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Joseph E Bird

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the race

I rounded the corner, my legs sluggish, my body tired, and I was content to finish the run at a reasonable, non-challenging pace. It was hot and muggy and I hadn’t slept well the night before and work at the office and work at home had taken a toll on me and so, yes, I was content to finish the run at a reasonable, non-challenging pace. And then I rounded the corner.

I saw her walking across the street ahead of me, dressed in workout tights and a t-shirt, probably coming from the health club. She walked in front of another building and I lost sight of her.

You may begin judging. Why did I notice her?

  1. She appeared to be athletic and as a runner, I tend to notice others involved in athletic endeavors.
  2. I practice situational awareness and notice everybody in my immediate vicinity.
  3. I am a man and she was a woman and I am an example of toxic masculinity.

So again I turned the corner, and there she was, about twenty yards ahead of me, and she started to run. No, she wasn’t running from me; she hadn’t even seen me.

She’s twenty yards ahead and I see she’s not thin and lithe, doesn’t have that classic runner’s body. Judge me again. What is a runner’s body, Joe?

A couple of year ago I was out on a run and heard footsteps behind me and before I knew it, I was being passed by a squat, muscular guy who looked more like a weightlifter than a runner. But he was more of a runner than I was. So, sure, I admit that judging this woman by her build was not too smart. Still, I had no doubt that I was going to pass her very quickly, even with my tired, sluggish legs.

I should point out that this was happening along a busy street, a common running route in my town. So even if she knew I was behind her (and she didn’t) she wouldn’t have felt threatened. I was just another runner.

Off I go, picking up the pace a little. But I wasn’t closing the distance between us. Twenty yards became thirty. Thirty-five. Forty. She was leaving me in the dust.

So I eased up and resigned myself to the fact that she was probably thirty years younger than me and I was tired and so what if she’s faster.

No, I didn’t do that. I picked up my pace even more.

Still, she widened the gap. Maybe I should just lay back. Admit defeat.

Of course not. I pressed harder. Longer, quicker strides.

I was keeping pace now, but not closing the gap. My breathing was fast and hard, my heart pounding.

A slight uphill rise, followed by a downhill, where I used gravity to my advantage. I was getting closer, ever so slightly. When the road flattened, I kept my downhill pace. I was gaining on her.

But I didn’t know how long I could keep it up. A larger hill loomed ahead. Maybe she would slow. Even though I was dead tired and I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs, I was determined.

Why? What’s the purpose of this personal quest?

  1. It’s that toxic masculinity again. I have to prove that I’m a man.
  2. My ego is out of control and even at my age, I refuse to admit I’ve lost a few steps.
  3. Even though I have no desire to say more than hello as I pass her, I can’t help but think that she’ll be impressed by this ageless wonder running like a man half his age.
  4. Maybe I’m just a dork.

I was definitely closing the gap, but it’s a slow and painful process. If she picks up the pace even a little, I’m done. But I’ll keep pressing as long as I can.

And then she pivots and turns around, running toward me. I raise my hand in the understated runner’s wave. She doesn’t acknowledge me. She passes, and just like that, the race is over.

She wins. I lose.

I hit the hill I was dreading and I’m thankful I can slow down. And when I slow, I feel so tired that I wonder how I ran as fast as I did for as long as I did. Another half mile at an old man’s pace and my run is finished.

I sat down on the curb, sweat burning my eyes, a puddle forming on the concrete. And I started to ask the questions. The answers? All of the above.

Judge me as you will.

fathers

Most are not leaders of nations.
Most are not creators of wealth.
Most are not icons of sports or entertainment.
Their names will not be written in the annals of history.

But without them, we would be nothing.

Their fathers worked with pride as pipe-fitters and welders and electricians.
Their fathers mined coal and dug ditches and toiled with dignity.
They did what was necessary to provide food and shelter and clothes.
They did what was necessary to provide hope for a better tomorrow.

Tomorrow came, and it was better,
and the sons and daughters of the fathers went to school
and became teachers and writers and lawyers and engineers.
They became fathers and mothers themselves
and likewise provided for their families.

They did all of this
without the need for attention,
without the need for adulation,
without the need for self-aggrandizement.

Fathers persevere and sacrifice.
They do what needs to be done.
They are good and honorable.

No, not all fathers.
Some abandon.
Some abuse.
Some give up.

It’s not about gender roles.
Sometimes the mother is the father.
Sometimes she is both.

It’s not about being the breadwinner.
It’s about being strong for the family.
It’s about providing direction to those who wander
and encouragement to those who strive.

Now they rest,
their work less strenuous,
their lives less demanding,
and they sit quietly,
content to let others lead.

They have lived simply.
They have lived nobly.
They have given their all.
They are fathers.


copyright 2019, joseph e bird

nothing but

everything is unremarkable
the sky is overcast
the air is heavy and damp
a lawnmower hums three yards over
somewhere a child squeals
but the birds are quiet
there will be no spectacular sunset
there is nothing but contentment
and all is grace

gone

IN THE LATE 1860s, a tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers began. In 1868, General John Logan formalized the tradition by declaring May 30 as Decoration Day.  Decoration Day gradually become known as Memorial Day, and after World War I, Memorial Day began to commemorate soldiers who had died in any war. In 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, and in 1971, Memorial Day was established as the last Monday in May. 

Although the emphasis of Memorial Day is still to honor those who died in service to their country, graves of all loved ones are now traditionally decorated on Memorial Day.

It’s an old man’s game. You seldom see anyone under 50 in the cemetery cleaning the headstones, replacing old, faded flowers with fresh ones. Our loved ones aren’t there anyway. We know that. But we’ll honor them as long as we can, until strangers come along and take photographs and wonder who they were.

Alfred J. Snyder. He was 90.
Lundy Harless Widner. Served in three wars. Died at 54, three years after the war in Vietnam ended.
You can imagine the heartbreak.
To boldly go…
“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”
Helen Keller

no place for a young girl

Every year about this time we go to the cemeteries and clean the graves of those who have gone before. It makes you realize how fast time flies. Has it really been that long? And then there are all those forgotten graves. What was their story? Maybe this.


she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
up the steep gravel road,
through the woods
to the clearing
where the old grey headstones
were covered in moss
and leaned toward the earth
as if they were too tired
to stand up straight,
for so long they had stood in testament to
the forgotten lives
of those whose names were
were worn from the stone
by the unrelenting and unforgiving
passage of time.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
because there were snakes
and yellow jackets
and maybe bears.
and at night
across the hollows
voices and laughter and music
and now and then
a gunshot
would echo
from neighbors unknown,
and though the graveyard
was close
it was no place for
a young girl alone.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
but along with the grey, rough tablets
of ancient men
and their wives
and their children,
were smooth slabs
of curved and polished marble
with praying hands
and crosses
and Bible verses
written in script,
and names her grandmother knew
of this cousin and that uncle,
and her grandmother’s husband,
the grandfather she had never known.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
under the deep shade
cast by towering oaks and maples
where grass wouldn’t grow
and moss and lichens
clung easily to the old stones
and left her grandfather’s headstone
untouched by nature,
save for the pollen in the spring
that she would wipe with her finger
from the smooth marble,
that also promised
that her grandmother would
someday
rest with him.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
but her grandmother worried too much.
she had never seen a snake
and stayed clear of the bees
and the idea of bears
just seemed silly,
and it was peaceful
always peaceful.
and she would talk to God
and ask why other kids
teased her,
though she knew
it was because her clothes
were old and
she was poor.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
and she sat beside the grandfather
she knew only from photographs,
and read Psalms
from his old Bible
and drew wisdom from the words
that would stay with her
all of her days,
and give her
comfort
through her pain,
and strength
through her weakness,
and courage
through her fears.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
and when she saw him
she knew her grandmother
had been right,
and she had been foolish,
and as he came toward her
he took a drink
from a bottle
and wiped his mouth
on his sleeve
and laughed,
and she knew
that he had come
from the valley
of the shadow of death.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
but she would fear no evil
and she always carried a staff,
the old iron pipe
from her grandfather’s workshop,
heavy and cool,
and she stood
and gripped it in both hands
and drew back
and stepped toward him
and swung,
and he screamed as it struck
against his ribs,
and his bottle dropped,
and she ran off the hill.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
she didn’t tell her grandmother
and she didn’t sleep
for days,
and when the kids
teased her because
she had to tape the soles
of her shoes,
and because she lived
in a shack with her grandmother
because her mother had
killed herself with a needle,
she cried into her pillow
softly,
so her grandmother wouldn’t hear.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
and it was weeks before she went back
to find her staff,
her grandfather’s iron pipe,
which had given her comfort,
and to find the peace
that had left her.
but it wasn’t the same.
she couldn’t read
she couldn’t pray
she couldn’t close
her eyes
because he might
be out there
still.

she wasn’t supposed to go there by herself.
and though she was afraid,
she still went there by herself,
because it was there
she had learned of
peace and strength and courage.
and she would grow
and live far away
from the hollows,
and the kids who teased her,
and she would become a woman
strong in her will and
strong in her faith
and though she was never alone
she went there by herself.


copyright 2017, joseph e bird
photo copyright 2017, joseph e bird

if you put your mind to it…

I’m not going to dunk a basketball, no matter how much I put my mind to it.

I’ll never sing like Andrea Bocelli, no matter how much I put my mind to it.

I won’t paint like Rembrandt, no matter how much I put my mind to it.

I’ll never play the guitar like Alejandro.

I’ll never write a poem like Robert Frost.

I’ll never tell a story like Cormac McCarthy.

No matter how much I put my mind to it.

They say, you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

Not true.

spidey is a woman

I saw Bob Foster in the coffee shop Saturday. I asked about his daughter, Julie, who graduated from our small town high school in St. Albans, WV and made it to the big time working in New York City as an architectural preservationist. But she doesn’t just sit at a desk and review historic documents. She rappels down New York skyscrapers with a camera and a hammer and inspects for deteriorating masonry. Yep, that’s a thing. She was one of the preservationists featured on the Today show recently. She’s in the group scene at the end.

Bob told us that to allay the fears of her mother, she told her that she doesn’t rappel down buildings more than 60 stories. Which, as it turns out, wasn’t exactly true. As if 90 stories is any more dangerous than 60. Click the link below to see the Today show clip.

Go, Spidey.

https://www.today.com/video/women-building-inspectors-rappel-down-new-york-s-high-rises-1503459907634

choices

1950s movie starlet at home for the Christmas holidays.

Could have been. She had those classic movie-star looks. She always wanted to be “discovered.” But her choice was her family. She was a stay-at-home mom. That’s what most mothers did back then. So maybe life in the limelight was not her destiny. In some ways it was a sacrifice. Still, it was her choice. Her calling was hard, sometimes wearisome, and largely unglamorous. But it was also noble and virtuous and rewarding in immeasurable ways.

She was my mother.

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”


photo credit: Eugene A. Bird

the guitar

Come sit by the fire. I have a story to tell.

Ok, so it’s Verlon Thompson’s story. And Guy Clark’s.

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