Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Looking Around

When we got off the ferry at Macinaw Island, Keith made a bee-line for the hotel, carrying suitcases and gear, his eyes straight ahead, Graham at his heels. I was lagging further and further behind, craning my neck, studying the crowds, the horse buggies and carriages, the buildings, the shops, the color, noise and excitement. I wanted to stop, take pictures of everything, watch, grok.

The hotel was at the edge of town. I finally caught up with Keith and we schlepped the gear upstairs.

I said, somewhat miffed, "Why did we run through town? I wanted to look around."

I was thinking he probably wanted to divest himself of the gear, so I was really surprised when he said he didn't think I'd be interested. He thought I'd be eager to get out on the trails in the woods and along the shore. I thought to myself, you don't know me yet, sweetie, but you will, someday.

Walking in the woods and countryside is one of my favorite pastimes. Another is visiting exciting city or townscapes. Industry. Or devastated areas. I like diversity. When I joined The Traveler:s Directory, we had to write a self-portrait. I wrote, “I like simplicity and complexity.”

I like to camp in the wilderness and walk along stretches of deserted beach or through open snow in winter. And I like to visit large industrial complexes. I get very excited by places like Hamilton, Ontario where there are stacks belching fire and barges and ships unloading and piles of raw materials and piles of refuse and gulls flying in and out and machines and big buildings. Today (I mean yesterday, it’s all a blur now) I drove by and the industrial building were layered in shades of grey from the moisture and heat in the air. I would have liked to take pictures. (I spoke about this on my voice recorder—I may possibly transcribe it and add it in here if I ever have time.)

I don't mean to imply that industrial complexes, wastelands, and crowds are good. In fact, I would prefer to imply that they might not be. But, they are. They are interesting. Sometimes exciting. Sometimes photogenic.

What do I give my time and attention to? My time is my life?

This question is relevant, and specifically relevant to this issue, because I can choose to spend time in nature getting relaxed and serene, enjoying the beauty, or I can go to a Carnival and enjoy the flashing lights and the barkers and smells. Or I could write a poem or a story. I could work on pictures in Photoshop or clean the house or work in the garden. Or, I could choose to do something that helps other people in some way. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or at an inner city school.

My time and my attention can be given to a variety of things. Right now, I am in the Emergency Room at the Hospital waiting for my mother’s doctor. I'd like to use the restroom, but I'm afraid at leave. It's 1:21 AM and I am still here.

It reminds me of a Zen story. This man had all these plans, but he saw a robber robbing an old woman and he stopped the robber. The old woman was injured so he got help for her. There he found a beggar boy who had nothing to eat so he went and bought some food for the beggar boy and came back and fed him. The story continues like that. It the end of the day, the man had done none of the things he set out to do, but when he saw what he had done instead, he saw the value and importance of doing what was given to him to do.

I am probably telling it all wrong. I am probably simplifying and explaining too much. The important thing, I think, is to be alive and to do what is given to you to do in the best and most honorable way you can. To be awake. To see and hear and smell and love. To speak with kindness. To do what is given to you to do.

Now I am given just this: my 81-year-old mother with severe chest pain, exhaustion from the long drive from Detroit. The overly bright fluorescent lights. The absent doctor and busy nurse. This is what is given to me to do.

Earlier, in this period of waking, no longer “today,” I took a walk at Niagara falls and saw squirrels and sparrows and seagulls and falling water that weighed 8 pounds a gallon. At that point, I was given space to walk and sunshine, drifting mists, salt spray roses. Things to take pictures of.

Before that, I saw the industrial complex at Hamilton. The stacks and gulls and barges.

Before that, I saw the cornfields with their long rows opening and closing as I passed, and the hayfields being harvested, and a lightning storm. I thought about the life and death of an imaginary person, Billy Owens. That led me to think about people from early my life.

I believe in simplicity and complexity, in diversity. In being engaged. In being.

In the hall, people hurry by pushing gurneys. Someone has been shot. I look around. Watch and wait. Reach out and take my mother’s hand.

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