occasional bit of an attitude that doesn't overshadow her femininity. She doesn't have the attitude that scares shy people, just the attitude of a working class woman.

Darla lives in the same complex as Vince and Ursula. She's a motherly sort, even though she's no older than the others.

Scene 1: Ursula is on the phone in her small 70s decor apartment kitchen. On the counter is a bowl, some cake ingredients, lemons and an empty carton of eggs. She's a little frantic.

Ursula (on the phone): Oh, no! Darla what'm I gonna do? I was makin' a cake for Vince's birthday ya' know, and like I was makin' bahs er somethin' 'n I put all the ingredients in before I knew what I's doin' ya' know, 'n now I got like 8 eggs and flowa and powdad suga and butta all in da same bowl and da eggs was fer anuda paht of da bahs. What'm I gonna do? He's gonna be home in an owa 'n dat's all da eggs I got.

Darla (from off screen and with a telephone sounding voice): Oh, don't worry, Honey. I'll just come right on over through the back door, and we'll fix things all up. It's fine, Honey, it's fine. These things happen to ever'body sometime or 'nother.

Ursula frets over the bowls for a few seconds when a knock at the kitchen door indicates Darla's arrival.

Ursula: Thank heavens ya' heeya! It's such a mess, do ya' think you c'n do anything with it?

Darla (bustling over to the ingredients, pats Ursula reassuringly on the arm): Honey, Honey, ever'thing will be just fine. Don't you worry about a thing. We'll just say 1-2-3-4 cake a coupla times, and you'll serve it with a bit of coffee, and Vince won't know a thing!

The two women bustle about the kitchen with Darla mostly shooing Ursula out of the way until Vince comes home and Ursula walks out. Darla continues working while Ursula and Vince have a conversation off screen.

Vince: Yo, Baby. I missed yous all day. What've you been doin'?

Ursula (a bit nervously): Makin' plans for ya' burthday, whutta ya' think?

Vince: Oh. Dat sounds alright den. Is it done yet?

Ursula: Yeah, yeah, it'll be done, it'll be done in a little bit.

Vince: Good. I don't like to wait fuh my su'prises. 'Cept when dey're from you, Baby.

Ursula comes back into the kitchen where Darla is cleaning up. They whisper loudly.

Ursula: Thanks, Darla, I dunno what I'd do widoutcha.

Darla (patting Ursula reassuringly): Oh, you'd get by just fine. You didn't have a few things, so I improvised a little, but I'm sure it'll be ok. Just serve it with coffee and pretend it's a coffee cake. It'll be fine, just fine.

Darla leaves and the oven timer goes off. Ursula still looks worried as she removes the cake from the oven and prepares it for Vince.

Vince (from the other, unseen room): Yo, Ursula. Where's my cake?

Ursula: Hey, keep ya' shirt on, it's almost ready, it's almost ready!

Cut to the living room where Vince, wearing a white tank-top is trying the cake with Ursula who is watching more than trying her own.

Vince: Hey, Baby, dis is da best cake evah. It goes great wit dis coffee dat you made. Baby, dere's a reason dat I love you.

Ursula: Oh, Vince-Honey, you say the nicest things.

The two cuddle on the couch in birthday bliss as Vince changes the television channel, the picture fades and the credits begin to roll.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Turkey

It was a beautiful turkey - plump and golden, with gobs of tasty stuffing in its belly. We all beamed at Mother - it was such a fine turkey and we were so impressed at this, her best turkey yet. I, in fact, was a little hesitant to carve the bird - it was so beautifully perfect that it seemed a shame to mar its golden skin.

Arthur, my youngest, cleared his throat. Clearly the growing pangs rumbling in his stomach had overcome any appreciation for the bird's beauty. Still, I paused until Aunt Sally - my aunt, the last remaining of my father's siblings - began fingering her silverware. I sighed and began to carve. I saw with delight that it was not only the most beautiful turkey my wife had ever roasted, but it was definitely the juiciest. I was not the only one who let out a little noise of anticipation.

Once the bird was carved and served, we each stared at our plates for a few moments, marveling at our own eagerness to eat what was usually the least desirable course in our Thanksgiving meal. It was little Angela, my darling wife who began passing the other dishes. Somehow, our typically lively company was still in silent awe over the succulent morsels waiting to tantalize our turkey weary palates.

It was also Angela who took the first bite of turkey, and then the second, third, fourth, and finally scooped the entire piece of turkey into her mouth and smiled satisfactorily with little bits of gravy dribbling from the corners. I was a little shocked by her unusual behavior, but a quick glance around the table told me that her actions had gone unnoticed - though not because everyone was still staring at their turkey. No, everyone had finished their turkey in just the same manner!

My mother patted my arm with a guilty little grin. "Pat, Pat, won't you give me some more of that wonderful turkey?"

Surprised by her overt compliment of my wife's culinary skills, I'm afraid I stared at her a moment too long, causing her to repeat her request, at which point, I immediately delivered. Six other plates were soon reserved, and I finally took the opportunity to look to my own plate which was still untouched.

Slowly, I cut a piece of the turkey, afraid that I too might succumb to its delicious flavors and act the heathen in gulping it down. I placed my first bite upon my tongue ever so gently, closed my eyes and swallowed. "There," I said to myself, "that wasn't so bad. I can do this. I have the self-control to eat this turkey. It's not that good." The next bite I took more quickly and less judiciously. The next with less dignity. The next with none.

The last should have been four.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

God, Vegetables and Mystery

Together mother and daughter cuddled beneath their blanket, watching the night-time sky. Chattering happily, the little girl told her mother of all the things her teacher had taught her that day, trying to point out constellations she had learned and talking about the beauty of the stars.

For a moment, the little girl paused, and her mother gently asked, "What is it little one? What are you thinking?"

She twisted around in her mother's arms until she could see her mother's face smiling down into her own.

"Mommy, the stars are pretty, and the Sunday school teacher says that makes us think of God, but if God made the stars so pretty, why did he make my vegetables so bad? Richie says that if God was good, he wouldn't have made things that are good for us to be bad. I don't know what to think."

"Oh, Honey, that's such a good question for you to ask," her mother said, hugging her tightly. "Do you remember when you learned to ice skate, and it was very hard at first, but when you learned how, you loved it, and now you're always so happy when Mommy and Daddy take you skating? And do you remember how tired you are when we finish, because it's so hard?"

The little girl nodded in her mother's arms.

"Do you remember what your daddy taught you and your brothers about character and how it comes from doing things that are good even though they're hard?"

Again, the little girl nodded. "But Mommy, why are good things so hard? Is it like when you were saying that we were fallen and so it's hard for us not to sin?"

"Yes, Honey, it's very much like that - because we're broken, it's hard for us to do good things and hard for us not to do bad things."

"But, Mommy, why did God make it like that?"

"God didn't make it like that. In the beginning we were good, but then we chose to do bad things, and so now we don't know the difference between what is good and what isn't. So from the beginning, we were like little children who didn't know that it would hurt if we played in the street where cars drive. That's part of why God sent his prophets and finally sent his Son to tell us what is good, because we were like little children."

"Mommy, are you like a little child?"

"Yes, Honey, I'm still like a little child. Sometimes I choose things that hurt me or others, but I always know that God knows the best way and so I try ask him to know the difference between what is good and bad."

"But, Mommy, why didn't God fix us like when you fix my knee after I fall?"

The mother kissed her little girl's forehead. “God is fixing us, that's why he sent all those people to us - to fix us and make us better again. But just like when I put a band-aid on your knee and it takes time to heal, it takes time for us to heal - especially if we don't know that's what he's doing."

"Why didn't he make us like the angels? They never get hurt."

"Remember what Daddy told you about the angels who fell away from God? Who chose things that were bad instead of things that were good?"

"Did they hurt themselves too?"

"Yes, but they weren't like us. They weren't able to choose good things once they had chosen bad things. God made them to be in his presence as soon as they were created, and even after seeing the best thing, which is God, they chose things that were bad. But God didn't want us to be like the angels - he made us different so that we have a long time to decide if we want to be with him."

"Why did he do that, Mommy? Why didn't he give the angels a second chance?"

"Do you know how sometimes Mommy and Daddy tell you not to do something because it's not good, and you don't understand why you shouldn't do it at first, but then later it makes sense?"

"Yes, Mommy, it's like when you told me not to run across the street without you, and I thought you were being mean, but then we saw the poor little squirrel, and I knew that was why you didn't want me to go by myself - 'cuz you didn't want me to get hurt."

"That's exactly right, Honey, and just the way you know that sometimes grown-ups know things you don't know so we make rules that you don't like or understand, sometimes God makes rules that we don't like or understand. And sometimes he does things that we don't understand, but it's important that we trust him, because we know we're like little children and God knows things that we don't know. So maybe this is one of those mysteries that your Sunday school teacher told you about last week - something that we don't understand fully and can't explain, but we can ask God to show us more to help us understand and we can ask him to help us trust him the way you trust Mommy and Daddy."

"OK, Mommy, I'll do that. But, Mommy," the girl looked solemnly into her mother's eyes, "I still don't like vegetables.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mercy spurned

The outlaw strolled into the tavern, his spurs jingling as he walked. They weren't just any spurs, they were big, cruel spurs designed to rip into the horse's flanks for faster responses and better "motivation." Every eye was on him, but there wasn't an eye he could catch with his own. Sucking his whiskey down without a blink, he muscled his way to the card table - not that anyone willingly stood in his way. His stride and his spurs said everything they needed to know about this unknown.

That's when the sheriff walked in. A few moments later, four men walked out with his limp form in their arms.

Weeks went by with the townspeople laying low, staying behind their closed doors, the outlaw leaving at night and returning in the day. Once a man from the Pony Express arrived. He thought it best not to leave.

Finally, the barber headed out of town in the opposite direction of the outlaw one night. He never returned. In his place came the long hoped for Texas Ranger. While they stared, they avoided his eyes as they had the outlaw before, keeping to themselves the certainty of his fate. This man was no horseman, this man was no gunman, this man would be dead when the outlaw returned. The town stayed inside that day too.

The Ranger moved with assurance, but he wore no spurs, his guns looked more like those of a farmer than those of the outlaw, but he seemed sure of himself. The girls thought him handsome, but knew him foolish. The men scoffed, asking themselves what sorts were now being accepted into the Texas Rangers.

When the outlaw returned and looked upon the stranger's horse, his face went pale. He knew this man, had heard his name, had killed his father. This man had hunted him for twenty years, taking each of his men to face their judgment day. He ran back to his horse, but was too late. The Ranger knew his ways, knew his moves, knew him as well as he knew himself.

"Come with me to Austin. You know that's the only way for you."

"Austin? They'd hang me in a heartbeat! What good is that to me? No better than the others you've killed!"

"They all had the same chance. Better chances than the men you have killed. I've never killed any who did not deserve death, nor have I killed any without offering them Austin."

"Why? What's in Austin? What awaits me there that I can't get here?"

"There's a chance to meet death the way my father did - in humility and honesty, with grace on your side and not at your back."

"You're crazy! Who cares how you die? The old man didn't die in humility! He died humiliated! A fool who didn't know what he had and no idea what he could've had! I should have killed you with him!"

"Could you have born the look on your mother's face if you had killed her only other son?"

With that, the outlaw reached for his gun, but the Ranger was faster.

As the blood pooled around him on the ground, the outlaw dipped into the senseless mumblings of the doomed and dying, begging for mercy, promising a better life, pleading for second chances. The Ranger knelt by his side as the town's priest ran forward.

"Jon, Jon, there's still time. Listen to me. Here's a priest. Jon, Jon. Look up, sit up. Here's a priest. Beg God's mercy, Jon."

The outlaw's eyes fluttered to those of the priest, but words never reached his lips before his life was gone.

The Ranger stood, looked at the priest and hung his head. The townspeople peeked through their windows, stepped quietly into the streets and took in the scene. None rushed to congratulate the Ranger, none rushed to thank him, all stood silently, watching the Ranger's retreating back.

The priest looked from the dead man lying in the street to the dead man walking down the street and approached with gentle steps.

"Son, there is still time. You do not have to leave this life this way. There is still time for you. Beg God's mercy and live."

"Father, Father, what can I do? I have doomed my own brother and the seven who stood between us! What is left to me but the same sad fate? Where can I go where they will not follow me?"

"Do not pretend you know the heart of any man. Beg God's mercy and live. Trust God's mercy and live. Hope, have hope for your brother as you hoped for your father. There is yet time for you."

The Ranger said nothing, climbed into his saddle and rode from town, never to return, nor to be heard of again.