An ambulance gave me a ride to the Emergency Room yesterday.
My second ride of the year. For those of you that have been reading from the beginning of this blog adventure you know about the first. This one was different, and the same. Different because of the cause, but the same because of the questions.
I have been adding to my life’s recovery by experimenting with yoga and meditation with some interesting results. Slowing things down in the mind is something I have rarely been able to accomplish, but that is why we practice. My life has taken many twists and turns; at times I’ve been cruising in the left lane while other times I’ve dumped myself on the side of the road.
There were a string of bad breaks. I had two dear friends die within a year and a half of each other when I was a teenager. My parents split up a few years after that and just a few more years later my father died. Looking back on those days I spent far too much time feeling bad for myself while it was others that were taking the brunt of the pain.
Loss of such significant magnitude while I was struggling for my own identity was hard to handle. And it is fair to say I didn’t handle it very well. I pissed a lot of people off. At times I have drank too much, at times I have worked too much, but most of all I cared too little. Your suffering, I believe, is essentially your own because that is the way we make it.
The inability to move on and find peace with myself after these events resulted in being stuck in neutral for a long time. Imagine a record (vinyl is cool again) just skipping and you are unable to get to the next verse. Over and over again, the same hiccup, but then a (Sun)ie comes along, picks up the needle and begins to let the next song play.
Every so often a record comes along that goes deep and speaks to me, almost as if it was written FOR me. It comes to me at the perfect time. When I needed a lyric to guide me or a melody to get me moving. Its happened before and I cherish every one of them even if they exit the rotation. Bob has done it the most (and never leaves the rotation), seemingly recording albums just for me; first with Highway 61 Revisited and then a half dozen more times; Neil did it with Everybody Knows This is Nowhere which prompted me to write my first book and Warren did it with Excitable Boy, when I was already a man. More recently, Beck and The Black Keys have stopped me in my tracks with their, well, tracks (sorry).
So when I was given Nathaniel Rateliff’s Falling Faster Than You Can Run I got a sharp feeling that I was on to something. It seemed as if I was told a secret and the music was mine for as long as I needed it. So the day after my latest not so free ride to the ER I bundled up and walked my neighborhood with the album playing and just breathed, watched and smiled.
Rateliff’s writing, his voice, and his almost spiritual understanding of my situation is something that is hard to explain. As I stepped around a path I have walked a hundred times I wasn’t sure if I was seeing new things or seeing old things differently. With his words in my ears my mind was quiet, and my mind always struggles to quiet.
A few weeks ago I took my first formal yoga class, last week I started a meditation program and both I am sure have assisted in cooling my mind, but music has been with me far longer than these two latest life tools, but the new ones make for a pretty useful box. Lyrics (or at least how I hear them on the record) from Mr. Rateliff are in italics.
..this wound is going to cancel me out..
People ask me how often to I think about my open heart surgery, and I tell them everytime I see the 10 inch scar on my chest. In reality it is more frequent than that, but how I think about my scars has changed. I’ve taken the scars and regrets of my youth and dropped them behind me the way you would your coat when you come in from the cold. Wounds don’t have to hold you back, and in fact they can propel you toward things you never knew you were capable of, like climbing Vermont’s tallest mountain seven months after having your heart stopped, completing a 14-mile trail jog in 90 degree heat or simply doing an hour of cardio in the same gym where the day before you dropped and were sent to the ER (I did all three of those).
..and you never know what is buried there unless you dig around..
Exploring yourself can be just as scary as a summiting a mountain or a joining an expedition into the heart of the Amazon. Meditation and yoga have only begun to dig under my skin and root around the depths of my soul. In that exploration I have found understanding and acceptance, the latter wasn’t easy. Shovels can take on many forms; books, sneakers, albums or even a stranger, and you can use them all to dig around your soul and toss the dirt aside.
..well I got pain, and I’m going to salt it now..
Pain was something I just got used to. It was always there and while uncomfortable at least it was reliable. Busted body, bruised psyche and battered vision were real things, but I see now they are only temporary. You can always come back after a fall, the sooner I quit licking my wounds the sooner I was able to cherish the moment, and then let that moment go and prepare for the next one.
..it took hours just to find the words..
I’m an overthinker. The tangents of my stories have tangents. I know this and I realize that rarely does figure eight speech result in a coherent lesson. The first thing yoga taught me was awareness, and meditation has broadened that awareness to a level that I have never achieved, and I’m just a beginner. Stories are great, and I have told my share and always will, but understanding the time and place for them has added to my efficiency and my listeners enjoyment for sure.
..the heart just won’t quit..
My heart could have given up. After being smacked around for decades only to have been stopped during surgery while a machine handled its duties I wouldn’t have blamed it if it never started again. There are times when we have all had enough. Times of pain, confusion, fear, hatred, times when you want to stop. But my heart started again, and it did so on its own. There is nothing stopping any one of us from starting again, just wake up and take that first breath.
..this space, has a name, that you can’t, put fame to it at all..
I love all the changes happening in my life. It’s exciting and makes for a fuller experience. Tea has replaced alcohol, cigar walks are now hikes, reading and writing have purpose, almost nothing is mindless.
..some songs we can sing and never mean, some songs leave a ring..
Friends can fade in and out of your life just like songs. They can show up in unexpected places like hearing Nirvana in a department store or Rita King coming out of an elevator in Memphis, and they can disappear without notice like most people on the Outer Cape do at this time every year or my copy of Petty’s “Wildflowers,” which haunts me to this day. I don’t waste time on why they came or even why they left, I use what they can show me or what they have graciously already taught me.
..there is always distance between a shout and a whistle..
My father yelled a lot. He also smiled, hugged, encouraged, assisted, cheered up, taught, believed and loved a lot. I often focused on the shouting; I don’t do that anymore, ever. I just remember the whistles.
..I don’t want to brag, but we made it out of here alive..
When my heart began to beat again it was as if someone flipped the record and dropped the needle on a new side. The unreleased, super secret basement recordings that were often rumored but are now starting to circulate among enthusiasts. Welcome.
..when I hit the ground, I’m gonna laugh out loud, gonna lay there awhile, and stare at the clouds..
Being present in every moment is a challenge, but a challenge with untapped rewards. An awareness, a captivation, a dream while awake, walking with a purpose and running with determination. I’m not looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow anymore, the rainbow is the pot of gold.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Thank you for being here with me.