The Twilight Side of the Mountain

The doctor didn’t tell me to not linger!

She only told me to walk.  To engage my legs daily.  To stick to an exercise regimen.  To stride briskly.  To stay in shape.

I lingered.  The east side of the reservoir.  About a half-way point on my 4-mile regimen.

I watched the guy standing on the rocks, right next to the water line.  Thought he represented just another fisherman.

But he didn’t have a rod, line or fish dessert on the end of the missing line.  Stooped over a bit.  Towards the sunset.  Held a camera, intent on capturing a glimpse of the far-beyond.  The twilight side of the mountain.

A swath of divinely painted orange spread across the mountain tops.  Perhaps like the ice cream that I dream about sitting atop a slice of black cherry pie.  Or, perhaps like the brush stroke of an artist putting the finishing touches on His day’s painting.  Probably the latter.

The mountains still wore clothing made of winter snow, still un-melted.  At this time of the day, they also wore shirts splotched with graying green and rock-hewn ridges.  Tree tops and roof tops made up their trousers.  Taken together, quite a splendid uniform.  A mosaic, unmatched by human artistry.  Except, like for the guy by the water’s edge, poorly copied replicas gave reason for a camera’s eye to feast.

Over top of the orange head-dress, blue-grayish clouds streaked into the sky’s emerging keto-diet, restricting further consumption of light.  Stars didn’t quite overtake the global dome of nightfall.  Yet.  But they stood at the door to darkness to show off their brilliance in the ballroom of dancing dreams.  Like diamonds ready to sequin a formal tux or dress.

Back to my regimen!

Legs, robbed of strength two years ago, challenged me to complete my path to the day’s conclusion.  Back then, chemotherapy left two feet with tingling and a loss of feeling in the toes.  Legs no longer work like they used to.  Stamina dims like the day’s good-bye salute to sunshine.  A couch waits my fanny, and a television waits an indifferent audience 6 or 8 feet from my evening sitting place.

On one of my recent doctor visits, the MD alerted that hormone therapy evidenced itself by a newly diagnosed case of backbone osteoporosis, and osteopenia in the legs.  But walking past willow-like trees bent over the water’s edge, their trunks mimicked nature’s version of the same diagnoses.  Somebody had severed several stooped bark-holders.  They refused to die, as illustrated by the skinny leafy branches shooting ambitious arms into the sky, towards the water, and to the reach of neighbors.

Out of the corner of my eye, a shadowy figure raced, and then stopped.  Of course, my eyes diverted from aging trees to this symbol of quickened youth, the darting from here to there.  It paused before entering the cover of shrubbery, cat tails and overgrowth.  A rabbit practiced its escape routine from its red-tailed predators, as it continued its disappearance into the thick fauna.  It desperately seemed intent on making a fox go hungry that evening.

A fisherman cast a line of hope into a glassy expanse of water.  The plop spread ripples of disruption, probably scattering his intended catch into directions devoid of baited hook.  In all likelihood, hope sprung from prior experience which demonstrated the ever-recurring absence of absolute fish attention to danger signals.  They all seemed to fall victim to drops of concentration from time to time.  Appetite also seemed to play a part in diverting focus from danger to temptation.

Springtime already sprung a warming smile, ducks already began to walk and swim in pairs.  Same with the Canadian geese.  But a few remained unmatched.  One of the few swam directly toward my figure, making his nose the head of an arrow, and the perfectly V-shaped ripple the feather of its shaft.

* * * * *

As my hoofs carried me home, a spiritual philosopher overtook my persona.  Mind erased the physically impaired feet and legs that otherwise continued their whining.  Attention to ethereal matters made complaining joints a distant and unnoticed road noise.

A thought.  Human life appears to mimic patterns already established in nature.  Nature exposes its lesson books through simple walks past its trappings of survival patterns.

Predators seek their next meal.  Prey seek shelter from their natural enemies.  Not sure if either truly represents good or evil.  Nature’s balance probably teaches neither.

Nevertheless, life seems to constitute a metaphor for goodness or evil.  Or, maybe both.  Or, maybe each in its own time.  Evil raises its head through self-interest while goodness extends hands of helpfulness in less self-centered purpose.

What does my life represent?

As a child, I gobbled up love and attention.  Took all that I could get.  And more, if you count the efforts at self-satisfaction, at the expense of my brother and two sisters.  And more, if you also count my extended family of brothers and sisters.  When I could get away with it, I bullied others, grabbed the attention that I could, and always tried to reign supreme in competition – sports and other forms.

Mom demonstrated cruelty a time or two.  As a 5-year-old, determination to obtain an extra scoop of ice cream caused gorging on watermelon to memorialize itself into everlasting family posterity.  She took this wailing child into the back yard, pointed the video camera on its prey, and pushed the “On” button.  The camera rolled.  Dirty fingers could not successfully wipe away the tears as they poured blackened droplets freely down cheeks initially reddened by heightened blood pressure.  She allowed crying to continue until exhaustion overtook childhood stubbornness.

I finished my watermelon.  Don’t remember getting the ice cream that ambitions of gluttony sought.  Doubt that selfishness prevailed that time.

As a teen, desires changed.  But efforts to out-perform others never waned.  Always wanted to surpass peers and obtain the laudatory praise of elders, and the admiration of the vanquished.

As a bread winner, dedication-to-family lessoned these desires.  But they remained true to form when competing to make a living and support a spouse who staked her welfare on the provider that she thought she married, . . . and children who were given no choice but to depend upon their father.  Providing some sort of nest egg for retirement also weighed upon self-directed survival efforts.

Thinking through each of these phases, predator instincts instructed competitive spirit.  A rabbit’s instinct simultaneously alerted times where ducking into underbrush seemed appropriate to escaping higher food chain carnivores.

* * * * *

Retirement age arrived, then became a spot to unremembered history.  The office still calls every morning.  Clients still require my routines and command my deadlines.

But concerns about financial security through retirement evaporated somewhere before age 65, when Medicare became a security blanket.  At age 66, Social Security added a cover over that first blanket.

Not sure how or when it actually happened.  Like a rabbit aimlessly wandering into underbrush, or maybe practicing its escape patterns from ever-roaming predators, financial security just happened.  Worries now center more upon threats to health than threats to accumulations needed to fund retirement comforts.

Like a predator whose belly has reached fullness, competitive spirit changed its aspirations for dominance.  At least, in the traditional sense.  Now, a sense of caring for others somehow changed survival instincts into a sense of caring.  For others.  For the welfare of those not given the abundance of prey that spread its choices of main courses to desserts.

* * * * *

Preachers that I listen to Sunday mornings continue to preach a doctrine of neighborly love.  Why does it seem to make more sense now?  Does ability to share physical wealth and talent-ladened experience in matters well-practiced impact sense of neighborly love?

Not sure of the answers.  Not sure that credit accrues to someone whose competitive supremacy and comfortable security subdued self-centered desires into a compassionate spirit.

Nevertheless, the discovery of neighborly love, true or imitation, put into its rightful place a mostly life-long quest for survival and dominance.  True neighborly love, or its imitation, raised its head to reveal a satisfaction of a most unexpected kind.  The satisfaction of assisting a less advantaged person or two to a higher level of self-sufficiency recently surpassed the fleeting triumphal feeling of temporary supremacy.

* * * * *

For some crazy reason, the promise (or threat) of retirement repulsed this Type-A personality.  Since a 2017 trip to Tanzania to try to make a positive difference in the lives of one, maybe a couple aspiring entrepreneurs, a different sense of competitive spirit took charge of my psyche.

  • Partnering with a dentist yielded a polyclinic employing eleven people, seven of them full time.
  • A friend and I partnering with a green pepper grower enabled her to double her growing capacity and provide a steadier supply of vegetables to markets wanting reliable suppliers.
  • A group of three ladies brow-beat this do-gooder into capitalizing their entry into grain processing.
  • The dental enterprise, surprised by the potential sale of the property that it leased, yielded a purchase of that same real estate to create an office leasing enterprise governed by a Tanzanian directorship of five directors and yours truly.
  • The desire to negotiate loans yielding fair interest rates translated into the establishment of a micro-lending company.

The personal investment into these ventures constitute symptoms of eccentricity.  Maybe proof!

Does it matter?

Does it matter to those whose lives have changed?

Personal financial security remains intact.  But the easy chair entitlement, that retirement offers to most, remains secluded, unemployed, and someone else’s conclusion of this person’s semi-insanity.  Yes, it appears crazy, for sure.

Unintended consequences?  Unforeseen results?

“Yes.”

Probably the greatest sense of pleasure, satisfaction, and even triumph those earlier years of competitive supremacy never quite yielded.

Outstanding sits an invitation to a good friend.  An orphan turned 26 years old.  Without a chance to otherwise make a living, provide for a spouse, or achieve his own personal satisfaction.  If accepted, he will travel to Colorado.  Together we will develop his business plan to begin his own video and photography business.  His visual arts passion.  His chance for self-sufficiency in business.

He will need financial guidance.  Direction.  Discipline.

A CPA and financially mature Tanzanian partner will need to join with him in this venture.  He will also provide company to this anticipated visit and contribute his intellect into plan development.  A service business, not requiring a factory full of equipment, should minimize the need for an essential threshold of start-up capital funding.  Maybe.

Another symptom of craziness?

“Yes.”

Another source of satisfaction, potential competitive achievement?

“Hopefully!”

Genuine love?

“Feels like it!”

* * * * *

The regimen that propelled an evening walk around that glistening reservoir propelled an early morning walk around that same path.

The fading of darkness instigated a curious rattle; a red winged blackbird seemed to awaken to a new beginning.  Daybreak welcomed a string of Canadian geese as they single-filed themselves towards the water’s mid-section.  Walking westward, a forked diversion through thick foliage tempted this early morning pedestrian.  But the alure of an eastward looking sunrise demurred the detour to another day.

Reaching the western edge of a perfectly sleepy lake, a reason for pause greeted this early riser.  The sunrise side of the mountain offered a vision for a new day.  A divine artist’s pencilwork drawing framed an emerging horizon to the east, as sunlight hidden behind it, approached its intended emergence into daylight.  As an orange eyeball peaked over the edge of forever and looked my way, dawn’s smile spread cheeks of gladness.  The night surrendered itself to daybreak’s domination.  But charity seemed to characterize its demeanor.  Its grin communicated new opportunity.  Rather than overcoming prey, it focused on underpinning new starts.

Does daybreak represent the expression of love from some sort of divine source?  Has this source already discovered the superior satisfaction derived from sharing rather than conquering?

Maybe this divine source never discovered love at all!

Maybe this divine source created love.

Or maybe this divine source actually IS love!

Did God just peak over the eastern horizon?  Did He just smile at me?  Again?

* * * * *

With the talents and resources left in my backpack, I wonder if God intends them to be used to cushion, beyond need, my continued retirement comfort?  My easy chair?  I wonder if God intends that I use them to provide a hand up to my neighbor, my friend?

Real love?  An imitation?  Does it matter?

Will I take that knapsack with me to the other side of the mountain?  Only to discover that I don’t need it on the sunrise side of a new day?

Will a full knapsack matter?

My numbered days decrease with each new sunset disappearing over the twilight side of the mountain.  But they seem to promise new opportunities with each sunrise greeting a new day.

As my curiosity about what lies beyond those mountains escalates, an increased sense of wonder asks if putting my sliver of an eyeball over that western horizon will yield a big, orange smile at someone else’s new day?  Maybe a new perspective of someone else’s opportunities sprung from a Type-A guy’s refusal to take an easy chair?

Or my own new opportunities? 

John

June 9, 2021

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