Pompano Beach, Florida – LIVING – Here is a narrative which hopefully keeps its buoyancy across our Great Lakes in the telling. Forever recognizing the compelling storyteller Helen Keller became, rather brilliantly, in her re-telling of her experiences amazingly after losing her sight. What’s here are a series of stepping stone discoveries following a mixture of losses encountered.
Last summer working on a nautical story there was a moment, at my desk, where I paused thinking a contemporary description of how a writer sees an octopus would dove-tail nicely into what I was doing.
I turned to my billfold as I had carried a poem about an octopus since first reading it in California in 1992. The billfold was on a nearby shelf. Opening it my eyes looked for the folded swatch containing the poem where it would be wedged between the skin of the wallet and my library card. It wasn’t there? Then. Immediate recall. A student heading overseas once inquired if there was was a modern poem by an American which she might share with students in Europe studying International Literature.
It became slightly remarkable realizing how many moons ago that was.
Though the poem had been given and the returning was open-ended. Not until the emerging of this past July came along had there been a situation in a re-focus or re-reading.Obviously out of sight, it was right out of mind. However through the Lamont Poetry Centre at Harvard I received a phone number to the poet. It was the Fourth of July.
The poet taught at a Pacific University. Dialling and contacting him, his first words were, “Thanks for calling. It’s our 4th.” We talked for a bit. Mentioning common writers, authors, artists we’d both been in the company of. It was when I inquired about his poem, how beautiful and skillfully written it was, and would there be a chance to have it sent North; to underscore a correctness in a quote in my writing, when his reply became riveting. “Don’t have a copy,” he said.
The break in our dialogue lingered for a touch. He continued, “You see I went to Oregon to teach. In the first weeks there was an apartment fire. I lost everything I’d brought. Clothes, books, poems. Everything was in cinders.”
After signing off all I wanted to do was find a copy of that composition and e-mail it his way.
On my mind was what a musician once reflected. “Losing something important teaches the elite value of what’s lost.” Not too many days later through the diligence of a Canadian librarian a print of the poem surfaced. We mailed it to the poet. Meanwhile I had his thumbs up to clip a quote into my story. Later, in early Autumn, as my wife and I were bringing a car rental back to Calgary in the comings and goings of a hasty exchange, in heavy merciless constant traffic at the airport, I came through it without my camera. The realization became very deflating. Gradually, there were thoughts of what had you thinking about this lost possession — before any further discussion — may have held some of the best photos ever taken.
Yet In the repetition of it all, one kept trying to understand what could have prevented its disappearance?Though I still had notebooks, and sketchbooks, capturing images, stages in going places, just as our pioneers used to. Getting back home there was a message left. The Airport Rental had located the camera. Eureka! And, it was a very sunny Indian Summer morning when the national courier arrived at our door with ‘the lost coin’ as we had been referring to our camera after the biblical parable of that title.
The first photo I took was a scene if wild geese overhead on the clearest of Tahitian blue skies above our house. Later, in mid-September, again at an airport I was waiting on a flight connection. This was Toronto. There were travellers arriving from separate hemispheres. A clutch of golfers in kilts returning from St. Andrews. Women in burkas talking modestly while walking collectively. Ones with boomerangs as souvenirs back from the Land Down Under.
You could hear them chatting about seeing koalas and kangaroos while they recounted being in Land Rovers in the Outback. Soon the golfers moved to a location where I was. One part of their Scottish adventure, however, told of an unfortunate incident. One who sat outside on a bench removing his golfing shoes at the 18th green was changing into his walking shoes. He was beaming with pride. One would surmise being at that venerable course was the ultimate spiritual lift. Let alone having just played the entire course under balmy, bonnie skies. He was enveloped his sporting euphoria, sitting inside an historic time capsule where the landscaping and greenery was a slice of a golfer’s Heaven on earth.
Out of the blue, his name called to join his colleagues. It was then he slipped away forgetting his golf cleats. Left, and, lost. For only a short time, they were reasoning as they spoke awaiting other luggage to come along at the baggage compartment. They believed–likely rightly–a good Samaritan would get there. Pick up those special shoes and seek a way to return them. Just like our camera’s boomerang trip home..
But these illustrations of losing things had me recalling a writer we surely admire.That would be William Hutchison Murray. Captured when his plane went down in WW 2. Murray was held in a concentration camp. There, attempting to keep his mind alive–staying alert- -he tried to write every day. He was remembering his homeland mountains and streams where he hiked before the war. Sadly, on a furious fleecing of his nest on an inspection day the Gestapo discovered his manuscript. Proceeded to destroy it. Their were attempting to nullify his creative achievement inside their draconian encampment. Not one to have the wind taken from his sails Murray was unique.
One with an iron will. He smuggled bits of paper, folded into cuffs and sleeves and proceeded to rewrite his book. It was triumphantly published in Scotland after the war ended. How fitting for an author who wrote titles like: There’s Evidence In Not Always Seeing It. The final tale in this telling came as another plane taxied into Winnipeg on a sultry, overcast and moody day. The voyageur seated beside me had been in a conversation about runners. He was still very lithe. As well a very spry telling me he was in his early eighties. We talked about great runners. Because he was remarking on how, in his younger days, his sporting venue was the tracks and trails he ran that were “my spiritual sanctuary” as he put it. We recognized Roger Bannister’s four minute mile. And, that world wide moment in time.
Johnny Walker the hero of New Zealanders as Walker gained yearly fame as a global marathoner. Sebastian Coe of England. As well, the resilient ‘Lightning Bolt’ in some of the most recent Olympics. But, as it turned out, my fellow traveller had come from a sad parting. He had the ultimate loss in a lifetime. He had just lost his wife. She had passed on, a week before In a hospital in Alberta.
He said, “You are the first one I’ve spoken to about her outside of our family.” He continued, “I’d like to thank you for sharing things about legendary runners. It made the flight go smooth as a glider.”
He paused, gathered his thoughts and feelings, While looking out the window. Surveying the dull neutral grey of the well worn tarmac receiving tears of rain from Heaven.
He looked at me, with a sadness in face. Said reflectively, before we departed our plane, “she always said things best.” He hesitated, and rightly so, wanting to complete the thought. “Her last words…you’ll forever be my Valentine.”