2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

THANKS READERS, FOLLOWERS, COMMENTATORS, FELLOW BLOGGERS, AND VISITORS!

I Look forward to reading more of your work in 2015 (and being more communicative in the doing).

Blessings and Best Wishes for a Happy, Prosperous, and Productive New Year.

Alfred

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 670 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Alone on Christmas Eve

Still feels strange to be alone on Christmas Eve. I’ve been divorced for awhile now. I put everything into my family; I guess too much of my identity went into being a son,  a father and husband.

Parents passed, kids grown, wife gone, seeing no one, and alone.

There’s God, but He seems a bit remote tonight, like the stars. Beautiful, brilliant, a little bit visible, but very, very far away.  That’s ironic, considering it’s the night He sent His Son, and I know that isn’t true, but darkness and loneliness have a way of working on your mind…

When the papers were signed and everything was finalized, I spread the word, not happy in the least.
“Now it’s your turn,” everyone said.
I agreed, but didn’t ask: “My turn to do what?”

I was a son, a husband, and a father…

The words of my middle school teachers came back to me:
‘You should write…’

The words of my high school English teachers came back to me: ‘You should write…’

The words of my stepmother came back to me after I read the eulogy I wrote for my dad: “You should write…”

So writing is what I do now that I’m alone.
I’m no longer a son, or a husband, though still a father; just not needed as much, or at least in the same way.

Someone suggested I go out for dinner, but the sight of a single person eating alone makes people uncomfortable, and quite frankly, I’d feel uncomfortable too.

So tonight, it’s writing, it’s playing my long-neglected bass, it’s listening to carols, it’s sleeping in, it’s remembering the good times. It’s a toast to the spirit of Christmas Past.

It’s contacting my family and friends to tell them Merry Christmas.

It’s wishing…and hoping…and praying, because I’m no good at being selfish, no good at being alone.
But I’m not in despair, because there’s everything to live for. New life has to be created from the ashes of the old, and I was never a quitter.

God is the God of ‘suddenly,’ but He is also the God of working things out. Surrendering has been difficult, but it’s also been required, and so what choice do I really have?

So, whether you believe or not, please bear with me for a moment, and grant me the grace tonight to say to you:

Merry Christmas,  Wordpress, Writehere, Twitter, and fb readers and family. Thank you for your support, your kindness, your encouraging comments, and your edits. Thank you for giving me reasons to continue to pursue this, and by doing so, to become better than I am today.

And whatever your personal beliefs, may your celebrations be joyful, your gatherings peaceful, and your efforts fruitful, now and throughout the coming year.

And who knows? Next year this time I might be married with a pregnant wife, and we’re traveling to…(hey, wait a minute, that could be a story….    🙂

Closing Spaces (Saadia’s Story)

The following story is for my cousin, Saadia, who passed away suddenly back in July. When we were kids, she had a library of children’s stories from around the world; for whatever reason, the Spanish tales were her favorite, though we’re not a Spanish family. I think she just liked the language, and the rhythm of the writing, but mostly, she liked hearing me read them.

We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, so this is, in a way, a tribute tale for her, from my own imagination; my candle, if you will. I think she would’ve liked it.

I hope you do too. 

melissa-landres-Indio-toddler-baby-photographer-1

Maria sat on the steps of her home, her sweater folded into a cushion, her left leg curled beneath her. The setting sun lit her face and hair with a soft glow.
Autumn colors filled her eyes, and a bittersweet sadness twinged in her heart for the leaves that were dying.

But sometimes,
Maria,’ a voice said, ‘a leaf of green breaks off in the spring, and never experiences the joy of changing.’

Her journal sat open, untouched, beside her.

Manny, her older brother came out and sat beside her; they smiled at each other, but said nothing. He too, looked out at the fading day.
“Do you think about Noa?” Maria asked, finally.
“Every day,” he answered.
He tapped her journal. “Not writing today?”
She sighed. “Can’t think of anything.”
He placed an unfurled strand of dark hair back over her ear, gave her cheek a light kiss.
“Close your eyes; you’ll think of something.”

Maria did, and heard the door open and close as he went back inside.

A soft wind stirred, and the smell of the earth came to her, and the scent of maple, and Mama’s cooking, and her thoughts drifted back on the currents until she found Noa’s little face, who in her brief life had given her sister the brightest of smiles.

The last of the warmth of the sun cupped Maria’s glistening cheeks in its rays, setting them alight.
She wiped her eyes with her fingertips, took a deep breath, settled her heart, and let the memories come.

She wrote then: of singing young girls of her childhood who shadowed the swaying hips of their elders, picking herbs and gathering seeds in palm leaf baskets, of sharing bread and fruit and fresh water with friends, of watching the stars through her window, counting until she fell asleep, of the feel of cool river water on a hot day, of secret glances at secret crushes, who smiled shyly back.

Of dancing in the rain with muddy feet, ruined hair, a drenched sundress, and a full and joyful heart.
Of the addicting sweetness of candy and chocolate, and mama’s frown when they ate it all.

Of fishing with papa, watching the sun scatter hammered gold and diamonds of light on the rippling waves, and how the smacking snap of jumping fish sounded like applause, and his contagious excitement when a catch was good, and his tranquility reflecting the still water when nothing took the bait, and they returned home.

“Then Mama says ‘I guess we’ll catch the fish at the grocery store.’ Papa frowns at her, but we can tell he’s trying not to laugh, and then we all go out to eat.”

Of the sad songs she’d play on her guitar by candlelight in her room when it rained outside, songs she could not remember, and never played again.

Of how things were back to normal, but would never be the same.

*************
The evening star popped out like silver cufflink on a dark blue shirt.
Mama came to the door: “Dinnertime, bonita.”
“In a minute,” she said.
“All right. Don’t let it get cold.”
“I won’t.”

She went inside a few minutes later, and looked at the empty place that was always set for someone who was supposed to be there. She thought about the empty space they always left in the family photos, how they walked together with a space between them, something they had done at first that had now become habit, if not ritual.
And an idea came to Maria, one that she would tell them tonight after dinner.
*********************
In the car the following morning everyone was quiet, thinking about what they would do when they arrived. Her father had seen the merit of it, her mother was hesitant, but went along, and Manny had just nodded, unsure of what to say.

After dinner, she had given them empty pages in her journal to write what they wanted to say, and they would read it to Noa, each one, reading what they wrote.

“Nothing about sadness, or tears, or anger,” she told them.
Her mother wrote of the storybooks she’d collected that she’d wanted to read, and the wonders of a beautiful garden, and the hard work it took to keep it that way, but didn’t feel like work at all.

Her father wrote of how beautiful the water looked when he went fishing, and how the current made the hook drift, but you never knew if it was toward the fish, or away; the fun was in the excitement of the catch, but you learned more about yourself when you caught nothing.

Her brother wrote of how he would have taught her baseball, and how he loved the smell of the grass, of his first home run: the crack of the bat as the ball sailed, white and high and spinning over the fence, and the simple pleasure of oiling his favorite, most trusted glove after a game, smiling when he won, in contemplation of what he could have done better when they lost.

And soon, the cemetery gates were before them.

“If anyone thinks they can’t do this, now’s the time to say it,” Papa said.
No one spoke.
He drove down to where the child lay, and they all got out; the doors made a soft ‘thunk’ when they closed, and it echoed faintly in the morning stillness, broken only by random, inquisitive birdsong.

Slowly they approached Noa’s little white stone, her name patiently engraved over her suddenly erased life, waiting to fade away in its own time.

Maria stepped forward.

“We wrote you a letter, Noa. It’s kind of long, but we wanted to read it to you.”
Maria read first, then her mother, her father, and brother.
It took most of the morning, but they got through it, not without tears, and hitching breaths, and even smiling, their love for her like a swaddling blanket softening the hardening autumn ground.

************************
The journal back in her hands, Maria wrote the final page.
“Con el amor a tu familia, a mi hermenita Noa. Te queremos.
Te extrañamos.”

With love from your family, to my little sister Noa. We love you. We miss you.

Maria walked up, and placed the journal against the stone.

A gentle breeze stirred, and she closed her eyes again to feel it against her face, the smells of autumn sweeter, sharper than she’d ever sensed, like children you hugged close after jumping into a pile of leaves, their laughter mingling with the crackle and crunch of colors bursting around them.

This wind, soft as infants’ lips, kissed her tears away.

Maria turned to find her family waiting, and as they turned to go, they all joined hands, connected in a new way; the space they’d always left for Noa closed, because they now carried her, truly for the first time, in their hearts.

©Alfred W. Smith, Jr.
2014

Why Beyond Panic? (My blogging 101 assignment)

My Blogging 101 assignment was already done; I just didn’t know it.

Beyond Panic

tsunami

I called this blog Beyond Panic, which is not a cheerful name, and may not be something that on the surface people would want to read; I understand that, but such a title is not chosen at random, nor with the intent of discouraging people with a woe-is-me story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Why am I beyond panic?

The story is long and messy, but not boring. Suffice it to say that Murphy’s Law as applied to my life in PA was Murphy’s Law squared, and sometimes cubed, but it taught me some things about myself that I would not have known otherwise: I’m tougher than I ever thought I could be. I can show emotions. When people change, and especially when they betray you, they grow cold to justify their actions. Blood does not equal family. Death is closer than we know, but so is happiness.

And more…

View original post 1,399 more words

A Lesson in Forgiveness

handshake-vector-1169468My son has Asperger’s, but we pushed him to do as much as he could within the confines of his limitations, meaning, we didn’t restrict him from doing anything he wanted to try.

He rollerbladed, he rode bikes, he flew kites, he fished, he played baseball and football, but he chose basketball, and he would go to the court where they would let him play; I wanted to stay and watch, but I knew if they bullied him in any way, I’d be over there to ‘do something about it,’ and they were kids.

He asked me not to hang around, because he knew it too, so for both our sakes, I respected his wishes, but then one day it happened.
A ‘friend’ had shoved him, knocked the ball out of his hands, pushed him down, took his sneaker off and threw it out of the park.

I got on my horse, Righteous Indignation, and rode forthwith to the evildoer’ s parents’ house to ‘straighten things out’ which was a euphemism for ‘get even with this kid.’

His mother opened the door, and I read the scroll of charges. She said that she would ‘talk to him.’ I controlled my anger (somehow), and decided to file a police report (remember, I controlled my anger…) I go with my son to the police station, and the officer who hears my tale of woe says he knows the kid, the mom’s recently divorced, and they’re having a rough go of it; he doesn’t want to write a report. He will if I insist, but how about he brings the kid over to talk about things.

“Fine,” I say, rehearsing my speech full of reprimand, reproach, and recrimination.

A half hour later, my son is upstairs when the doorbell rings. I answer it, and the cop is there, his arm around the kid’s shoulders. ‘Like he’s the one that needs protection here’ I think (not bringing to mind that the cop told me, a half hour ago, that his father was not around to deal with me; wait, it gets better…) The kid looks chagrined, but I don’t buy it.

I invite them in, and call my son, who coming down the stairs, sticks out his right hand and says, “I forgive you.” Just like that. No preamble, no pointing finger, no yelling, no nothing. It’s real and pure and from the heart.

The kid apologizes.

The cop smiles, and I shrink down to an inch like Fred Flintstone when Wilma lit into him good (carbon dating myself, but there it is). I’m standing there with my mouth open like a stranded fish. My horse, Righteous Indignation, looks at me sideways with, well…righteous indignation. We were riding all around the neighborhood to get justice, and this is what my son does?

“We’re good here?” the cop asks.
“Yeah,” my son says.
“Yeah,” I say, because I’m still asking, ‘what just happened?’, and because there’s nothing left to say.
“See you tomorrow?” my son asks.
“Yeah, see ya.”
And they stayed friends.

If it’s possible to have soaring pride in a person who’s just deeply humbled you into silence, I did in that moment.

And I still do.