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Self-portrait as an eight-year-old,
determined confidence in
a bundle of energy,
buzz-cut cowlicks highlight quirkiness
only a child can embody.

Self-portrait as a high school student,
empowered by the community of theater and music,
artistic and creative, shy and reserved one-on-one,
afraid of appearing foolish.

Self-portrait as a father,
loving and sentimental, touched
to tears often, “dad days” now too far apart, desires to protect appear as controlling,
hard to let go, but learning.

Self-portrait as middle age,
confidence and energy of a different kind,
hair falls and grows oddly, paint and songs return, sleeping less, alone, but love, and quirkiness trickle from
fractures in the facade revealing a refined self-portrait at eight.

Forgiveness and resurrection are not solely Christian concepts, nor a power and capacity only God possesses. Through her actions, mom proved to me we all have the power and capacity. In those three days of silence, I was forgiven and resurrected. Over, and over, and over.

My mother and I did not always agree.

As a child, I followed the rules and did what I was told,  but as an adult, I was prone to speak my mind. Once, at age 19, I chose to be too vocal within my mother’s reach and promptly had my mouth smacked. Stunned, I walked away in silence, not to rethink what I had said because what I said was the truth. Instead, I needed to consider the timing and delivery of my words and whether it was worth a pop in the mouth for being what she thought was me being disrespectful. I thought I was being honest and direct, not disrespectful. I struggled a lifetime to find that balance with my mom.

Mom shared my gift of impulsive honesty, which is why she likely did not like to be the recipient of the same. Often she would speak without thinking, saying those things on her mind before others were ready, or even needed to hear them.

My dad once told me, “Your mother thinks you should not say some of the things you say to her.”

She saw value in her trait to cut to the heart of matters and speak honestly; she was less appreciative of it in others, particularly when she was on the receiving end of the words.

We lived apart much of the end of her life, yet this did not stop our honest conversations. On the phone several times a year, in the silence of waiting for her response to something I had said, I would hear a “click,” and then a dial tone. Although the distance saved me from a slap across the mouth, I felt the sting just the same. Silence became my mother’s punishment of choice, or perhaps of necessity.

It was best to let mom take the time to think and regroup when she was angry. She always called when she was ready to talk again and rarely did she make mention of our last conversation.

A few years before she died I realized she had a pattern in those periods of silence. Each time she disconnected from me, the breaks would be exactly three days. She always called me on the third day, and I apparently was forgiven for whatever I had said in the previous conversation.

When I mentioned this pattern to my dad, he said with a smile, “And on the third day, the son rises.”

It occurred to me then, forgiveness and resurrection are not solely Christian concepts, nor a power and capacity only God possesses. Through her actions, mom proved to me we all have the power and capacity. In those three days of silence, I was forgiven and resurrected. Over, and over, and over.

For her love, for her lessons, for her forgiveness, and my repeated resurrection. I am, forever, grateful.

Photo Credit: “Fall Eye” ©2012 David L. Harkins

Big dreams
of far-off places
where knights ride
atop white horses
seeking still sleeping
hearts of beauties
never to be found.

Big dreams
of bright blue skies
amid pillowed clouds
upon which castles
once built with hope
endure quiet lifetimes
undisturbed and empty.

Big dreams
of eternal happiness
with love and passion
amongst quiet laughter
achieved magically
by daring instead
to dream big.

© 2013, David L. Harkins

Watching my children learn how to become adults, I still feel the panic, frustration, and fear-fueled anger when I discover they are lost. I also feel enormous relief when they choose let me find them. Considering I want to give unconditional love and protection to my children, and my children seem to want unconditional love and comfort from me, it is so unfortunate we all allow the game of hide-and-seek to continue.

When my children were toddlers, they liked to wriggle away from me to hide in the center of a department store clothes rack.  They delighted in the game of hide-and-seek, and while I frantically searched for them, they quietly enjoyed a little taste of freedom surrounded by last winter’s coats.  The panic, frustration and fear-fueled anger I felt gave way to enormous relief when I peeked into that last rack of clothing to find my giggling child.

I continued to have those same feelings of despair and helplessness, anger and relief when my now grown children began to stretch the boundaries of their freedoms. There was that dinnertime knock at the door, opened to a deputy sheriff. Then there was the discovery of an empty bed, on two separate occasions with a different teenager missing each time, for the Sunday morning church wake-up call. I cannot count the number of times a child went home with a friend after school and did not remember to check-in until walking through the door well after dinner.  While there were many other infractions with four children, these have been among the most notable.

I was once embarrassed by their action because I believed others in my small community would pass judgment on my parenting skills. Then I realized I had done my best to help to raise four very independent-minded people.  Regardless of what I may say to them, or the example I try to set by the way I live my life, my children seem to learn better through their experiences.  Allowing each of them to learn life’s hard lessons on their own is the best thing I can do for them as their dad, even though it is much harder for me than may appear.

Watching my children learn how to become adults, I still feel the panic, frustration, and fear-fueled anger when I discover they are lost. I also feel enormous relief when they choose to let me find them.  Considering I want to give unconditional love and protection to my children, and my children seem to want unconditional love and comfort from me, it is so unfortunate we all allow the game of hide-and-seek to continue.

Still, we do.

And at this very moment, I would like nothing more than to pull back those winter coats and peek inside the rack to find my lost, but giggling child.

______

Photo Credit: Remember hiding in the clothes racks? by InfiniteWorld

When I am eighteen again,
I will remember the excitement of living
and forget the dramas of daily life.

I will see more bright smiles in the hallway
and fewer dull reflections on the hallway floors.

When I am eighteen again,
I will build stronger friendships
and tear down my insecurities.

I will do more of those things I want to do
and worry less about fitting in because of my choices.

When I am eighteen again,
I will fall in love with a giggling girl
and overcome my shyness to ask for a date.

I will remember how it feels to be eighteen
and forget I am not eighteen.

When, I am eighteen, again.

© 2012, David L. Harkins

This weekend, I scratched another item off my Bucket List. I spent almost four hours in good company climbing around the treetops and zipping between trees at Navitat Canopy Tour in Asheville.

When I finished, I had completed ten zip lines, two bridges, two rappels, and three short hikes. The longest line was just over 1,050 ft. long. The fastest was the one I show in the video (below), which has an estimated speed of 45 mph. The highest line was about 250 ft. off the ground.

I shared this story Monday with a small group of people and someone in the group asked me why I chose to experience the zip line course. She wanted to know if it was because I liked the thrill and adrenaline of traveling fast, or if I was trying to conquer a fear of heights, or did I have another compelling reason.  No, I told her, this was just about me doing something that I have always wanted to do. There was no other reason.

After she had left the room, I wondered how much of her life she has spent waiting for a reason to do those things she wants to do while the seconds of her life steadily click by.

Don’t do this, okay? Don’t let the moments of your life pass without enjoying each one as best you can.

Go. Do what you want to do, because you want to do it. You don’t need a reason.

Today is National Coming Out Day.

Yes, I am coming out. In a manner of speaking.

I am a straight person coming out in support of the freedom of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals to love whomever they may choose, and to live life without discrimination and persecution of any kind.

I was raised to be tolerant of everyone’s differences and have endeavored to be so throughout my life, although I have admittedly been uncomfortable at times when around my LBGT friends. I don’t know why and would not dream of trying to explain such feelings when there’s no rational basis for their existence. I will tell you, though, that I’ve finally outgrown the discomfort.

We live in a different world than the one in which I grew up. Our culture is more open and accepting now. Today’s young adults learned as children–our children–that “everyone gets a trophy just for showing up.” While some may complain about their lack of ambition as a result of the way they were raised, I believe today’s young adults are perhaps the most tolerant generation in history, and their acceptance of everyone’s differences is beginning to influence their parents and grandparents.

Even so, many of my friends still cannot step forward and express their love for someone of the same gender, let alone marry this person in most states. While it appears we have made some progress, there remain far too many people in America who care more about what consenting adults do behind-closed-doors than about the contribution these same adults make to our society.

As for me, I am not interested in the bedroom behavior of anyone I know–regardless of their sexual preferences. It just doesn’t matter to me. How about you? Would you seriously want someone to know the intimate details of your closed-door encounters? The exhibitionists aside; I wouldn’t think so. I believe that you’d rather be judged on your contribution to our world and not on who you choose to love or your sexual desires.

If you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, know there are people–even those you may not know–who love you and care about you as a human being regardless of whether you’re “in or out.” It makes no difference to us if you choose to step out today, or any day. If you do decide that today is, “the day;” I applaud you. I do hope, though, that you will consider your current circumstances. As you already know, there are still too many homophobic people and institutions whose intolerance will work against you once you express yourself. Please remember that your safety is more important than taking a stand today, or any day.

For everyone else; grow up, already.

We’re all human. Regardless of our race, ethnicity, or sexual preference, we’re more alike than we are different. We all deserve to love and to be loved.

It seems to me that life, and love, are hard enough without all the hatred. Take a close look the struggles in your own life.

Then, maybe you, too, will decide it’s time to come out.


 

I will be here when you wake
my love,
to witness
morning sun
break the window.
Room aglow, your body glimmers;
your eyes, slow to open
your lips, a smile parts.
 
I will be here when you wake
my love,
to feel
soft skin
beneath my hands.
Head to toe, your beauty traced;
your breaths, quicken at my touch
your body, into mine falls.
 
I will be here when you wake
my love,
to console
falling tears.
Heartaches kissed away, your soul assuaged;
your hands, held tightly
your head, against my chest rests.
 
I will be here when you wake
my love,
to rejoice
amidst romance.
Happy laughter, your life beloved;
your ears, hear whispers
your heart, love’s secrets hold.
 
I will be here when you wake
my love,
I will be here when you wake.
  

© 2012, David L. Harkins

Last Sunday, I had at least one thousand books adorning the shelves of my den. I can’t be sure how many were there because I gave up counting when I hit eight hundred. I don’t know why I started counting the books in the first place, or why eight hundred was the number that made recognize the absurdity of what I was doing.

At six hundred titles, I began to realize how difficult the process of purging a lifetime book collection was becoming. I still managed to keep at it for another two hundred more titles before I stopped. About one hundred of them made it to the dining room table for sorting before, overwhelmed, I abandoned the project.

I’ve looked at—ignored, really—those books on the table every evening this week. I also refused to acknowledge the more than seven hundred remaining books on the shelves behind my desk. I knew ignoring them would not make the task disappear. Still, I hoped that I would be able to come up with some rational approach to sorting out the books to keep, and those to eliminate from my collection. After a week of considering options, I arrived at the conclusion that a rational person would not have more than one thousand books in the first place. I am clearly not rational when it comes to books.

I began pulling the books from the shelves today. I sorted and separated them—several boxes to the church yard sale later this month and most of the rest to the public library for the annual book sale. Among my collection were paperback copies of A Brave New World, required reading in 12th grade, and All the Kings Men, from a college English class. Death of A Salesman, Mass Appeal, and American Century were among the many scripts from plays in which I had performed or directed. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Og Mandino’s Secrets For Success And Happiness, both given to me by my dad when I was in high school and, of course, countless quote books, were also on my shelves.

There were novels and biographies, too. John Grisham, Robert Parker, Elmore Leonard, Thomas Wolfe, John Irving, and David McCullough took much of the space in that section. My collection of business books outnumbered them all with complete sets of Tom Peters and Seth Godin, alongside the best works of Peter Drucker, John P.  Kotter, Phillip Kotler, and Zig Ziglar. There were hundreds of others, which had served as a reference throughout my career, and all were sitting quietly with hopes of being used once more.

It occurred to me as I paged through the books that my difficulty in parting with them was not about the possibility of needing those future references, or even the remote desire to read them another time. Instead, it was about what the books represented in my life. Each one had helped to stoke my imagination, shape my thinking, or give me the courage to become the person I am today. They were not simply books. They had become, in some small and perhaps sad way, treasured mentors and companions in my life. For seven years, very few of them served any purpose other than to take up space on my shelves.

I realized then I could not begin the next chapter of my life until I acknowledged I had learned all these books could teach me. Once I did this, letting go was easy and boxing the sorted books went much more quickly. I even made a second pass and eliminated more from my “keep” pile.

When I finished, I had kept only about two hundred books. Among these were all of my autographed copies, the Elmore Leonard novels I do like to re-read, my Lincoln collection, and the complete set of Tom Peters books. I kept the books with a particular meaning to me, such as Secrets for Success and Happiness and The Power of Positive Thinking. I also kept the dozen or so books purchased this year, but not read. I even kept the writing reference books, although most of those will likely find new homes later this year.

This was a hard thing for me to do, letting go of such excellent teachers. Passing them on was easier knowing they still had life and others could learn from them, too. Growing up means passing on what we’ve learned. I only passed on the books today, but I hope I pass on a little of what I’ve learned from them, every day.

Yesterday I was reminded my body has an expiration date. I know I will die someday, but the dreamer who drives my soul doesn’t like to think of such things. The statistician in charge of my brain, on the other hand, does expiration mitigation calculations thousands of times per day. I just don’t like the reminders from the outside world.

While I remain hopeful for at least fifty-one more years of life, I recognize living to be 100 with a sound mind and body is an unlikely possibility, especially since both are already questionable. Despite the fact I aggressively manage my health, there are hundreds of non-health related reasons that could end my life well before my planned expiration date. This is troubling to me because I still have things to do, people to see, places to go, and trouble to cause. I don’t want to run out of time before I’ve accomplished it all.

My arrival at middle age a few years ago came with a piece of baggage labeled, “oppressive sense of mortality.” The luggage is scuffed, tattered, and covered with stickers from travels around the world. Its hinges are worn from the constant opening and closing. Bungee cords hook together over latches that no longer have the strength to hold the baggage closed. It’s ugly, this baggage, and still I’m compelled to look inside for whatever answers it might hold.

I’ve learned from my far too frequent peeks inside that my first twenty-four years of life were for learning the basics for living, and my last twenty-five years were for creating a life. The baggage shows my future, too, swirling amongst all of my hopes, dreams, and plans—those I’ve accomplished and those I now wonder if I ever will accomplish— without a clear direction or any certainty of duration.

Perhaps the most important thing the baggage has shown me is while the past is clear, the future is always uncertain. I’m reminded that although I am not now, who I will become, I am also no longer who I once was—the big dreamer with a lifetime of opportunities. The luxury of time is no longer on my side.

I still dream the big dreams and I still have things to do, people to see, places to go, and of course, trouble to cause. I’ve just realized the dreams I had then—the dreams of a young man—are no longer the dreams I need, or frankly want. The seconds of life are far more precious now and I don’t want to waste them on aspirations I know are completely unrealistic or unattainable.

I have many unfinished castles in the sky today. The construction stopped some time ago and the workers have gone home for good. What remains of those castles was mortgaged to pay for the daily happiness I get from living more of my life in the moment and much less of it with my head in the clouds.

I once had the privilege of being the marketing director for a large ski resort in the southeast. It was a cool job, with many perks–free skiing and snowmobile access. I even had a furnished condominium on the property as part of my compensation package.

These perks were meant to offset being on call 24/7 to address guest complaints, as well as the thirty-minute-plus drive down the mountain to a grocery store or a decent bar. It never balanced, though. During the ski season, for example, it was nearly impossible to escape the mountaintop, even for a few hours.

These perks were meant to offset being on call 24/7 to address guest complaints, as well as the thirty-minute-plus drive down the mountain to a grocery store or a decent bar. It never balanced, though. During the ski season, for example, it was nearly impossible to escape the mountaintop, even for a few hours.

Occasionally, my boss took pity on me for those long working hours and would grant a weekend furlough. On one such, get-away I spent the weekend in a major city about three hours from the resort. I left on Thursday night and spent a relaxing weekend with friends and family. I wasn’t quite ready to return to the mountain after such a great trip so I stalled my return on Sunday until about 4:00 p.m.

Because I was running later than planned, I decided to take a short cut. About halfway into the drive between the city and the resort I could drive over a scenic parkway and shave twenty minutes from my trip. However, when winter was in full swing, the parkway had a barricade at each entrance to prevent motorists from being stranded at the higher elevations.

On this particular Sunday, I arrived at the parkway entrance to find the barricade in place, even though there was no snow on the ground and the temperature was well above freezing. I decided to go around the barricade and over the parkway to cut down on my travel time.

I was twenty-five uneventful miles into the thirty-mile trip when I saw patches of ice on the road. I was near the highest elevation on the parkway, so I became concerned about those patches turning into a solid sheet of ice further down the road. I slowed down to 15 mph, but it wasn’t long before my fears came true–a solid sheet of ice covering both lanes of the parkway. I pumped my brakes lightly to slow the car down. Big mistake.

The light tap on the brakes caused the car to go into a spin. I was on a slight decline, so the spin quickly became a sliding spin. With each 360-degree rotation, I could see the side of the road and the near 4,000 ft. drop over the side. The only thing between me, and what might have been the world’s fastest shortcut off the mountain, was a small, rusty guardrail.

On the fourth spin, I hit that guardrail. Fortunately, I didn’t slide into it with enough force to break the barrier. Instead, there was just enough force to bounce the car back from the edge and across the road toward the rock wall just off the road shoulder. As luck would have it, the bumper of the car came to a rest on a small rock ledge in the wall, leaving the wheels hanging above the ditch.

I was relieved to have stopped, but I now had another problem. I had no rear-wheel traction, which is a big problem for a car with rear-wheel drive. I got out of the car to survey the damage. It tried to rock the car, it wouldn’t budge from the ledge. After about thirty minutes, I gave up on that plan. At that elevation, it was cold and the temperature was dropping fast as the sun set. I got back in the car to warm up and to think about whether to wall the next five miles to the main road or wait to see if some other foolish soul would brave the parkway.

Just as I was about to start walking, a couple of hunters happened by in a four-wheel-drive truck, graciously pulled the car off the rocks, and helped me on my way.

That uncontrolled spin on top of the mountain was literally the scariest event of my life. But, it has helped me to keep my perspective when life becomes difficult.

There are times in life when I’m moving along nicely when I see trouble ahead. I’ll try to prevent that trouble by tapping the brakes to slow life down, only to find the path I’m on is slipperier than I thought, and I find myself spinning out of control. When I stop the spinning, I often find myself at the mercy of others–strangers, even–who help me get unstuck and to set me on my way again.

Sometimes we choose to travel the closed roads in life and find ourselves spinning out of control. While an uncontrollable spin is a horrifying experience, I’ve learned the Universe has a way of bringing people into our lives who have just the right equipment to stop our spin, send us on our way, or when needed, go with us to our next destination.

The Universe works in its own time, we must learn to be patient. Waiting for those who the Universe chooses to send is much better than a long, cold walk on an isolated road, any day.

Trust me.

Photo Credit::Spinning top by David Boyle

Small wings
aflutter worlds away,
opening doors, concealed
from view.
 
Midnight currents
carry dreams afar,
amassing strength, unobserved
by time.
 
Full clouds
cloak chaos within,
consuming hearts, exposed
from desire.
 
Morning lights
ignite hope undying,
eclipsing loneliness, surrendered
to eternity.
  

© 2012, David L. Harkins