25 Slices
Medium 9781927068304

Prologue: Being Here

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

PROLOGUE

BEING HERE

Oscar Wilde once said that if faced with a choice between going to heaven or going to a lecture about heaven, most people would go to the lecture. We seem to be suspicious of a paradise in a far-off time and never-never land — some professing to believe it, some wishing to believe it, others believing it’s unbelievable. How different all this is from Thomas Traherne’s experience: “Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in God’s palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys; having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels.”

Love and work: these were Freud’s criteria of a successful life, the reasons for staying on this planet at all. Yet both can be degraded from opportunity to opportunism, and both can come to feel like joyless obligations. Are compassion and creativity better terms? Are we here to experience common passion, and to make something of the experience? It’s one way of phrasing the spiritual quest.

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Silent Night

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

SILENT NIGHT

It was just before Christmas. She was fourteen years old. She had left a note where her mother, but not her father, would find it, and had gone to sit on a bridge for two hours deciding whether to jump. What finally got her off the bridge, she said, was repeating doggedly to herself, “Just because my old man is an asshole doesn’t mean I have to die.”

When we met, one of the first things she told me was, “I used to be able to deal with my black holes by painting, but I can’t even do that anymore.” I had often pondered for myself the futility of repressing the death impulse, since everything that lives, dies; but I thought of what painting had meant to her, and asked, “What if you don’t take the suicidal impulse literally? What if it’s a symbol of an old way of life coming to an end, so something new can be created?” She replied instantly, “That’s it exactly — something in my soul wants to die.”

Christmas, we know, is the worst time for depressed people. The world is at a party, and they have not been invited. Many who go to the bridge don’t come back. But this girl survived the holidays, and in early January we met again. She spent most of that hour talking about her schizophrenic grandmother — how the rest of the family couldn’t understand her, yet she herself was a good friend of Grandma’s, and the two of them had no trouble whatsoever in conversing. Then, as the bell was about to ring, she said, “But I have to tell you a dream I had the other night.”

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An Unexpected Fox

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

AN UNEXPECTED FOX

I am not the first man to have lost his way only to find, if not a gate, a mysterious hole in a hedge that a child would know at once led to some other dimension at the world’s end. Such passageways exist, or man would not be here. Not for nothing did Santayana once contend that life is a movement from the forgotten into the unexpected. — Loren Eiseley

In his essay collection The Star Thrower, Loren Eiseley told of an encounter with a fox pup one morning beside an abandoned boat on a beach, just as the sun was coming up. He had sat all night under the open sky, dozing and dreaming and thinking about his departed father. He didn’t know that the decaying hulk of the boat against which he was leaning was a fox den. But at sunrise a little creature crawled out and showed him a miracle, he said, which cured him of the common sickness of gazing with upright human arrogance on the things of this world.

The pup inspected him carefully, then offered him a chicken bone between its teeth. On a childlike impulse, Eiseley — esteemed scholar that he was — went down on all fours and picked up another bone in his teeth, and shook his head vigorously in reply. With that the two creatures tumbled to the ground and played, and there Eiseley had his miracle. It was very small, he said, as is the way of great things; but, he concluded pensively, “there is no use reporting it to the Royal Society.”

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A Medicine Story

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

A MEDICINE STORY

Near the end of the second grade, I got into my first fight on the school playground with a younger but bigger and heavier kid nicknamed Big Ears. We had shoved at each other awhile when he stuck out his foot and tripped me, and I went for a hard tumble. I tried to break the fall, and did — but also broke the bones of my right arm about six inches above the wrist.

It was 1954. Before the days of medicare nobody in our world was in a hurry to see a doctor, and it was a long time before anyone knew those bones were broken. Our remedies began close to home. Across the back alley lived an old woman who had a reputation as a “bone-setter”. These were homegrown practitioners who applied coarse remedies to assorted ailments, including broken bones. My people preferred consulting them over doctors because their fees were negotiable, ranging from a heartfelt Dankeschoen to maybe a bag of potatoes from the garden, or even an occasional cash payment of a dollar or two. In the Low German dialect, they were known as Traijtmoakasch — right-makers. My paternal grandfather was a well-known right-maker in the district, operating a clinic from a little yellow shed in his backyard under a sign that read “Dew Drop Inn”. He had strong liniments there, and many sizes of wooden crutches on which we cousins hobbled around his yard when we went for family gatherings. But the clinic was eight miles away in the next village, while old Mrs. Sawatzky lived next door.

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Humdinger

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

HUMDINGER

Humdinger: A striking or extraordinary person or thing.

In the Green Forest and the dear Old Briar patch, near the Laughing Brook and the Smiling Pool, lived the wonderful bunch of characters of Thornton W. Burgess’s books, which our teacher began reading to us in the first grade. Sammy Jay, Unc’ Billy Possum, Shadow the Weasel, Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Prickly Porky and the rest contended with each other’s nasty ways, getting into remarkably human scrapes and adventures while steering clear of Farmer Brown’s boy and his dog, Bowser the Hound. When my daughter and her children gave me The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk for my birthday one year, the whole cast came popping up from the pages and from a long-overlooked corner of my mind.

One late fall day in Diefenbaker Park, I was startled by a little critter as it emerged from a gopher hole — ears round like Mickey Mouse’s, face like a tiny lion’s peering from above a curiously long neck. It took off for another hole, stood for an instant, snaked in and out of the earth, ran again with bulbous black-tipped tail flying behind, vanished into the next hole, and appeared again from the ground.

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