Monday, April 15, 2002

Time Out of Mind

"We marched along in columns of four/Living and seeing the horrors of war/And when a man fell along the way/A cold bayonet would make him pay/For those four months he fought on Bataan/Then they'd kill him 'cause he couldn't stand."
-Jesse Knowles, a Bataan Death March Survivor

"Streamers between the clouds, lakes of light, capes of cloud, ribbons, curls, flakes, and continents of cloud/Although there is a ceiling of purple cloud almost all over, at the western end of the sky a yellow ragged window abides."
-Delmore Schwartz, a notable serious drinker

Even though happiness has become my default position, I thought I had my heart broken again this past week but it turned out to just be a case of burning indigestion from a spicy Chipotle burrito or maybe it was the bag of wasabi covered peas inhaled during the day, or perhaps it was some leftover spilled and not to be consumed Pad Thai. I was caught a bit off guard, as guarded as I've learned to be, because my system has developed a certain immunity over time. My confidant, the green-belted kick boxing home builder, sent me out to pick up Mexican food in the corporate Lawson Software building a mile or so away in the heart of our Capitol city's refurbished downtown minus a Bad Habit sans Library Night. Though I was a bit cranky after being volunteered to be the office lunch delivery guy, I figured the walk might do some good. At least it couldn't hurt.

My route from the Capitol downtown took me past the Veterans' Building. This happened to be the day that there was a dedication ceremony of a plaque commemorating the Bataan Death March. I walked through a group of veterans, of survivors who were forced by the Japanese during World War II to make a 55 mile trek in which they were bound, beaten and bayoneted if they should happen to stumble from exhaustion. Nearly sixty years later to the day, I'm sure these men, proudly wearing their military sweaters, medals, and caps, were delighted to see a little hatted Japanese looking guy armed with a bag of burritos walking through their stately service. Let's just say that I felt horribly out of place (more so than usual), and as conspicuous as a member of the Oprah book club who has paid lifetime dues.

I'm sure from an outside perspective it must have been quite an odd jarring juxtaposition, and a strange commentary on how time heals all wounds as often as it reopens old ones. Time is a gas, you can't stop it but it really isn't much of an option to walk away from it either. It doesn't ask you to understand it or even appreciate it; lay down and die and it rolls right over you. But events can leave a lasting scar (not even Vitamin B removable) and leave you stuck in a moment that you can't get out of. Not to do any injustice to what was once suffered, needless to say I can't directly blame myself for the cruelty inflicted 60 years ago nor can I deny that it still might influence the way somebody sees me. The day ended almost appropriately and somewhat reassuringly: as I walked out to my car, a young woman flagged me down and asked if I'd give her a jump (I figured she was talking about her car).

I maneuvered my gray 1990 Honda Civic next to her white 1995 Honda Accord and with hoods ajar my little vehicle gave temporary new life to another. The woman was grateful "I owe you one" and I felt better about things as I drove away noticing all the little Japanese made cars now noticeable on the road. My only hope was she made it home safely and on time.

History has its consequences. Ask the surviving standing soldiers. Ask the car battery left on all day. Ask a burning burrito sitting in the belly. Maybe I'm just a wee bit tired and weary from extra long work hours but it occurred to me after the most peculiar day that something said, written, or done today may come back to have some unintended significance years down the road. Something else done, written, or said tomorrow in a vacuum may touch someone not known and out of sight and reach, without notice. Whereas in youth one not only hopes, but can't wait for the day that dreams become reality, what time ultimately teaches is whatever one thought life might become as a child is truly rarely ever meant to be, and it is with some squalor that with dreams comes responsibilities and it isn't even about competition or impatience of waiting for it all to unfold. Things don't always work out the way you had them planned and we all may never be able to afford to have our own personal dental daily hygienist to clean the stuff out between the cracks but as beat up as you come to feel, like a disappearing fish in an orange homemade and soothing tank, if you can learn to accept the simple lesson that we all must move at our own pace then you can always accept another hole or two from time to time to the heart.

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