Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Long And Weary Path

In much the same way he did every day at this time an elderly man walked hurriedly up the narrow lane, careful not to make eye contact with anyone, cursing under his breath this fate that had befallen him, silently resentful of the passers-by who were clearly more fortunate than himself. Today was like any other day for him. The breeze felt too cold and the sky was too white and blinding. The air was uncomfortably humid and each step seemed to bring a little more discomfort than the step before it. This had been going on for many years now.

It wasn't only the walking that had become progressively more difficult but the burden of life itself seemed to compound as today's troubles were heaped upon yesterday's troubles which were piled upon the troubles from the day before that. This progression went back as far as the man could remember. Things might have been better or different at some point in time but any memory of that was long gone. Even the narrow lane he was now walking on somehow seemed steeper and more foreboding than it had in previous times though he couldn't work out in his mind how this could possibly be true. There were many things he was unable to work out in his mind.

How many years now? How many years had it been since he had made the decision to walk this particular path at the exclusion of all others? Of course the answer to this question had long since faded from his memory. It really wasn't important anyway. He told himself this frequently. It wasn't important that there may have been other less cumbersome paths that would have been more kind to him over the years. It was useless to consider that indeed there may still be other options available, even now, after all that had happened. No. The decision had been made and that was that. Or was it?

In what had lately become a very rare occurrence – so rare that he could not recall the last time it had happened - a fresh and interesting thought appeared in his mind, a mind that had been repeating the same dreary and pointless cycle of thoughts for decades, a mind unable and unwilling to escape the inertia of it’s own bleak and self-defeating momentum. This thought came to him as a result of the previous question about his decision to tread this very path that he found himself on right now. Admittedly he had never questioned this decision before and admittedly this path had robbed him of his vitality, his youth, his optimism, his compassion, and an infinite number of other precious things that were now beyond the scope of his ability to remember them. Truly, the oppressiveness and weariness of this path could never be overstated.

The thought he had was this: Had he actually made the decision to travel this route he had been traveling for all of these years? Had it been a conscious choice? In what was an equally rare occurrence the man suddenly slowed his pace as he continued to make his way up the long and winding lane. He had walked this way thousands, maybe tens of thousands of times and how seldom it was that he ever actually slowed down. It was the unpleasantness of the surroundings that usually had him moving along as quickly as he possibly could, hoping to arrive at a more agreeable destination but (now that he thought about it) never actually achieving that.

No… He was sure of it. He had never actually made the decision to travel on this unfriendly, insufferable path. The decision had somehow been made for him. Almost everyone traveled this same path, which seemed to be the only reason – as far as he could tell – that anyone traveled this path at all.

By this time the man had stopped in his tracks and was standing completely, absolutely, still. This was much more than a rare occurrence. This – in fact – was something that had never happened before in the man’s history. Suddenly his surroundings seemed alien and hostile, even more so than before, and the sky became dark. Something like fear gripped him but it was stronger than any fear he had known before. It came over him with such ferocity and quickness that the term ‘fear’ was inadequate to describe exactly what he was feeling. Maybe this was it. Maybe death was approaching. But...there was this sound, far off in the distance, very faint. It was a sound so improbable - indeed impossible - given where he was.

The strangeness of such a sound in these surroundings was enough to rid the man of the crippling fear he had experienced just seconds prior to hearing it. Surely he must be losing his mind. It was faint but he could now begin to recognize what he was hearing, such a beautiful sound that it was. Music…Mozart? Beethoven? He couldn’t tell. He had never had much skill in identifying composers. And how many years had it been since he had heard music? The real question however, was how in the world was it possible to be hearing music in this environment. It was physically impossible and he knew this.

But something about the improbability of what was occurring sparked a flood of insight and realization about many of the questions that had appeared in his mind over the past few minutes or hours – whichever the case was – he wasn’t sure now, answers about the path and his choices and his present condition and other wonderful and fascinating things that he had no context for. The sky was no longer dark and his surroundings no longer seemed hostile but rather the exact opposite. Bright white light was pervading the atmosphere at a gradually increasing rate. The trees (which usually seemed like looming, malicious beasts of prey) now seemed not only friendly and welcoming, but almost sacred. He felt as if they - along with every plant, flower, and blade of grass - were smiling warmly at him, unmistakably aware of his own presence and miraculous beyond description. And this music...this symphony of music…so strange and out of place, becoming clearer and louder and more confusing, but the concept of confusing was becoming a moot point as events continued to unfold.

The light became even brighter and the music even louder; unbearably bright, and now impossibly loud. Everything else began to recede into the background. And then…

The morning sunlight flooded into the bedroom as Ben slowly opened his eyes, grinning and quite pleased with himself for changing the dial last night on his alarm clock radio from the hard rock station to classical.

12 comments:

Anna said...

very good first writting...I enjoyed every minute. I did however find the ending abrupt. I had to go back and reread to make sure I understood. It was good because you captured the reader. Can't wait until your next post:)

annemarie said...

Hey Mr. Ben There :)

I thoroughly enjoyed that story. Was completely taken by it. I swear I was walking that road, trudging along with the old guy, straining, depressed, every thing... And though the ending was somewhat abrupt, it still made me grin. :) And I love the moral within the moral too. Choices. Well done!
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Now I've got a wee story for you...there was a young woman of 23 or 24 who'd had chronic asthma since she was 13. She used an inhaler several times a day because she'd have attacks several times a day. She'd become friends with an older woman, the mother of a school mate of hers. And they got to talking a lot, about a lot of different things.

The older woman was a smoker, and the younger woman used to ask the older one to please not smoke in her presence as smoking caused her to have attacks. The older woman knew that smoking was not the cause of her asthma attacks, but wanted the younger one to feel comfortable in her presence. So the smoker would sit near an open window while smoking and gave the asthmatic girl a candle to keep near her as she sat on the other side of the room. She told her that the candle would absorb some of the smoke if it went in her direction; which it did, but it was more of a placebo than anything else.

Anyhow, the older woman had more that she wanted to tell the younger one about asthma, but she hesitated because she knew it was important to not encroach upon others belief systems about asthma, and other things too.

So over the course of about a year, the two women had many deep and delightful conversations about many things...

And so one evening, while the younger woman was talking about her adolescence, about the time when she began to have asthma attacks and needed to employ an inhaler in order to breathe...she remarked that she started acting out at that age, started to rebel against her mother and other authorities...Then the older woman asked her why she rebelled or what she was rebelling against, the young woman replied, "because she won't let me breathe." And she continued talking, sort of rambling, not realizing what a mouthful she'd just uttered.

But I did. I was stunned by her revelation so I interrupted her and said, "repeat what you just said." She stopped, turned and looked wide-eyed at me and said, "Holy shit! She won't let me breathe. My mother won't let me breathe. Oh my god, that's it. That's why I have asthma."

And though I don't practice medicine, and though we were only having a conversation, in therapeutic circles that moment is called a breakthrough. And it was marvellous to witness.

It's been about 2 1/2 years since that evening, and Donna (who's also long been an amazing athlete too btw) hasn't used an inhaler or had an asthma attack. She did however do something she'd never done before. She asserted herself in her relationship with her mother, she firmly but gently reminded her mother that while she appreciated her concern, care and advice, that she was going to live her own life, on her own terms, and didn't need to be babied or constantly told what to do.

She also managed to lovingly explain to her mother how she'd been SMOTHERING her with care, worry, fear, anxiety and Judgements for a long time, and that it had to stop. Her mother's behaviour didn't change overnight, but Donna's did. She took responsibility for her own health, her own life, and she's never looked back. She also began reading about wholistic (alternative) health and she applied what she learned about emotions and health or dis-ease to other areas of her life, and has had several other successes (healing) as a result.

I don't see her or talk to her that much these days, but when she calls now and then she's always happy to tell me that she's still asthma and inhaler free!

I realize that this story may or may not resonate with you and others. But it's true. And there are several others like it, that I've personally experienced (and countless more that I've read about) so I felt it worth sharing.

Besides, the body never lies. Emotions, if not expressed, are stored in the body. That's a fact. Though most people don't really give that much thought, they ought to. The body never lies. And if you've got asthma, you might want to do some soul searching to determine if/who somebody is not letting you breathe, if perhaps someone is smothering you with their concerns, affections, attentions, advice, judgements, etc.

p.s. If you find this story inappropriate or awkward or something, you don't have to publish it; I won't mind. Besides you didn't ask for anyone's advice on asthma, so this is entirely unsolicited. Still, I wanted to share it with you because you did mention that you have asthma, and I don't believe that it's the incense per se that causes it. Though it is likely that you are INCENSED about someone or something which you don't feel comfortable expressing (yet). And the incense (the smoky stuff) is or may be a trigger. And that you may not know how to express yourself to them; how to tell them how you completely and honestly feel about certain things which they do that suffocates or smothers you. And it's possible that you may not know how to do/say it without hurting them, because you care so much about them and their feelings. But you need to find a way, because it's choking you, making you sick? And that is likely at the root of this dis-ease, this asthma that you have.

p.s. I'm not suggesting that the smell of smoke or incense (or other things) does not bother some people. It does. And it's all a matter of tastes, likes or dislikes too. However, it's not the smell of smoke or incense per se which causes or triggers or aggravates asthma, for example. It's deeper than that. Just wanted to clarify this point.

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btw, cool profile you old fart! ha,ha. Oh yeah, Bob Marley is a genius. Yesiree. One love. And all that jazz. Latah,

benmama said...

Who said the apple doesn't too far from the tree? Well, my "apple" fell pretty damn far from the tree since writing a simple essay in high school would send me into deep depression! Way to go, Ben There!! Enjoyed it and I will always be impressed, amazed and proud to be your mom. Looking forward to future postings and am happy I'm not such an old dog(or bitch) to learn new tricks!!

Ben There said...

Hi Annemarie,

Thank you so much for the kind words and thanks for stopping by the blog of an incensed beer drinker. I was really hoping to do a few plays myself on the term “Incense” in my blog title but between you and Tony I think I’ve been beaten to the punch.

As for the asthma…

I developed(?) asthma when I was around 4 years old. It was a problem for me until my early teens and then it practically disappeared until about 3 or 4 years ago. I finally broke down and went to an allergy and asthma specialist about a year ago and he confirmed something I had been thinking. He said the pattern I described was very common; something to do with hormone levels boosting at puberty and then peaking and declining in your twenties (very late twenties in the case of a late bloomer like myself). Higher testosterone somehow has a positive effect on asthma. When it levels off the symptoms can return; relatively mild in my case but still more than ten years ago.

I guess I’m a pretty rare and lucky case because I don’t really have anyone in my life that gives me grief or smothers me in any way (and never have). Everyone in my life (parents included) is pretty good about letting me be myself , make my own decisions and do my thing. I can honestly say that I have been blessed with great personal relationships pretty much all of my life. Of course, I’m married and every marriage has it’s issues but even in that department I think I’ve fared pretty well. We work through and are all the better for it. I’m not trying to sound all Pollyanna-ish here but just stating the truth (or my perception of it). My emotional baggage level is pretty much nil; which is something I do not take for granted and give thanks for on a regular basis. Part of that is the result of effort on my part and a large part of it is also just good fortune or luck, totally beyond my control.

You are absolutely right about undealt with emotions being stored in the body and having the potential and tendency to manifest as physical illness. But not every ailment can be traced to that. Biology, genetics, and environment can and do play a role.

I do appreciate you sharing the asthma story though; I know for a fact that it is and will be helpful to anyone who reads it, in addition to being entertaining and well written.

My asthma at this time is very mild. I had some bad bouts last fall and early winter but this year has been very easy. I also am very athletic and that helps my cause for sure. I only mentioned asthma in the blog description because I did that bit in a hurry and I needed something to put there :) (Fact of the matter is I despise incense and my beer consumption is pretty pathetic these days. The blog title will probably make more sense as thing progress here…assuming they progress.)

Thanks again for coming by and commenting.

kikz05 said...

hi from allen tx...

there was some prob w/my post..
retrying....

anyway, just a wave from the north 40, dark heart of the evil empire west...

enjoyed your work..

k*

Anonymous said...

Ben there Don that!

Ben There said...

Hello there Kikz,

Greetings from the southside...and here I was almost sure I was the only commenter on Les's blogs from Texas. Dark heart of the evil empire..hehe...less than a day's drive to Mordor huh... Thanks for popping in here and commenting and I am glad you enjoyed the post.

Candycane said...

I don't think you are allowed to say anna's posts are long. lol. like your writing........ :)

Ben There said...

Hi Candlebox,

In a contest between Anna and I to see who can rack up the highest word count on a blog post, I win every time :)

Thank you for dropping by and I'm glad you liked it...

Visible said...

Hi Ben!

What a great blog and some fine early efforts. I'm impressed, none too shabby my friend.

Ben There said...

Les!

Many thanks man...Welcome to the blog that is well on it's way to an identity crisis.

Candycane said...

writing is so therapeutic, I feel bad for those who don't do it. You don't have to be "good" at it- I mean YOU are, but one doesn't need to be in order for it to be a healing thing, even writing fiction....okay enough champagne, my day is winding down...