Short Story – The Beach Baby

Short Story – The Beach Baby

Long ago, about the place that would one day be New York, a journey began. The travelers did not know where they were going, but each day took a step in a direction that made them more content and more likely to continue the journey.

This journey continued, winding to and fro, for nearly 4500 km (2800 miles). None who began the journey remained, and many who joined for a time left to find their own paths better suited for them. But some particular travelers, over time uncharted, had arrived at the place that would one day be Santa Monica Beach, California.

Our travelers were weary from the difficult journey, having given everything they had to keep moving. In their final act of life, the travelers painfully extended outstretched arms 15 cm (six inches) through some bushes to gently place the last remaining members of their party into the soft sand. A newborn baby, and a puppy to watch her.

The baby awoke, her blinking eyes attempting to adjust to the sun overhead for the first time. She giggled at the tickle of the puppy’s lapping tongue on her tiny toes. The baby sat up and marveled at all she saw… the ocean extending forever before her, the warm golden sand on which she sat, and the trees that swayed overhead.

“I was made for this beach,” smiled the baby, “and this beach for me. We are new and wonderful and unlike anything that could ever be or have been.”

“Pardon me,” said the puppy, “but we are here as part of a long, long journey taken by many before us.”

The baby laughed at the foolish puppy. “Don’t be silly,” the baby said. “The beach began when I opened my eyes. There are no other places, for if there were I would certainly see them.”

The puppy tilted his head in adorable bewilderment, and shifted his gaze past the baby to the nearby edge of the beach. “Do you not see the bodies of your parents, their arms outstretched and decomposing in the sun? They brought you here.” Acknowledging the smell made the puppy’s nose wrinkle.

“Those are not my parents!” said the baby. “You have made up the idea of parents because this beach was made for me and not for you. No one has seen a birth. It is not common sense that I might come out of a dead creature. Those giants obviously appeared at the same time I did, but didn’t make it.”

Sniffing at the sand, the puppy urged the baby to turn her gaze from the ocean. “What of all these tracks in the sand?” the puppy asked. “They extend to the edge of the beach. If you look past the bush, the tracks extend as far east as my eyes can see or nose can smell.”

Crawling two steps toward the puppy, the baby scoffed. “Journeys are impossible. No one has seen a journey. The whole idea makes me laugh.”

The puppy nodded his snout toward the markings in the sand under the baby’s knees. “Just now, you shuffled forward two steps. A journey is simply that motion repeated over and over, covering incredible distances one shuffle at a time.”

The baby scowled at the obvious gibberish of the puppy. “Obviously I can crawl from one side of the beach to the other,” the baby chided. “We see crawling all the time. No one denies crawling. But there are limits. Crawling does not become a journey. Show me a journey, puppy! Show me one crawl that became a journey! I want to see it happen.”

“Journeys cover incredible distances,” pleaded the puppy. “You have existed only long enough to crawl a few strides along this beach. How do you suppose you might personally witness thousands of kilometers when you are physically limited to centimeters? We see only our portion, baby — not the beginning or the end — that is simply the nature of the journey.”

“The entirety of the universe was revealed to me when I opened my eyes,” sneered the baby. “I did not suddenly appear on this beach by accident.”

“But the diaper you wear,” said the puppy. “It is made of a cotton grown far from here. The image on your shirt depicts a cactus, a plant not found on a beach. The flower in your hair, it cannot grow near salt water. They are souvenirs your parents and grandparents left you, evidence of their journey now possessed by you.”

“These things I have do not show a journey, silly puppy,” said the baby, letting the sound of the waves down out his fanciful ideas. “Cotton and flowers and cactus may exist elsewhere, I don’t know. But they have always been here with me, just as your collar has always been on you.”

“But…”, the puppy began to object.

“Hush now, puppy,” the baby cooed, scratching her companion’s long ears. “I will hear no more of it. Let us simply enjoy this beach that was made for me.”

U2 and Me – One Life, but we’re not the same.

U2 and Me – One Life, but we’re not the same.

The piles of clothes, fast-food wrappers and lidless boxes left little room for me in the back seat of Sheldon’s two-door car. I did not know driving-age Sheldon, but he was a friend of Cory. I didn’t know Cory that well either, but he was my first connection at the new school and neighborhood to which I had moved in the summer and somehow that landed me in this slightly smelly situation. Sheldon asked for “Red Rocks” and Cory fingered through the jammed-full case of cassettes, pulling out a well-worn plastic shell of orange hue, and popping the tape into the car stereo.

“Do you like U2?” Sheldon asked me, his first direct address since the “Hey” of our introduction.

“Of course,” I replied, probably unconvincingly. I had heard of U2, but I didn’t know anything about them. I was about to learn.

The Joshua Tree came out the next year. In the time between, my album collection had added a few cassette tapes (purchased, not just my own bootleg recordings of the radio) and my exclusively contemporary Christian library (Amy Grant, David Meece, Michael W. Smith, Lisa Whelchel, Petra and the like) had been breached by Michael Jackson’s Bad.

I was fully taken with Joshua Tree, though I can’t claim that I understood all its subtleties. I got both the cassette and vinyl versions for maximum quality at home and use in my new Walkman when away. I remember my delight when it won the Grammies for best album and best group performance. I remember feeling justified in siding with long-time fans who resented all the new adherents. I remember the bands’ new penchant for dark clothing influencing my own already monochromatic trend.

It was the release of concert album and concert movie, Rattle and Hum, in 1988 that pushed me from fan to huge fan. I was suddenly into whatever U2 information and lore that one can acquire seven years before the world’s first web page. I got a fedora and a harmonica.

Part of my justification — to myself, my Christian youth leaders, and to my parents — for my fascination with this Irish band was that they were (with the exception of evil bass player, Adam) Christians. They were not worldly and corrupting like the pop-music videos banned in our household.

I could rattle off the evidence. The lyrics for their song “40” were adapted directly from Psalm 40. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is about heaven. “One man betrayed with a kiss” (Pride), “And if the mountains should crumble or disappear into the sea…” (The Unforgettable Fire, Psalm 46:2), “We eat and drink while tomorrow they die” (Sunday Bloody Sunday, 1 Cor 15:32), “I have spoken with the tongue of angels” (I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, 1 Cor 13:1), and on and on with examples of scriptural Easter eggs.

My parents were skeptical, but allowed the indulgence. Truth be told, I didn’t ever really buy in to my own argument. As a fundamentalist Christian, I always considered Bono’s brand of liberal, social-justice Christianity to be a false or lesser faith. My simplistic view on spiritual matters saw the bands’ nuance as the the kind of lukewarm faith that Revelation says will be spit out. U2 weren’t proclaiming their spiritual answers, as commanded. It was not mine to judge, but I kind of judged.

Despite that philosophical difference, I loved everything about their music –sticking with them through experimental phases of Zooropa, Pop and beyond. I went to their concerts whenever opportunity arose, more often creating the opportunities in cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, San Jose, Las Vegas across decades and tours. Collecting obscure, rare and unreleased tracks and bootlegs (in a pre-file-sharing age) brought me joy as a deeper-than-average fan. Sometimes it was the message of the songs that spoke to me, sometimes just the rhythmic riffs and lilting vocals.

In the wake of my deconversion from Christianity to atheism, I find myself aligning more closely with the social worldview of lead singer Bono than I did when we shared a faith label. AIDS prevention, third-world debt relief, truth equality of the Abrahamic religions (“Jesus, Jew, Mohammed… it’s true“), same-sex marriage and gay rights, and other “left” causes… things that turned me off in a former life.

To be sure, Bono is a theist. In Michka Assayas’ book, Bono, the singer lays out his loose theology which incorporates karma, fatherhood, and friendship with more traditional Christianity tenets.

“When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.”

When posed with C.S. Lewis’ “liar, lunatic or lord” trilemma, I tend to go with “(d) legend”, but that is a subject for another time. Orthodox or not, still haven’t found what he’s looking for or not, you know Bono believes it.

Like an immigrant living in a new land, I can be delighted to hear the tongue of my youth, no matter the sentiment expressed. With so much of my life invested in studying the Bible, I remain part of the inner circle who understand the pervasive scriptural in-jokes of U2’s lyrics — getting all the references, but not offended by any creative twists or heretic reworkings. It is connective tissue.

With the turmoil of the past few years of my life, the music of U2 remained part of the small unchanging core. A fixed point. Certainly, some songs have slipped from prayer to nostalgia. Others that were once merely poems are now profound reflections or surgical daggers. There are phrases in U2’s discography that grip me and tear me, and to identify examples would betray too much.

Assuming that U2’s next album will not once again be thrust unsuspectingly on my iPhone, I will continue to seek them out and hand them my money. Even if their repertoire sours in the future, U2 will always remain my answer to the “what is your favorite band?” security question.

In “All Along the Watchtower”, Bono lists his assets as “three chords and the truth”. He and I have never quite agreed on that last part, but in the first we find common ground where we can search for the middle.


This entry is in response to a reader request. If there is any topic you’d like to see me cover in the future, please let me know.

To Those Who Escaped the Maze

To Those Who Escaped the Maze

I don’t know if I could express my own emotions and feelings about my life on this side of atheism any better than this podcast host could in describing his listeners.

If you’d like to know the current me a little better, listen to the end. I guess attempt to find comfort that my story is so common.

“I know he’s given up a lot of himself to get there. I know he had to come face-to-face with a lot of demons, a lot of lies he’d been told by the people that love him and a lot of lies that he told to the people he loved. He had to simultaneously come to grips with both his culpability and his victimhood. He had to kick away pillars that had dammed back his doubts for decades and face that oncoming flood with no reward on the other side of it but knowledge.”

Two Weeks of Four Weeks to Live

Two Weeks of Four Weeks to Live

On April 25 of this year, I added a brief comment to the description of my photo-of-the-day entry, “Was rescanned this afternoon. Still cancer-free.”

My particular cancer, Myxoinflammatory Fibroblastic Sarcoma, has a high recurrence rate and spreads quickly, so I will be scanned multiple times a year for the rest of my life. I probably won’t mention clear diagnosis on social media going forward, but it was novel in April to have had my first post-surgery scan. Ideally they will become boring and routine.

That said, late on May 13 I received a call from the cancer centre to let me know that my x-rays were not clean after all. The doctors found a spot in a right-side rib that was concerning and that they couldn’t identify. I was to report to radioactive medicine the following Wednesday for a bone scan. The caller used the phrase “nothing to worry about” at least five times in the brief call. That’s one of those phrases that seems less genuine the more often it is used.

My mind couldn’t help but leap back to my original diagnosis last fall when my lead oncologist told me, probably more casually than he intended, that “If it gets in your chest, you’ll have about four weeks to live.”

I’m obviously not trained in medicine, but my amateur understanding is that my rib is in my chest. And my math skills are still pretty solid.

This news came as my teens were already scattering to their weekend activities and a week of living at their mom’s house. I hadn’t processed enough to try to wrangle them back and give them this nebulous bit of news. With nothing really to do or to report, I didn’t see a reason to lend any weight to their weekend. Though that decision still bothers me a little, so perhaps it was not the right one. I’ll continue to evaluate that.

The net result was an anvil of uncertainty hanging over my weekend and following days. At one time in my life, the test itself might have been a bigger deal. It required reporting to nuclear medicine first thing in the morning to be injected with a radioactive cocktail that would then need three hours to circulate in my blood enough to permeate bone. Then an hour of needing to hold perfectly still (with some straps to “help”) on a bed slab as square-meter camera panels slowly panned all around me. For a severe claustrophobe, it wasn’t quite as bad as an MRI, but as it was an inch from my nose for way too long. I’ll perhaps ask to have some magazine articles taped to it for next time.

I was told to expect a call in 3-5 days with results, good or bad. “We don’t believe that no news is good news,” the nurse told me. I was too out of it to think to ask if those were business days or planetary rotations. (I foolishly didn’t consider the possibility of those biblical “unspecified time period” days.)

I’ve had the opportunity (“pleasure” is the wrong word, perhaps “honor”) recently to speak with individuals who are having their own cancer scares. My advice has been that the not-knowing waiting-to-hear period is actually the worst part of all of it. The part to live through. Once the diagnosis has been made, the body and mind can snap into battle mode and take whatever seeming torture the treatment brings as steps forward. But in the time of waiting, the mind is left to speculate and mine is capable of conjuring unnatural darkness. (Fed all the more by scraps of rational possibility.)

The mind also has amazing abilities to protect us from realities too big to handle. Distractions and responsibilities allowed me to live the remaining days with a sense of a cloud, but mostly unaffected in general tasks. And, frankly, I’ve already made a lot of peace with the reality of the temporary nature of my life. Any of us could be hit by a bus any day… I just might have the fortune / misfortune of seeing mine coming. I don’t fear or lament the end of me, but merely ache for the impact to my children and others left. (My personal mortality issues are quite different, perhaps for another day.)

But nor will my brain leave me in peace, rather the next eight days were punctuated with random assaults. “If I’m not going to be here, why am I paying this cable bill?”, it would question. “You have one month, and this is what you’re doing?” was common, perhaps loudest when mowing my dandelions.

The greatest trigger was anyone asking me to look ahead past the next week. “Do you have plans for the summer?” is well meaning conversation, but I had to bite back hard to not retaliate with a sharp, “I won’t be here.” Kids and life require some forward looking, but I was completely incapable. There was a big black curtain separating the day I was occupying and those purely hypothetical future squares on the calendar. They were days of existing, but not living.

One of those days was my birthday. Years ago, birthdays became crisis and crossroads days for me, not in any way something to be celebrated… more of an anger renewal. My kids and I had the day before my birthday off of school and work for Canada’s Victoria Day, so we hit the zoo, despite the sn0w-like rain, and had a great time together with a special dinner and daughter-crafted cake. That left my mind undistracted on my actual birthday… not a good idea.

I was ready for either news. Either way was welcome.

On Thursday, 13 days after the original call, I finally heard. It was an administrator talking to me and not a doctor, so that automatically meant good news, but also less information. The spot on my rib was “not cancer” and “unconcerning”. What is it? Since I’m stubbornly unwilling to make an appointment with my doctor only for clarification beyond his call instructions, that revelation will have to wait for my next scans in August.

It’s just a few days past the news now, but I’m looking again at the dandelions that have since sprouted. I have an indeterminate time here, is that what I’m doing?

Slam Blogetry – Fury Road

Slam Blogetry – Fury Road

“How can you be so calm?” “If I were you, I’d lose it.” This flavor of comment are my life-long companions. Maybe because Canadian. Maybe religious upbringing. Maybe a rational nature. Or maybe entirely a laughably inconsistent protective exoskeleton construction.

“Doctor Banner, now might be a good time for you to get angry.”
“That’s my secret, Captain: I’m always angry.”

Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner, Avengers

Or maybe you see me better than some, or the other side of me has been revealed to you. “Why are you so angry?” “What happened to you?”

Hint – it’s not cancer. Never that.

“I gotta hold on to my angst. I preserve it because I need it. It keeps me sharp, on the edge, where I gotta be.”

Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), Heat

Contentment is the key to happiness, or so they say. But that which I would keep from the life I’ve lived is directly attributable to relentless discontent. Discontent is hunger. Discontent is drive. Discontent is motivation.

I envy the content / ignorant / happy, while I simultaneously loathe them with saturating contempt. I would trade in a heartbeat. I would never ever trade.

I have the wisdom and courage. I have not the serenity or acceptance, dear simple prayer.

This song is one I turn to often. (Lyrics possibly not safe for work… depending almost entirely on where you work. Why are you not wearing headphones, you animal?)

Your mere existence probably causes me pain. Thank you for being here.