(Im)mortality

When we’re young we are immortal. At least that’s how it feels to us at the time. Nothing we do can hurt us, and everyone around us is also immortal.

Having children changed all that, and mortality crept in at an alarming rate. I’d just got used to the fact that we’re not all here forever when it started. You know what I mean. We’ve all been through it by now; people that we love start dying. The list of people isn’t important but those people were, at least to me.

It starts as a trickle but somehow before you can blink it’s a raging river of loss. There’s a realization at some point that the torrent is unlikely to recede; the fact is that as we get older, those around us will just keep passing away. Sometimes you can “push through” and deal with the loss. Other times you are devastated. Right now I’m devastated.

I miss my friends, school chums, family, spouse and parents that died. I miss their voices and their wisdom. I miss their silliness and their love. I miss so many things that are now just memories, or perhaps a two-dimensional capture of a moment in a picture or a video. To want them here again is, I suppose, normal. It’s in moments of loss that it all comes tumbling back though; not just the person you’ve just lost but all of the others, memories brought back to you one after the other.

I am lucky. I have a beautiful, supportive family. Our kids have amazing potential and will grow into wonderful adults and parents, continuing the cycle of life and bringing joy to those around them. For a time they’ll be immortal too, and that’s just fine with me.

Happiness

What he wanted most in life was to be happy. He’d told himself this so many times over the years that the words had long ago lost any real significance. It was more of a mantra than an objective nowadays.

The thought behind the oft-used phrase seemed innocuous enough and indeed it was a laudable goal that he sought, but he had never really done anything towards achieving it; he was a dreamer, a man seemingly unable to master his own destiny.

“Not this time” he thought to himself. This time it would be different. Yeah, sure it would be different, just like the other hundreds of times. Only this time he was right, he just didn’t know it yet.

He had known her for months. He’d noticed her some time ago but she seemed entirely out of his league and quite frankly unobtainable. He thought back, remembering their interactions; friendly, even warm but nothing that he could say would have constituted an advance, or even an affirmation of his unspoken affections.

She knocked on his door one day on some pretense, and he dutifully offered her a cup of tea. To his surprise and strange delight she accepted, and what followed was the start of the happiness he had been seeking. It was all so very innocent; tea and a chat. It wasn’t anything they did or even anything they said, it was the manner in which they said those things; the ease with which they opened themselves to each other, fearless and true. Their brief exchange left him breathless and desperate for more.

More did come, quickly and powerfully, feeding that deep need for happiness in new and unexpected ways. The happiness that he had been looking for for all those years paled in significance to the happiness that he found with her. He was finally complete.

The peaceful morning

He awoke, the alarm jangling in his ear. Calming the cacophony he sensed something else – a quiet peace. Thirty seconds into his day, the sun streamed in through the window but today it felt different, as though a filter had been applied and he was being shielded from the glaring harshness. Even the sheets felt a little lighter, softer.

Rising, he washed his face, the water softly caressing him. He looked into the mirror and saw himself looking back – his features relaxed and content. He dressed, cotton resting easily upon his skin.

Treading lightly he poured himself a coffee and sat by the open window feeling the gentle breeze fill the warm and inviting room with its morning freshness. He breathed deeply, allowing the fresh air to fill his lungs.

Closing his eyes for a moment he savored the calmness and let himself relax.

Now he was ready to start his day.

 

The touch

He was sleeping soundly, spread-eagled across the big bed. Naked except for a cotton sheet, he was comfortable and content as he slumbered. The sounds of the night could be heard through the open window; crickets calling, a cicada in a nearby tree, sprinklers. The moonlight shone through the window, illuminating his form through the thin sheet.

He stirred slightly, his body moving in response to an unknown thought. The quietest of words ensued from his lips, their meaning known only to him and to his dream state co-conspirators. His hand clenched and then relaxed, more hidden words, and then he was peaceful again.

She came to him in the dead of night. Stockinged feet and heels in hand as she crept up the stairs to him. Looking through the open door she could make out the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed slowly but deeply. The sheet silhouetted his shape as he lay on his side. That shape excited her. She could feel her desire swell up inside her as she gazed upon the man she loved like no other.

Silently she slipped her now unzipped dress from her shoulders and onto the floor. Without a sound she slid her hands down long, slender legs to remove her stockings. Soon she too was naked, save for a silver necklace. The moonlight played on her body as she walked gently towards him.

She climbed carefully into the bed, slipping easily under the sheet that she now shared with him. Mere inches from her lover she reached out and touched his lips, the lightest, gentlest touch. He stirred once again, head turning instinctively towards her. She responded, lifting her head to meet his lips with hers. The slightest caress as the kiss brought them finally together. She moved her body in closer to him, soon they touched for their entire length.

He became aware of her. Eyes opened and they connected. He wrapped his arms around her. “Hello wife”, he said.

 

After the fire

It had been devastating. The fire started small, as these things do, insidiously growing, creeping, swallowing everything it touched. In the blink of an eye it had consumed the house, taken a life and destroyed memories, hopes and dreams.

The life too quickly gone was one of significance. She mattered. She loved and was loved in return. Young souls were devastated by the loss, understanding neither the reason nor the significance of their sudden bereavement. Too much. Too soon.

The upheaval was monstrous and violent. To attempt to carry on as before, to pick up where we had left off was impossible and unwanted. Reality had changed, twisting on its axis at a perverse angle. What was up was now down, black was white, day became night. The clock stopped for a moment and then restarted, but now the tick sounded different. Each moment was its own unique self – unordered and isolated. Certain ordinary tasks or memories evoked a visceral reaction, others were totally devoid of emotion. To operate in such a strange environment took gargantuan effort.

The months since then have been at best surreal, at worst a misadventure of Dantean proportions. There has been light, burning so bright that it too might catch fire and eviscerate all in its path, but the light illuminates our path with goodness and hope for a future filled with joy.

Outside of the light the darkness reigns. It pervades the nostrils with the smell of decay and death. The darkness litters our path with dangerous obstacles and confusion, attempting all the while to deter us from our intended direction; to make us stumble and fall as we climb that mountain back to happier times.

The darkness will not succeed in its quest. It will not take us down to depths unknown, where fire again rages and pain pervades. The darkness will fail because it cannot overcome the light that binds the universe together. Love.

Love reigns supreme. The young lives so devastated are loved intensely and honestly. They are wrapped in a secure blanket that cannot be infiltrated by the negative. They will overcome this adversity. We will reach the light hand in hand. Love is the answer.

Ozzy

Ozzy knew from an early age that he was different. It wasn’t that he looked any different from any other kid his age. It wasn’t that he acted differently either – he just felt different.

To be fair, everyone else saw him as different too, for he was the first child to have been born on Mars. His parents, first generation martian settlers, had been thrilled with his arrival; a sign that the colony established some eight years previously was to become generational. The fact that it had taken nearly eight years (almost sixteen earth years) for a child to be conceived was something that the colonists had been concerned about for some considerable time. No one was really sure why this had been the case – perhaps it was the low gravity or the diet (still somewhat restricted compared to the vast array of choices on earth) or some other environmental concern, but for no apparent reason it had taken the best part of a decade for Ozzy to arrive. As one might expect, he was something of a celebrity.

Other children also played in the corridors of the station now. He had almost 20 peers to play and learn with. Since he was the oldest at 13, all of the kids looked up to him as a big brother, and Ozzy relished his position. A likable boy, he was also naturally protective of his fellow playmates and had stepped in more than once when things were going awry. One day, he thought, perhaps he would also step into the commander’s shoes and really look after everyone.

The day that things went insanely wrong started just like every other. Gentle music woke Ozzy and as his room lights came slowly up he yawned, stretched and headed toward the shower. It always seemed to him that even though the station had microfilters and scrubbers to keep the air perfectly clean and odor-free, there was just the slightest layer of grime on him when he awoke each morning. Perhaps the reason was that he really had never been dirty – he had no good frame of reference, unlike earth-bound kids who could play in the mud and get greasy or oily; dirt was just a way of life for them. He donned his clothes, quickly ate a nutribar, brushed his teeth and headed out to the dome – a large open space with real grass and the odd tree, illuminated by artificial lighting and providing the only practical space on the station to run and relax. The rest of the station was a maze of corridors and sterile looking rooms filled with machinery or offices – no place for a young boy on a weekend morning.

As Ozzy played, kicking his ball high into the air and watching it float idly back to the ground, he heard a tinkle, and then a dull thud close by. He turned to see something smoking in the grass a few yards away, and as he ran towards it an alarm sounded. Immediately Ozzy looked at the display –  every room had a message board that flashed important station-wide information to its inhabitants. The board said “Pressure Leak – Dome”. Then he realized that what he’d heard and seen had been some space-borne object depositing itself in the ground, and leaving a hole in the structure in its wake. He could hear the whoosh of the air as it escaped.

Although this was certainly a life-threatening situation Ozzy was not unduly worried – this had happened numerous times before and he knew that as long as everyone did their part, everything would be fine. The system would seal the dome off from the rest of the station and pump out the remaining air until the leak could be sealed. Ozzy knew that he needed to leave the area immediately and he did so, making sure to close the air tight door behind him. The system sensed that no one was left in the dome and he could see the trees rustling as powerful pumps recovered valuable air from the punctured structure.

So far, so good. Nothing untoward. He saw the repair team a few minutes later, flying up the outside of the building – their packs emanating small blue flames as they maneuvered around with ease. Soon they had completed the repair and the system had tested it – everything checked out. Another rustle of leaves as the dome pressurized again. The alarm cleared from the display board and life returned to normal. For a moment at least. What no-one including Ozzy had realized was that the small piece of debris that had penetrated the dome had also partially sliced through one of the stay cables milliseconds beforehand. These cables kept a downward pressure on the dome’s surface and prevented the air pressure from pushing the relatively thin skin of the dome out into space.

It happened. The cable separated and the released tension whipped the cable around, destroying the main antenna and one of the primary air lines before smashing down onto the dome, sending metal and glass everywhere. The air rushed out of the devastating hole in the dome with explosive force, pulling trees out of the ground which then damaged the dome further. The violent decompression caused a second stay cable to snap, and then a third. Suddenly the dome exploded and pieces of structure shot like bullets into the rest of the station. The system vainly tried to keep up, but the damage was massive. The system was soon overwhelmed.

By now everyone knew that something very significant had gone wrong, and as per their practice drills and with the encouragement of the system’s announcements, they all made their way to the escape shuttle, waiting to see if it told them to jettison – to fly into martian space and await pickup a few days later. Scared and yet calm, Ozzy looked around the shuttle – he could see all but one of the other children; there was an empty seat next to him where 4 year-old Stephanie should have been. His stomach clenched.

The shuttle door was starting to close when Ozzy dived through it. In the chaos nobody noticed that he was no longer on board. For a split second he regretted his decision but he was soon past it and fixed his thoughts on finding Stephanie. He looked in the school room but couldn’t find her. He checked her quarters but she wasn’t there. He made his way to the command deck and saw nothing. He turned to leave but as he did so he heard a familiar noise amid the din of the alarms; a whimper perhaps. He turned towards the noise, hoping against hope that his efforts had not been in vain, and suddenly he saw it; the pink elephant. Hidden in a corner, out of sight but thankfully not earshot, was the little girl. She was clutching her favorite soft toy and as she saw him her face brightened. “Ozzy!” she squealed and launched herself at him, causing him to smile with the significance of her hug. It was a hug he would never forget.

The next sound that they heard was enough to make their hearts sink; the unmistakable roar of the escape shuttle’s engines firing. Ozzy scooped the little girl up and headed automatically back to the shuttle airlock but of course it was too late – the rest of the colonists had left without them.

Thinking quickly Ozzy ran to the vehicle garage. He’d never driven one of these things before but he figured now was as good a time to learn as any. He’d seen his Father do it countless times – how hard could it be? He jumped into one of the crawlers near the main door, strapped Stephanie in and sat down in front of a dizzying array of dials, gauges and switches. He pressed one of the switches and lights started flashing in the garage as the air was removed from the huge space. The big door at the end slid open and the lumbering machine lurched forward. Soon they were out into the martian landscape, the devastated complex receding in the distance.

It took a few hours for Ozzy to figure out the radio and contact the escape shuttle. The little girl was happy in her seat chewing on some kind of fruity ration bar and they whiled away the time singing songs and talking about Earth. Both knew that it would be many months before the martian outpost would be serviceable again, and as the shuttle docked to the crawler and they finally made their way to safety he looked up at the dot in the sky that would be his new home, wondering how alien it might be. He would still be different when they reached earth, but now it would be for another reason – to that little girl, her parents and the colonists he was a hero.

The sweetest note

Lily sat at the piano, legs barely touching the floor. Like almost every other day that she could remember she started with her scales, practicing, making precise movements with dextrous fingers as her hands played up and down the keyboard.

At 8 years old the piano was her most familiar friend. Intimate and loving, hard and unforgiving, she had an inextricable bond with this most expressive of instruments – a bond that reached down into the very depths of her soul and flowed out through digits that caressed the keys with consummate proficiency.

Ever since anyone could remember Lily had been a pianist. Sitting for hours each day working her craft, honing her skills and finding nuance in the most surprising places. People came from far and wide to hear her play, and she delighted them without exception.

Some called her a prodigy, others a genius – a true wunderkind but somehow she knew deep down that her god-given talent came from a different place, a place that few would ever be able to comprehend.

Lily’s parents had never understood her. They never knew what motivated her and they never would. Her world was isolated, devoid of light and speech, it was the tunneled singular-minded world of the savant. She would never run outside and play or later love a man, she would never see the sun or appreciate its warmth on her back. Instead she would forever turn to those 88 keys to express herself, and music most wondrous would ensue. To love in any traditional sense was beyond her but many would find love through her work, her passion, her reason to live.

Sitting on stage under the warmth of the lights, she felt an urgency grow inside her. The orchestra swelled, the excitement grew palpable, the audience was breathless. She set her hands on the keyboard. Seconds from now she would show her soul.

Magic

What is magic? Surely it must be more than sleight of hand and cheap conjuring tricks. It has to be more than misdirection and tomfoolery.

Magic is much more than that. To think of magic as parlor tricks and alchemy is to belie the wondrous nature of its true essence. Magic is that occurrence that takes you by surprise, filling you with fascination and excitement. Magic reaches in to the child inside us and suspends belief for a moment.

I happen to believe that magic exists all around us. In that instant when a flower blooms or when a child runs towards you with their arms outstretched – therein lies magic. Two lovers looking deep into each others’ eyes see magic in their partner’s gaze. To become one with nature and the universe leads to a deep understanding of magic.

True magic cannot be created, bottled, replicated, designed or destroyed. True magic comes from deep inside us and speaks to our harmonious bond with the cosmos. It connects with us at a primal level. The intrinsic sense of wonder conceived by magic is as fundamental as our desire to fight or fly.

Magic has been a part of world culture for over five thousand years. It is deeply ingrained in every society, from ancient religion and astrology to modern day illusionism. Many have died for their art – the witch hunts of the reformation claimed perhaps sixty thousand souls.

Magic as a touchstone to deeper meaning is no longer en vogue, instead it has been replaced by science and scholars. In our quest for understanding we have left behind a way of life rich in ritual, exploration and personal growth. It seems to me that modern society has turned its back on something that could provide more insight into human nature than test tubes, telescopes or empirical reasoning could ever hope to achieve.

I yearn for the day when magic returns.

 

The wrongest day

She sat cross legged on the floor. A smashed lamp was crumbled beneath her hand, sharp edges tinged bright red. Her hair was in disarray and she stared at some non-existent something many yards beyond the facing wall. She had been like this for hours now, motionless, soundless, devoid of emotion and unaware of the world moving forward without her.

The day had started well enough. Naturally bubbly she had chatted carelessly with friends and strangers at a local coffee shop and had made small talk with the cashier at the local supermarket before she had taken that bike ride.

The lamp was not the only thing that was crushed; her spirit had been ripped to shreds. In the canyon her world exploded, dreams and hopes replaced by horror and emptiness. The evil was consuming her, sucking the life from her and replacing it with darkness. Her soul, beaten and violated was so far within that even she could not reach it.

She had no idea how she had managed to get home. None of it mattered anyway – nothing at all was important now. Or perhaps it was important but she didn’t care – she didn’t know. She was utterly and completely lost.