Saturday, February 12, 2005


I was sitting on the dunes just above the surf on a warm September evening when I first saw Mary. The sun had not yet set and the golden rays were glistening on the swirling waters breaking chaotically on the beach. The colors were beautiful; golden yellow, deep azure blue and sparkling green. The water was flowing chaotically around clumps of sand and rock near the shore and spray occasionally burst onto the face of the dune. On one level, it was totally unpredictable and the water could take any number of different paths as it flowed onto the beach and receded back to the great mother sea. It would be impossible to predict what path a floating object would take as it bobbed, apparently aimlessly, just beyond the breakers.

But there was a kind of serene order to it as the various pathways became clear and a certain order emerged from the chaos. Life itself has this same kind of appearance. On one level, it appears chaotic as people move about and change their jobs, their homes, their loves. A single event can change a person's life forever, and it is impossible to anticipate or control these events. But as I look deeper, certain patterns seemed to emerge as the chaos slowly goes out of focus and the orderliness becomes evident. People live, they die, they marry, they love, they hate, they laugh, they cry and they get hurt. Not much ever seems to change if you step back from your own personal situation and view the great panorama of existence. Surely the world is unfolding as it should whether or not it is clear to me how or why.

Mary had gotten up and taken her shoes and stockings off and was wading in the shallow pools of swirling water. As I watched her longingly, my soul was nearly exploding. I was standing at the very center of the wild heart of life. She was like a sea-bird that had just alighted as she stepped gracefully among the rocks and the swirling rivulets of water. Her skirts were pulled up above her knees, to avoid the spray of water that was dancing around her feet. Her legs were bronze and smooth and the tiny droplets of water glistened like diamonds on her skin. Her hair was blowing carelessly in the warm breezes as it fell here and there around her bare shoulders. I watched her for a few minutes but I couldn't see her face. I got up and began to walk towards her and as I did, she turned her head around slowly. As the setting sun splashed across her face, I could see that she was without a doubt the most beautiful girl that I had ever seen.

I turned to my brother, who was sitting next to me on the sandy shore. "Who is she?" I asked. "She's a senior at our school, I think her name is Mary." Now I remembered. Seniors had very little use for freshmen, and the joke was that the only time a senior would notice you was if you dropped dead in the hall, and they had to walk around you. Mary was a cheerleader but her life did not revolve solely around school. She had a boyfriend, who had graduated and he also had a car. He would be waiting for her each afternoon and they would drive away together, undoubtedly to adventures that I could only imagine in my wildest dreams. But the hopelessness of my situation certainly didn't dissuade me from my longings. I became obsessed with her, and followed her each day as she passed from class to class. Sometimes I would even cut chemistry to go to the cafeteria where she would eat her lunch and I would sit there and just watch her and silently plan our lives together. Each day I would adamantly vow that this would be the day I would speak to her. But what to say? I went over and over in my mind how it would go. But I never got up the nerve. Never even once. By June, my hopes had diminished and finally she graduated and as far as I was concerned, I would never get the chance again.

When we returned to school in September I was filled constantly with a great emptiness. Actually, there was no reason at all to come to school any more. But gradually the pain subsided as new adventures filled my days and I began to look forward to the following year, which would be my senior year. Sometime around Halloween of that year, news began to circulate that a girl from our school was pregnant. The school officials were quick to point out that although she had attended the school last year, she had graduated and no longer could be considered to be under their moral guidance or responsibility. We soon learned that the girl under discussion was none other than my beloved Mary. Information was very hard to come by because in 1961 there was a tremendous stigma attached to these kinds of occurrences. Most people adopted the view that the less said the better. Would she marry the boy? Would she raise the child herself? Would it be put up for adoption? No one seemed to know.

The approach of the holiday season distracted our attention. Soon it was New Year's Eve, 1962, and I had just turned 18. I was allowed to accompany my mother and father to the local tavern where we would welcome the New Year. I was cautioned that I would only be allowed one glass of champagne, at the stroke of midnight, but after a short while, my parents lost track of my activities and I was on my own. I found the whole situation rather depressing and kind of silly. Here I was on New Years Eve, in a bar with my parents. I began to think about my predicament. Most of the girls I knew were still under age, and certainly would not have been allowed to accompany me to a bar. Those girls that were old enough to drink had boyfriends who were even older, and certainly would not have wasted their time with me. So I had more or less resigned myself to my fate and set about planning how I would make next year better.

It was a little after 1:00 a.m. and I was falling asleep, wishing that my parents would tire of the party and decide to go home. I was suddenly jolted awake by the piercing sound of the siren from the fire department down the street. It's purpose was to alert volunteer firemen to respond to some emergency. I waited for the horn. Four blasts in a row meant a house fire. I heard one...then two....silence. Only an aided case. Probably some old guy had a heart attack. Or a car crash. Within moments, two police cars raced by, followed by an ambulance. Everyone piled out into the street. The crash was just down the road. "Can anyone see anything"? "A car hit a pole near Boundary Avenue!' "Who is it?", "what kind of car?" "It's a '59 Impala convertible, with a white top" I felt like I had been hit in the head with a baseball bat. I knew that car. After all, I had seen it almost every day last year, waiting at the school gate.

We are flesh, and we are spirit. We have bones, and we have grace. We are mind, and we are soul. We have a name, and we have a face. We have eyes, and we can see, we can touch, and we can feel. We are happy and we are sad, we are good and we are bad. But why must we die? It's been 38 years since that awful night, and I still remember it like it was today. I sometimes drive by the spot and just stop and think about the indifference of life to our deepest feelings. I think to myself, how cruel it is to give us life and then snatch it away mercilessly, without regard to those who care about us. But we are the exception. The world does not care. Only we care. It is a special quality that raises us to the pinnacles of joy and then plunges us into the depths of despair. And we cannot help but wondering why.

We used to get our Christmas tree at the lot across from K-Mart. Ever since I was a kid, we would go there and hassle old George about the price. After a while it became kind of a joke. But old George was gone now, and a shopping center stood on his spot. The only other place to get a good tree now was at Frank's Nursery, down by Wantagh Avenue. I set out as I had so many times before but there would be no more haggling. Each tree was bar-coded and the cashiers just zapped it with the computer and that was it. I found a nice tree, not the best ever, but not the worst and dragged it up to the wrapper. A young kid, about 15 or 16 cut off the tag and told me to take it inside to the cashier.

Inside, it was crowded and I waited patiently on line, not paying much attention. It soon became my turn and I pulled out my tag and handed it to the young girl. I hadn't noticed her face, but as she slowly turned towards me, the sunlight splashed across her face. I could see that, without a doubt, she was the most beautiful girl that I had ever seen. "Mary?" I blurted out. She looked at me kind of funny, and then looked down at her smock. There were two small holes where her name tag usually was, but it was missing. "Yes." she replied, "but how do you know my name?" "I don't know. You reminded me of someone, I think." But I knew. "It's kind of unusual to have an old-fashioned name like Mary" I said. "Most everyone today is Allison, or Jessica." "Well, I was named after my grandmother. She was killed in a car accident a long time ago."
I stood there mute. I wanted to pour out the whole story, to touch her, to know her. But what to say? Would she understand, would she care? I looked directly into her eyes. It was enough for me that she existed. There was nothing here for me anymore. Nor was there ever. It was just a child's infatuation. I took my receipt and walked quickly out of the store.

When people are transported back in time, they must be very careful not to disturb anything. Any change, no matter how inconsequential, could alter the future. Time is like the flow of water onto a beach from the great mother, the sea. Every once in a while, some cosmic disturbance will cause a backflow, and a finger of the sea will find it's way into the backstream. But at the next wave, it is washed away, and the great mother sea rolls on, as it has since the beginning.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Arthur Miller

"All My Sons" is my favorite:

"We used to shoot a man who acted like a dog, but honour was real there ...But here? This is the land of the great big dogs, you don't love a man here, you eat him. That's the principle; the only one we live by - it just happened to kill a few people this time, that's all. The world's that way..."

This is the kind of stuff that should be in every English curriculum in every high school in the United States because it teaches us about duty, honor, compassion, responsibility and ethics, values that seem to be sorely missing from todays world.

"Once and for all you must know that there's a universe of people outside, and you're responsible to it."

It rings as true today as it did in 1947.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Kaua'i and Moloka'i

Gail and I recently visited Kaua'i and Moloka'i.
Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands and therefore the most eroded. It's often called the "garden island" because of its lush vegetation. It's my second favorite, after Maui of course!
The most prominent landform on Kaua'i is the Waimea Canyon, called "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific". It's not the Grand Canyon but it sure is impressive. Also, on the northwest side of the island is the NaPali Coast, with its 4000 foot high cliffs and magnificent waterfalls. This is not accessible by car, so you must hike in, take a boat or fly.
Moloka'i also has sea cliffs that are over 3000 feet high and is the island where Father Damien administered to sufferers of Hansen's Disease (leprosy) in the 19th century. The Kalaupapa region, where his colony was located is also inaccesible by car and you can either fly in or take the mule trek.

To see an album of pictures, click HERE