Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jumping off the Merry-Go-Round

I'm spinning on one of those playground toys that goes around and around.  If it slows someone jumps off and pushes it faster and faster before jumping back on.  Sitting in the middle, the centrifugal force makes my head roll around in slow motion, nodding forward then leaning back and then forward and back.  I'm dizzy, but it is going too fast to jump off.  It slows and I want to make the leap but just then it is pushed again until the scenery is just a blur and I don't dare escape.

The Christmas lights went up just after Halloween this year and now on the last day of December they are being replaced with Valentine's day decorations.  Store shelves that only a week ago held last-minute discounts on Christmas supplies are now draped in red and pink with hearts and chocolates and cardboard cupids.  Next the Easter bunny will rest briefly on those shelves.  Before we know it the stores will be a blast of red, white and blue as we approach that uniquely American July day of celebration.  Then it is back-to-school clothes and supplies, just about the time we are ready to start wearing shorts and swimsuits in the summer sunshine.  And on and on it goes.

My e-mail box was loaded with Black Friday deals, then Cyber-Monday price-slashing followed by discounts that grew deeper and deeper as Christmas approached.  By evening on December 25th, the ads had switched to after-Christmas deals at "rock bottom prices."  Some people shop on the 26th to get cheap gifts they will give a year from now, stocking up on half-priced wrapping paper and Christmas cards that will be stored away and forgotten when it comes time to use it all.   And soon, about three weeks into actual Winter, the spring clothes will be out and it will be a frenzy of winter clearance sales.

My Oprah magazine arrives promising that 2014 is my year to shine - inside I will learn how to "brighten everything from my mood to my style, one easy tweak at a time."  There is a diet quiz that I can take and on page 130 I'll find "Oprah's Foolproof Stress Cure."  There is The secret to a great makeover and an "inspiring, powerful," new novel that Oprah has discovered.  I am worn out just reading the front cover.  Oprah has such high expectations.  Inside I am introduced to a few of her favorite things, a "Gratitude Meter," and a plan for finding joy.  Phew!  In this single issue I might find the power to really get my life together.

I want off.  I want to stop spinning.  Who is pushing this thing anyhow?  Clearly corporate America alone has the strength to make the Merry-Go-Round spin faster and faster without stopping.  And I have realized that every time I buy something that I don't need, I am adding strength to the push.  Each time I see an advertisement and believe that my life will be just a little bit better if only I had one more..., or a newer version....or a smaller or bigger or faster or shinier - whatever, I help the Merry-Go-Round spin.

And so I am going to focus on getting off of this thing.  I am tired of being dizzy and all this head bobbing is clearly not good for the mind in the long-term.  I want to put my foot out and drag it in the dirt to try and slow the rotation enough to jump off.  I won't take advantage of the after-Christmas or winter-clearance offerings.  Even if a shirt is only $10, that is $10 I don't need to spend because I already have too many shirts that I never wear.  I don't need more books on my Kindle - I have enough to keep reading for a year or two and even at $1.99, I don't need to add to my collection.  When I run out of things to read I'm sure I'll find a deal or two that will help me re-load my library.

I am not making any resolutions for 2014 - even that is some idea thought up to make us all feel inadequate so that we spend more money trying to feel better about ourselves.  Joining gyms, buying into diet programs, spending hundreds of dollars on containers so that we'll be more organized - if I want to get fit, lose weight or manage my junk, I can do that in March, or perhaps October - there is nothing powerful about January 1st.

So my effort to slow down the Merry-Go-Round is not a resolution, it is more of a leap towards greater peace.  I know what makes me happy (in no particular order):

Time with Sam
Growing my own herbs and vegetables
Visits from the kids
Time with small groups of friends

None of my truest happiness depends on things.  There is not a discount available that will enrich any of the activities listed above.  I'm letting my Oprah subscription expire- even that I tried to do a year ago but I was sent deal after deal until I finally bit.  She offered me a bag of some sort if I renewed my subscription at the low price of $12 for a year, but I had to hurry because there was a limited number of bags.  I kicked myself when the cheap, and not very attractive, bag arrived and then the monthly dose of what-I-should-be-doing hype.  Not this year Oprah - I'm on to you and I am also done with you.  I'm certain I will find more joy on my own than in the pages of a perfumed periodical.

I suspect this will take time.  If I put my foot out while spinning at a fast speed I might catch it on something and have to climb back on for a few revolutions.  I know that dragging my foot will kick up dust and those on the Merry-Go-Round might yell at me to either get off or get back on.  But I will do it.  I can't shake the image now and I feel empowered at the idea of eventually walking away while most will continue to spin and spin until they can no longer think straight.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Body in the Water

As I approached the intersection I noticed two police cars parked on the bridge across the street. "Crime Scene" tape blocked the sidewalk so I crossed to the other side of the street and then crossed to the bridge.  A crowd was gathering above the stream and curiosity got the best of me.  Once past the police cars and crime tape, I jogged across to where others were standing.  A small group of smokers leaned along the railing looking into the stream.  I asked one woman what was going on and she gestured with her cigarette, "there's a body in the water."  I looked, while dodging the smoke that drifted towards me.  Sure enough, there was a body in the water.

If I had seen it on my own it would have taken a few minutes to recognize what I was seeing.  It was face down, snagged in a tree limb that had washed down stream in the fullness of the spring current.  I noticed that the back was broad and commented, "It looks like a man;"  the woman gestured again pointing out that it was only wearing a "G-string."  Sure enough, there was a thong. It was then that I fully realized that the body was naked, except for the thong, and that the pale grey color was actually skin and the broad back was the result of bloating.

I left the smokers and walked around the park imagining life-stories that would end with a body naked, bloated, snagged on a tree limb in a foot of water.  Was she a hooker?  A drug addict?  A run-away.  Did anyone miss her?  Had her life been considered disposable by others? How does a person end up this way?

Headed back to work I saw that the group was still gathered so I stopped to see if they knew anymore.  By now the stench of death hung heavily in the air.  I wanted to get away from it, but that seemed disrespectful.  I got to the railing just as the firemen climbed into the water with the yellow body bag.  They struggled to free the body from the tree limb and eventually flopped it into the bag.  I noticed that the arms and legs were thin; I couldn't see a head.  The woman next to me declared, "It doesn't have a head!" 

Back in the office I checked the "Statesman Journal" online for an article about the dead body.  The same day a man drowned in the Clackamas river and that was reported, but nothing about my dead body. 

It wasn't until the early hours of the next morning when I woke in the dark and pictured the body that I felt at all creepy about it.  And only for a minute.  Mostly I felt sadness, curiosity, fascination and an odd sense of honor.  I felt honored to have been able to witness this person's end.  I felt like I wanted to extend some sort of respect and dignity to whoever it was.  I wanted their life to have mattered in some way, to someone.  I didn't want them to be forgotten.  I'll never forget.

The next afternoon there was finally a story in the paper.  It turns out the body was a man.  So much for assuming that only women wear thongs.  He was described as 5' 6" and 144 pounds.   Much smaller than he appeared while bloated.  That explained the thin limbs.  The description said he had no teeth.  Which means he DID have a head.  There was no physical trauma to the body so homicide was not suspected.  So much was different than what I thought I had observed from only a few feet away.  The police asked for help identifying him as he did not match any missing person reports.  They thought he had been in the water "for some time."  I was sad.  How could you be dead for "some time," and not have anyone file a missing person report?

By the next day he had been identified. He was a 28 year old transient.  His name was Lole Rubio Zendejas.  His family came forward based on the description and the police were able to get a fingerprint.  He had a long rap sheet and had a reputation for jumping into this same stream to get away from the police.  He had been a drug addict.

Many would probably lose interest at this point.  A homeless druggie, oh well.  The news stories focused on the irony that he had used the stream to evade police.  But I thought about his mother, and his sisters, and his cousin who was quoted in the paper talking about how they had played as kids.  At some point in his life he had been loved and cared for.  But by the age of 28 he had been given up on.  He was homeless; how does that happen unless your family has given up?  His cousin said that he thought he had been clean for 7 months.  What happened?  Did he use again and just go for broke and this is how it ended?

It has been a week now and I continue to think about him throughout the day.  Life is precious in many ways. But it can end so easily.  I place such value on the lives of those I love, and on my own life.  Safety, health and exercise are priorities to me because I want to care for my body.  I want to live a long life.  I think about how I spend my time and whether or not I will make a positive contribution to this world.  But life can be taken from us so easily. 

Our bodies are just shells that house our spirits for a time.  This thing that we groom and dress up and fuss over is temporary.  Under the best of circumstances it will age, get wrinkly and spotted; flesh will sag and hair will turn grey.  Many are taken before their bodies deteriorate. 

What I saw in the water was not Lole Rubio Zendejas.  It was just a body.  I hope that his spirit has found some peace and that his family will sense that.