Friday, December 6, 2013

The Hunt




This is a fictional Christmas story I wrote last year. And I thought I'd share it on here. 
Enjoy. 

 
The Hunt (A Christmas Story)

By Stephanie Skeem





I rolled down the window and stared at the weathered road sign. The air was crisp, and smelled of pine. I breathed in the cool air, analyzing the sign with critical eyes. It was a strange sign---one I had never come across before. It had a picture of a station wagon with an X over it.  

 “What do you think it means?” I wondered.

            My sister, Mandy, who was in the driver’s seat, looked at the sign, and shrugged. “I think it means that if we go up this road, we better have a truck.”

            I smiled. “Good thing we have a truck.”

            “Yeah,” Mandy agreed. “It looks kinda steep, but I think we can make it.”

            “I hope so.”

            My sister pressed on the gas pedal, and turned the truck onto the steep canyon road. The road was narrow and a little muddy. The higher up we climbed, the muddier the road got.

            The truck’s engine strained as it followed the narrow road, up, up, and up. The higher we got, narrower the road became.

            “I don’t like this road,” my sister said, holding the steering wheel tightly. “What if someone comes from the opposite direction? I’ll have nowhere to pull off.”

            I pressed my lips into tight lines, and nodded. “I think taking this road was a bad idea. Why didn’t that stupid sign say only really small trucks can drive on it?” I peered carefully out the window, and held my breath. We were up so high that we could see the canyon we had come from far below us. It was a spectacular view, but being so close to the edge made me feel very uneasy. “I think we should turn around.”

            My sister cast me an angry glance. “Turn around? Where!”

            I threw up my hands in frustration. “I don’t know where. Just somewhere. Maybe if we go up a little further we’ll find a place.”

            My sister gripped the steering wheel tighter, and stared ahead. “I wish dad was driving. I wish he was here. He used to take us on roads like this all the time.”

            “Roads worse than this.” I corrected.

My sister sighed. “Yeah, but he hated looking for Christmas trees. He’d take us, but he wouldn’t ever get out of the truck and help us look for a tree.”

I fogged up the window with my breath, then drew a frowny face with horns on its head. “Why is it that guys in our family are so excited to go hunting for animals, but when we want to go hunting for a Christmas tree, they have to go kicking and screaming all the way? It’s the same principle. You get to go out doors, up into the mountains, and scout for that perfect specimen. Then, when you find it you have to chop it, tag it, and haul it back to the truck. It’s almost the same as hunting a deer.”

“Almost,” my sister replied. “But not quite. When you tree hunt, the target isn’t moving. And you don’t have to kill it.”

“Chopping a tree down can kill it, though,” I said, glaring out the window at the host of tall pine, and aspen trees. The snow was becoming deeper, cloaking the trees in beautiful white tresses. I furrowed my brows and set my jaw, feeling sad that my dad wasn’t with us. When my dad left my mom, everything had changed. My sister and I had to fill the empty spot my dad left. We were tough girls, as my sister liked to say. That’s why we had decided to go plodding out on the mountain alone, looking for a Christmas tree by ourselves. My mom was feeling unwell, and we girls were determined to try and make our first Christmas without our dad as normal as we could make it under the circumstances. We didn’t have much money for extravagant gifts this year, but we had a set of plans to make our Christmas special despite all the bad things that had happened. On the top of the list was finding the PERFECT Christmas tree. Finding a tree meant more to us this year than just any ordinary year. It was something psychological. To find a Christmas tree on our own, meant keeping Christmas despite the change that had happened in our lives. It meant holding on to traditions when deep inside we felt that we had lost our biggest tradition of all. Our dad.

“I’m worried,” my sister murmured, struggling to steady the truck as it slid through the snow. “It’s getting too snowy. I don’t see anywhere we can turn around.”

            “Maybe over there.” I pointed to a bend in the road, where there might be a possibility of turning round.

            My sister took the truck around the bend. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Look! There is enough space for us to turn around. Thank goodness. I was beginning to think we would never get off this horrible mountain.”

            “Wait,” I said. “Before we turn back around, don’t you think we should get out and look for a tree? It’s getting kind of late in the day, so this will probably be our last chance.”

            My sister nodded. “Yeah, I guess so. If we can’t find one now, we probably won’t ever find one. The trees down lower didn’t look like they got enough water this year. Maybe these ones up here will look better.”  

            We got out of the truck and donned our gloves and hats. I grabbed the saw, and stuffed a small flashlight in my pocket. Then we took off through the trees down a side trail.

            “It’s too snowy.” My sister complained. “There wasn’t so much snow below where we were looking before.”

            I smiled and nodded, plodding through the snow. “True. But our Christmas tree wasn’t down there.”

            My sister stared at the mountain with critical eyes. “How do you know it’s up here?”

            “Because after much tribulation cometh the blessings, right?”

            My sister laughed. “Wrong. After much tribulation cometh the blisters, and maybe frostbite.”

             

“What do you think about this Christmas tree?” I asked, pointing to a tree I had just spotted. 

“Hmm?”

“What do you think of it?”

She folded her arms and looked at the tree. “It looks kind of brown. And look, there’s a big ole’ gap on one side. No. It is not the right tree. Let’s keep looking.”

“Sorry, tree,” I said, casting the tree one last glance before heading through snow, and deeper into the trees. It felt good to be moving. Even though my toes and face were cold, my core was warm and sweaty. The air was fresh, and filled with the smell of earth, snow and trees. It almost felt like the Christmas tree hunts way back when, before the divorce split the family in half, and our family outings included more than just my sister and myself.

            “Phew,” my sister panted, leaning against a tree, catching her breath. “I’m hot.”

            I stared at my sister, and smiled. Her nose was red as a raspberry, and her cheeks looked like they had been powdered in blush. “You don’t look hot.” I said. “You look cold.”

            “So do you,” she retorted, marching past me. “A regular Rudolph.”

            “Hey!” I called after her. “Wait for me.”

            She came up to a wide, gurgling stream. It was filled with green mossy rocks and glimmered a beautiful warm yellow from the brown earth of the mountain.

            I bent down and ran my fingers through the icy water. “Makes me thirsty looking at it.”

“Yeah. Why does being cold always make me thirsty?”

            “Because,” My sister said. “It freeze dries you.”

            “Sure feels like it.”

            My sister walked over a fallen log that rested over the stream. I slowly followed her across the log to the other side.

Here the air felt different, colder, and the light was muted, because the trees on this side of the water were bigger and blocked out more of the sun.

            “Wow, it’s so pretty here,” I said.

            “Yeah,” My sister agreed, marching ahead, down an old deer trail through the trees that hugged the mountain. To one the side of us was a large outcropping of rocks and earth, covered in moss and trees, to the other side was an empty wash, full of different sizes and shapes of pine trees.

            I stepped into the wash and walked from tree to tree. “Oh. Look at all these Christmas trees. It’s like our own little Christmas tree farm.”

            I pointed to a decently-sized tree rising out of the wash. It was dark green, beautiful, and perfectly shaped. “What about this one?”

            “Oooh,” my sister cooed, her eyes lighting up as she spotted the tree. “It is pretty.”

            “Should we cut it?”

            My sister hemmed and hawed. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

            I got out my saw, and prepared to fell the tree.

“Wait!” My sister said, peering beneath the tree. “It’s more than one tree.”

            My eyes grew wide. “What?” I knelt down and inspected the tree’s trunk, and frowned. My sister was right. Growing up from the ground was not one trunk, but three. If I cut just one of the trunks, it would leave a huge gap. I stood up and sighed. “That’s too bad. It’s so pretty.”

            My sister waved her hand at the little glen of Christmas trees we had found. “Don’t worry. There’s still plenty more.”

            I cast the perfect tree one last glance and marched forward, inspecting the trees. “But it would be nice if it was.” There were so many Christmas trees that I grew critical of each one. One was too fluffy, one too skinny. Others were too short, too tall, too brown, too fat, too spindly.

            Onward we marched, with the same purpose of heart. To find the perfect tree.

            We followed the wash, deeper into the forest, until at last my sister pointed to a far-off tree on the other side of the hill. The setting sun seemed to silhouette its perfect triangular frame against the sky. “That’s the tree,” she breathed. “I’m sure of it.”

            I nodded, my eyes glistening with greed. “Yes. It does look like the perfect one.”

“Do you think it’s too far away?”

I shook my head. “No. Not too far. We’ve come this far, we can go a little ways further.”

We started out once more, struggling to reach our perfectly-shaped tree.

“Wow,” my sister puffed, slipping trudged her way up. “This is pretty steep.”

“Yeah,” agreed, stepping in a snowdrift that reached to my knees. “But I’m sure it’ll be worth it in the end.”

“I hope so.”

We stumbled through the snow, pushing through snaggy bushes, and over slippery rocks. The father we went, the harder it got for us to see our goal. “Where did the tree go?” I asked, looking at the once-illumined spot of ground where our tree had stood. 

My sister stopped, and stared ahead. “Ummm…I think it’s over there, behind that tree.”

“I hope so,” I puffed. “Cuz I’m getting tired. It’s sooo cold. I can’t feel my chin anymore.”

            My sister wiped her face, and shivered. “My eyes feel frozen.”

            I laughed. “I hope that doesn’t mean you’ve lost track of our tree.”

            My sister shook her head. “No. It’s just up a little ways. I’m sure of it.”

            Nearing the top, my sister stopped and scanned the hill

            “Do you see it?” I wondered.

            She shook her head. “I think….wait yes. There it is!” She pointed to a tree on the top of the hill. From where we stood, it looked perfectly shaped, just like we had seen from below.

            “Only a little ways more!” she said, marching excitedly ahead.

            The funny thing was, that the top of the hill was a lot farther than we had thought it was, so it took us a lot longer to reach it than we had first supposed. The closer we got, the bigger the tree grew. I wanted to say something, but I was sure that once we got to the tree, it would magically be the right size. But the closer we came, the bigger the tree loomed. Once we got to the top of the hill, and saw our, “perfect tree,” close up, things didn’t look so perfectly.

            We stood under the perfect tree, and stared up.

            “Hmmm,” I mused, giggling. “It’s really, really big.”

            “Too big,” My sister’s voice was flat, and discouraged.

            “I don’t think we will be able to fit this tree in our house.”

            My sister stared at me. “Ya think?”

            I shrugged. “Well maybe, if we chopped a hole in our roof.”

            “Don’t think mom will go for that.”

            I walked around the tree’s enormous trunk, smiling. “You never know.”

            My sister groaned and sat in the snow, staring at the darkening sky. “What were we thinking? Even if it had been the right size, we would never be able to haul it all the way down the hill, back to the truck.”

            I sat down by my sister, feeling comical, and tragic at the same time. “We thought that it was the perfect Christmas tree. And it was. Look at it. It’s beautiful, perfect. It’s only flaw is that it’s only a few feet too tall.”

“Only a few?” My sister shot back. “Only about 50 feet too tall.”

I laughed, though it wasn’t funny. It was getting dark. The air had grown much colder. We were a long ways from our truck, and we still hadn’t found our Christmas tree. I was hungry, cold, and thirsty. On top of that, my boot had a leak, and my toes felt cold and soggy.

            “Well,” I said, standing up. “Lets get back. Maybe by the time we get to the truck, we’ll have found a tree.”

            “Maybe…” My sister growled, casting the giant tree a sad look. “I’m beginning to think we’ll never find one.”  

The mountain grew dark fast. The trip down the hill was very different from our journey up. I got out my flashlight, and shone it at the ground, trying to keep ourselves from falling and tripping in the dark.

“I’m…c...c…old,” my sister shivered. “Why did I have to see that dumb tree?”

I walked through the snow, randomly shining my flashlight at the trees, thinking that perhaps we would still find something. In the back of my mind I was worried that because we had been so picky, so greedy to find the perfect tree, we would arrive home, empty-handed, with nothing to show for our entire day.

Suddenly my sister let out a loud shriek. “Over there! Look!”

Startled, I froze. My heart pounded. I scanned the trees. Maybe it was a bear, or perhaps a cougar. “What is it?” I whispered.

My sister tugged at my arm, and pointed to the side of the hill. “Over there, shine your light! Hurry, quick!”

“What is it?”

 “A TREE!”

I glared at my sister. “A tree? Gosh, you could have said that in the first place!”

“What did you think I meant?”

“I thought you saw something that wanted to eat us, that’s what!”

“Oh. Ha. Well, no worries. Trees are vegetarians, last time I checked.”  

I laughed. “Really? Vegetarians. If that was true, they’d be cannibals.”

            My sister stared at the tree, with a wide smile of pride. “Who cares? What matters is that I found the perfect tree!” She yanked the flashlight out of my hand and ran through the snow to the side of the hill where a tree stood in the beam of the flashlight, glistening with diamonds of sparkling frost, against the sky.  

             “I found it!” she cried in delight.

            I came up behind her, and stared at the tree and smiled. “You did. It is the perfect tree.”  We walked around it.

            “No gaps,” my sister said.

            I nodded. “And only one trunk.”

            “And a perfect top.”

            We placed the our Christmas tree tag on one of the branches, claiming the tree.

I started sawing.

            And sawing…

            And sawing…

            The smell of pine gum filled our nostrils. The branches brushed against our cheeks, as if it was angry that we were taking it away from its home. Yet we still sawed.

The moon rose over the mountain, lighting up the snow in a beautiful, enchanting light.

            As the moon reached its peak above us, the tree finally gave up its hold, and fell softly against the snow.  

            “Now the real work begins.” I said.

            My sister lifted the half of the tree, and I lifted the end, and we trudged down the mountain, with the moon guiding our way.

“We’re not even halfway down this hill,” My sister complained. “Why don’t we just let it roll down?”

“Might not be a bad idea. But it wouldn’t be the perfect tree by the time it reached the bottom.”

            “True.”

            My sister and I trudged onward, with the tree growing heavier with each step we took. We contemplated leaving it. But after all the trouble we had gone through, we were not about to give it up. My sister suddenly tripped, and dropped the tree. The tree was jerked out of my arms, and it rolled to the bottom of the hill, much faster than we could have carried it.

            “I guess you got your wish,” I told my sister.”

            “Yeah,” she murmured, her voice tight.

            When we reached the bottom we surveyed the tree. The fall had bent its perfectly straight top, and a few of its branches had been mashed to one side. Other than that, it didn’t seem too harmed.

            “Poor thing,” My sister cooed, picking up one end of the tree, and patting it’s bent tip. “I promise I won’t drop you again.”

            We both picked the now-not-so-perfect tree up and, struggled onward through the snow until we found ourselves at the edge of the stream we had crossed earlier.

            “How are we both going to balance this tree over that shifty log?” I asked.

            “We just will,” my sister said, starting on ahead.

            “Wait,” I cried, stumbling over the log. “You’re going too fast! And I’m carrying the heavy end.”

            My sister didn’t hear me. I tripped, lost my balance. I fell, and took the tree and my sister down into the stream with me.

            Splash!

We screamed in shock, as the icy water drenched our already-cold bodies.

 “It’s freezing!” I cried, standing up, and shivering. The water rushed around my legs, and shoes, turning the skin it touched numb. I steadied myself on the slippery rocks, and helped my sister to stand.

            “Oh!” My sister moaned. “I’m f..frozen.”

            “I can’t feel my feet,” I chattered.

            My sister started to cry. “I…c…can’t f…feel my b…bum!”

            I stared down at the our tree. Water was washing over its branches. A large branch at the bottom had been bent completely out of shape. The long journey, brushing through shrubs and branches had knocked a lot of its needles off. It looked as weathered, wet, and miserable as we were. We both managed to pick up the fallen tree, and slogged through the stream, and out onto the snowy ground, feeling very wet, and very cold. We trudged up the side of the road and over to our truck.

            “We finally made it,” my sister said, helping to lift the tree into the back of the truck.

            We both heaved it into the truck and stood there inspecting it, as we shivered in the moonlit night, icicles clinging to our wet hair, and frost gathering at our soggy pants.  

            “It l…looks t…terrible,” my sister chattered. “I think the moonlight tricked us. It doesn’t look anything like it did on the mountain.”

            I nodded. “I k…k…k…now.” 

            Discouraged, we made our way to the front of the truck. But before we got in, something a few feet away from the truck caught my eye.

            I shone my flashlight through the shrubs. “L...look!”

            My sister gasped, and then moaned. “It’s the perfect tree! Look at its feathery branches. It’s beautiful, beautiful. It’s ten times more beautiful than the our tree. It’s exactly the perfect height, fullness, and color. And it was so close to where we were. Why didn’t we see it?”

            I smiled, feeling like laughing and crying at the same time. I pondered all the struggles we had been through to find the perfect tree, only to arrive at the same place we had started from. “If only we had just looked over there,” I murmured.

            On the drive home we both were very quiet, thinking of our failed struggle up the mountain, in order to obtain perfection. The words, “If only we had just looked,” ran over and over in my mind.

            “If only I had looked.” We had looked. But in all the wrong places.

            It made me wonder what it must have been like for those who had lived in Bethlehem, who missed the event that would change the world forever. Were the shepherds the only ones in Bethlehem looking for a Savior---were they the only ones in that entire city longing for the Prince of Peace to come. Were they the only ones looking in the right places, ready to hear, and see the Angels?

            And out of an entire race of people, were the Wisemen that came from afar, the only wise people in all the world, to see the star in the heavens, and follow it?

            Wasn’t anyone else paying attention?

            I wondered that perhaps many had been looking, but maybe they had been too busy.

Like the Wisemen of old, we too had been on a hunt.

They, for the Son of God, the Christ child, the perfect Lamb who would redeem mankind from imperfection.

And us, hunting for the perfect tree. But we failed to see it because it was right there within arm’s reach. We had trudged through the snow, up hills and through streams, groping in the darkness, chasing the illusion of the perfect tree that did not exist out there on top of the hill.

I wonder why so many of us struggle in the dark, trying to find perfection, only to become frustrated and discouraged. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we find a bit of perfection, like the near-perfect tree, sparkling in the moonlight, we had found on the edge of the hill. Though an illusion, we struggle to hold on to it, but it soon becomes a burden that is too heavy to bear. Perfection is like that. You can’t hold onto it for very long. Before long, it slips from your grasp and all you can do is try to pick up the pieces.

In your frustration you trudge back home, knowing deep inside yourself that your quest has been in vain, and the tree that had looked so beautiful in the moonlight is now battered and scared.

Then, cold, hungry, and tired you ready yourself to go back home, only to find the illusive perfect tree just a few yards away from where you started your journey.

If only you had looked.

I think of Christ and his ministry and I wonder if I had lived at his time, would I have taken the time to listen, to give him a closer look? Would have I looked at his dirty clothes, and scoffed at his lowly carpenter’s profession. Would I have asked him about his degree and his level of education? Would have I passed him by, in search of a grander, more perfect-looking person? Would I have peered in the manger and recognized a God, a king, a Savior. And perfection?

If the Christ child had been born in my time, would I have scoffed a the sight of dirty strangers sleeping in a cave, and then reported his mother to social services for laying their babe in such dirty conditions?

This question haunts me. Because it’s so easy to pass by the perfection of now, for the promise of an illusion in the future. We pine away the hours, searching for our castles made of gold, while forgetting to enjoy the warmth of the sun that is shining down on us right now. 

If only we had looked.

If only we had taken the time.

If only we had listened.

If only I had cared.

If only I had stopped.

If only I had known.

If only I had written.

If only I had taken time off.

If I had only known his cancer was not in remission.

These words are haunting, almost chilling. Yet we forget to look, everyday.

 We hunt our whole lives for empty things: for perfect grades, the perfect boyfriend, to be the perfect wife, to find the perfect gift. But we search in all the wrong places.

            Yet in with our imperfect sight, Christ sees us clearly. Christ doesn’t demand perfection. He is perfection. He was bruised and broken for us. And if our branches get broken, or our trunk bent, he doesn’t mind.

            We may spend a lifetime hunting for perfection and never find it. We may search, and seek and do and give and get and push and wear ourselves out struggling for that divine place of perfection that does not exist. It is only in, and through Christ that we find what ever it is we are hunting for.     

For his perfection covers our imperfection. It is not who we are, but who he is. All we need do is look. And once you start really looking, be it in a manger stall, or within your own four walls, you will be amazed at what you find.

            Christmas isn’t something you keep. It’s something you find when you’ve stopped searching, and started really looking.

           

           

           











           


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

I'd rather sit on a Pumpkin!


"Why should we be in such a desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall his spring turn into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can substitute?”--- Henry David Thoreau



 This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. Why, you ask? Well because it describes what I feel on so many levels? 

Why are we in such a desperate hast to succeed?

Why are we so busy being busy?

Why are we in such a race to be better than each other?

Why are we in such a hurry to accumulate?

Why do we have to be constantly seeking---be it a better job, a a better house, a better life, better friends, or better things?

Why? 


 Is what we have, and who we are so bad that we have to be constantly seeking an image of ourselves that will never satisfy?

Are we not enough?


Do we need to be constantly perusing, constantly hungry, constantly not enough?


I find that when I am in that mindset, I am very unhappy, and so are the people around me.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't have goals, and purses worthy things. I'm just saying that maybe if we slowed down a little, we might be surprised how far we've moved away from the things that really matter to us.


At the end of it all, we might even feel a little cheated. 


Why didn't anyone tell me?

Life is not fair, we cry. 


Yet, we could have stopped at anytime, and changed direction. But we were so busy being busy we never had the time to figure out which direction we really wanted to go---only that we were moving in the direction everyone was.


That's a scary place to be. Not to know where we are going, only that we are moving steadily to this “Somewhere, sometime, someday” because everyone else is.


 Someone wrote me a letter not to long ago. In it they expressed their disturbance that I had chosen a different, non conventional path then they. Then this person proceeded in asking me why I had chosen the life I had chosen, as if it was a terrible thing. They just couldn't understand why. It was like they wanted me to explain myself to them. It made me feel a little upset.


I was very befuddled. I appreciate this person telling me their feelings, and I respect them. And I also respect their concern for me. But what could I write in reply to such a letter?
How could I expect this person to understand me?

That got me to thinking why?

Why have I chosen to be a writer---an artist?

And why does it bother so many people?
Why does it bother people that I'm not married, that I'm self employed, and that I'm not currently in college?

 Maybe they are kindly worried that I don't have a life. Maybe they're worried that I'm going to starve. Maybe they're worried that I'm missing out.

 Maybe I am. 

But that's my business.   

But maybe they're missing out as well. 


They're worried about me missing out, but I say, they're missing out on a great deal, too.


I don't stew over their choices in career, nor do I tell them that I'm bothered by who they married, or what college they are going to. 

I don't care. I only care about them, as a person. If they are happy. All that other stuff is fluff. I don't ever come up to them, and say, "Gosh, what do you do with yourself all day, with a husband, and a job, and college, when do you find time to really live?


Seriously. It doesn't matter to me. If you drive a dumpy truck, or if live in a mansion, or if you choose to live in a tin can. It doesn't matter. Besides it’s none of my business. 


What matters is how I feel when I talk to you, and how I make you feel. 

I guess the question boils down to, does your job, does making a lot of money, being married, or having a higher education make you a better person than someone else?

Does it?


I guess I'm rambling. Sorry about that. But I just can't seem to understand why I and my sister have always been under a magnifying glass our whole lives, first for being home schooled, and then for choosing not to go to college at the exact same time as everyone else. It doesn't mean we’ve stopped learning. It just means that we are perusing our creative goals, for the time being.

There are worse things to take up one's time, far more disturbing than music, and writing books. But who knows. Maybe being an artist is a terrible crime. 

Maybe I'm miserable and I don't know it. 


Maybe I should have taken the road everyone say's I'm missing, or have missed. 




But in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

Perhaps people think I spend too much time sitting on a lowly pumpkin, when I could ride in a glittering "stage coach" 
Maybe that's true, too.

But it is my pumpkin. And I like it. And I'll carve it the way I want to.










I know I befuddle people in many ways. I stop, when people say go, I ask why, when people just say, "go with the flow." I'm really not that much different than I was when I was little. I still like to draw, write stories, use my imagination, and I still feel like the same person I have always been. But maybe that's bad. 
Oh, and I do enjoy myself on many occasions. If it's wrong to enjoy life. Then I am guilty as charged. 

 The deeper truth is that I am an individual, and value my independence, and will fight to keep that independence even if it means I walk a lone. I have always gone in a different direction than the crowd because I choose to. Just because I'm not at college doesn't mean I've stopped learning. 

In this age of knowledge, ignorance is a choice.

I am very aware that walking a different path bothers some people. But popularity or conforming were never really high on my to-do list. As the quote goes, “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they are not on your road does not mean they’ve gotten lost.” 

"Why should we be in such a desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall his spring turn into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can substitute?”--- Henry David Thoreau


I have always heard a different drummer, and have followed its music. Yes, it is a different sort of music than many people follow. But no less important.

We are all different.



Why do I choose to live at home?

That has been the question that has irritated so many people.

In a single act I have not only managed irritate my friends, but strangers---people I did not know as well. “Still here, you say?”

*shivers.* What a terrible thought.*

Maybe.

Maybe not. 

The only thing terrible about it, is the thought that my worth has been devalued to so many by simply living in the place I was born.

Which I don’t hold against anyone. 


Suddenly I, by ceasing to live someone else’s idea for my life, have become an enemy to society, and a couch potato bystander of life, who apparently has no other desire than to merely exist. 


But this is an unfair assumption to make. I have always wanted to contribute, to dance, to give, to learn, to inspire others, and to make a difference. And you don't have to be dancing to someone elses music to do that.  When I hear the sound of the drummer, meant only for me, I follow where it leads. When I feel the music, I dance, its voice is what I answer to. No one else. 

What I won't answer to is society's warped rhythm. I've never liked to polka with a dance partner that was faster than myself. If I dance, I want to learn the steps, and dance deliberately, beautifully.  




 I don’t ever want to have to seek myself outside of myself. And if doing what I love means loosing admiration from the outside world, I gladly give it away. 


Such admiration is fickle anyway, a vapor that vanishes in the morning. To seek such approval would make me feel as though I’ve given away the air I breathe, changed who I am for a stranger. And that’s not a very nice feeling. 


Choosing as I have has taught me lessons, things that I will take with me my whole life---walking my own path being one of them---choosing and not having life chosen for you by someone or something else. I have learned that when one is truly free, you can better see where you are going and why. And wherever I go, whatever I do, I want to live. To enjoy the moment. To learn, to love, and to give freely. That is all. I’m not a complicated person. I never was. 


 I have lived a different life. I’ve grown up charting my own path. Something I could never expect anyone else to understand. Nor would I ask them to. It would be silly. We all hear a different tune, and dance as best as we can. Whatever I choose and am still choosing will probably always confuse some people. The truth is, I don’t want to confuse people, or make them feel uncomfortable. But I can’t help that. No. I don’t want people to trouble themselves, worrying that I’m wasting my life.


To waste time worrying about other people’s choices, is in itself wasting life. I have learned that making a living, and having a life are two very different things. 


To me, to really be guilty of squandering one's life, is not to live it. Not to love it. Not to take time. Not to know yourself. 

To follow the crowd, to do what everyone else is doing would have been the wrong choice for me, at the time. If I had followed the crowds music, I would have just followed the pack, just for the sake of wanting to be the same. 

But I’ve never been the same. I have always had a different path to follow. I’m an individual. And I choose the speculation that is sure to come with it. I choose it. 


Had I chosen differently I would have missed all that I have experienced, and sold myself to someone’s will. And to do that would exile me to myself. 


Others may look at me like an untended garden in need of pruning, full of straggly weeds, and wild growing flowers, with bits of herbs, and lemongrass, daisies, roses, dandelions, and soft green unmarked sprouts, with no labels, peeking up from the earth, all growing in uneven rows, with unpainted fence, and a willow growing by the gate, waving with the wind. But it is my garden, planted on my own, the rows I made myself, the seeds I have sewn, the herbs I harvest, the dandelions I blow. 


I am the gardener. No one else. Nor do I need someone else to tell me what to grow. I already know what it is I want to harvest. I need no labels, no one to tidy my fence, nor to pluck my flowers.




All that I am growing is mine, wild and weedy as it is, unmarked, and to some, untended and untamed.  


But I know better. Some may say I’m a strange gardener, letting some weeds grow, alongside my flowers. But to some, weeds may be flowers, and flower weeds.



It is my private place. And if I let any in, let them tread softly. For the young seedlings are tender. I like wild places, for in them many beautiful things grow.




And most often times you cannot see the beauty, unless you take time to look. In many obscure gardens, great saplings grow.

But some grow saplings, other cabbages. And that is the way of it. The gardener knows the soil best---they know what will grow and what will not. And when we come together at harvest we share sapling, tomato, cabbages and cucumbers alike. All are of worth.







Yes, I have missed some things I'm sure. But I don’t need very much to make me happy.  


Yes, even in my small, humble corner of the world I have been heir to shafts of light, beams of inspiration, and rivulets of happiness. 

Everyone has a different path to walk, everyone has a definition of happiness that is all their own. And I respect that, completely, and unequivocally. 


My sister and myself do what we love, and we love what we do. It is that simple. 


We have never been the type of people to gather a lot of pleasure from crowds, parties, and the social ladder climbing game---something we have never been very apart of or probably ever will be. 


To be as we are has given us perspective, and a freedom that I have learned to appreciate more as time goes on.

I don’t know what my future holds. And I think I like it that way. To not know, I let go of control, and to let go of control is to have faith.

We are all players in life.

We all have a different story.

Some characters come and go.

Some teach you something.

Others help you grow.

All have twists turns, bumps, and jolts.

Yet it is the joy in the journey that counts, not the gold bricks of someday, or the castles of sometime.

Who you became, what you have learned along the way. That’s what counts.

Not anything else.



Who knows where my road will lead me.


So far it hasn’t been a bad ride.


I hope your ride is just as beautiful.


As always,

Your friend,

Steph





(I liked this quote so I stuck it in here) 

"I could say to you that you do not serve the public good—that nobody’s good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices—that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation—as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won’t. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own—I would refuse, I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in the full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!" | Atlas Shrugged



  P.S  This video explains how I feel, exactly. It's very worth the watch. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

One of the stupidest things I've ever done!



     Howdy, 

I was going through some essays/short stories I wrote last year, and thought I'd share this with you.  I feel pretty sheepish sharing this with ya' all because it brings up a heap of feelings, memories, and most of all, my internal whipping, self critic---the ultimate, Olga of self smacks, should-have-dones, might-haves, and cringes. 

It's a true story about some swift water, a bridge, me, my sister, and my mom, and one of the stupidest things I've ever done. Maybe the 1 stupidest.  It's surely on my top ten.

 The moral of the story, not everyone is going to like the same things you like, and not everyone is going to be good at what you like to do. And if someone says they can't do something, respect that. Don't press them. Don't say how much fun they'll have. You don't know their limitations like they do. 

Don't 'should' on them. It's rude, and selfish.

You might try to press them, make them see how much their missing, with the honorable excuse that you want to bring them out of their shell, or comfort zone, thinking you are helpful, and kind. But in all reality, that is not kind. 
You don't bring people out of their shells, you don't change people, they change themselves. You can't make people fit into your brand of fun. It doesn't work that way.  
You can inspire people. You can encourage them, most of all, by leading by example. That's it.

Also, this is a big one. Respect other people's limitations. Be kind, and don't try to urge people out into the deep 'water' before they are ready to swim. To do so could lead to the unpleasant experience I am about to relate. And you have to live with the consequences.



   

                                               

                                   

                                               
                                         Water Under the Bridge

   By Stephanie Skeem



My mom peered over the edge of the irrigation canal with fearful eyes. “Looks deep.”

            I shook my head. “No. It only comes up just below the armpits.”

“Are you sure?” my mom was unconvinced. The water looked deeper than it was because it was a muddy brackish color.

            “It will be fine. I promise.”

             Mom was still unsure. She had only come with us after much coaxing and promises of how fun it would be. My sister, Bessie and I had made a previous venture to this canal and had so much fun we wanted to share the joy.  My mom had been swimming with us only once, and that was pretty much in the kiddy pool. We were excited, and happy, that finally, after all these years, my mom was going to be experiencing the joys of water.  And what better way to integrate a sixty-year-old woman, who couldn’t swim, and hated water, to the wonders of swimming in the great outdoors, in water only three-and-half feet deep, that pulled you along, at a pleasant, relaxing pace.

Yet she didn’t look as if she was really going to get in the water. She folded her arms and looked at the water with hard eyes. “So how do I get in?”

             “Watch me. You sit on the edge, and just slide down.”

            Mom frowned. “It looks cold.”            

            “It is, when you first get in,” I told her. “But you get used to it.”

            She looked longingly at the van. “I don’t think I can do this.”  

            “It will be fun,” I promised.

            “Fun?” my mom shook her head, and then not wanting to be outdone by a challenge, scooted next to the canal, determined to face her fears.

            “Here,” I said. “I’ll get in first. Then I’ll help you get in, okay?”

            I slid down the mossy side of the canal, splashing into the cold water. I held out my hands for her to take. “Okay, after you slide down, I’ll grab your hands.”

Mom looked at me, and then at the water. “I don’t know.”

“Come on,” I urged her. “It will be fun.”

“It will be fun?”  She sighed, then slid down the side of the canal, splashing into the water. “Oh, its COLD! EEK! The water is pushing me! Help!”

            I grabbed her hand, and steadied her. She held on, squeezing the life out of my fingers.

 “Oh, it’s too swift,” she howled. “What have you guys got me into?”

            “It’ll be fine,” I soothed her. “Just let the water push you along, don’t fight it. You don’t have to swim.”

            “Yeah,” my sister, Bessie said, splashing into the water, and floating on by us. “Let the water float you along.”

            “Float?” Mom cried. “I can’t float. I can’t even swim!”

            “The water makes you float,” I explained.

            “I want out,” Mom pouted, struggling and slipping along the slimy bottom of the canal. “I don’t like it. I’m too old. I can’t balance.”

            “Here, I’ve got you.” I held onto Mom’s arms, steadying her as we were pulled by the current.

I looked ahead, remembering that there was a rise in bottom of the canal. Somehow I had forgotten to tell my mom of this. “Uh, mom,” I said, trying to sound reassuring, “there’s a rise coming up in the canal. “You’re going to have to let go of my hand so we can get over it.”

            “Rise?” she breathed. “Drops back down?”

            “It only drops to the same height we are at right now.”

            “Don’t let go!” Mom screamed. “No!”

            “I can’t help it,” I cried, as the water pulled me away from her. “You’ll be fine.”

            Mom shrieked as she was pulled over the mossy rise in the canal. I quickly helped to steady her. “It’s okay, I told her. “Really.”

            “You told me this would be fun.” She glared at me as if I had planned the whole thing in order to drown her.

            “Here,” I told her, “let go of my arm. It’s a lot more fun if you let your feet skim the bottom as the water pulls you.”

            “No! Don’t you let go!”

            “Let’s just try it.”

            Mom slowly let go.

“See,” I said, smiling as she steadied herself in the water. “It’s fun.”  I glanced ahead, happy. My mom was finally getting the hang of it.

            I heard a scream, then a loud splash.

            Bessie and I both turned round. Mom had slipped and vanished beneath the water.

            My heart went into my throat. Why didn’t she come up?  I pushed against the swift water, and quickly dove down and pulled mom up.

            She came up sputtering and screaming.  “I told you not to let go!”

            “How come you didn’t just stand up?”

            “The water’s too fast. And I’m an old lady who can’t balance!”

            “I’m sorry,” I breathed, feeling horrible.  Mom was wet, miserable, and frightened. She hadn’t planned on getting her hair wet, and all the her short curls had vanished.

            She gripped my arm with all her strength.

 My sister’s eyes grew wide. “Are you alright? I couldn’t get to you in time. The water was too swift.”

            “Yes, too swift!” Mom repeated, latching onto Bessie with her other arm. “I want out!”

            I looked at the sides of the narrow, v-shaped canal with despairing eyes. “I’m sorry, mom, we can’t get you out, not yet. We have to go a little further.”

            Mom muttered a low cuss-word, and held onto both of us as we moved down the canal. Bessie, and I had to push ourselves against the sides of the canal in order to steady our mom. Our arms got scraped by outcropping rocks, weeds and broken cement.  But I didn’t care. There was no way I was going to let go of mom a second time.

            “Where can we get out then?” mom wondered, staring ahead. Her voice was tight. I could tell she wasn’t happy at all. So much for fun times.

“We’re almost there,” I told her. “All we need to do is go underneath the bridge.”

            “We have to go under a bridge?” Mom squeezed our arms tighter. “I can’t fit under a bridge. I’m too tall. Look there’s no space for my head. What in the heck were you guys thinking!”

“There’s room,” I offered. “You just have to bend your knees. The water doesn’t go up that high.”

Mom stared at the looming bridge, unconvinced. The bridge wasn’t your normal everyday bridge---it was a cement bridge that was low to the ground, with just enough room for our heads to fit under if we bent our knees. It was something I hadn’t considered as an obstacle. To us the bridge had been sort of a fun cave-like place. But to mom, it was dark, scary, and pretty much the worst thing in the entire world.

Mom dug her nails into my hands, in fright. “No! I won’t fit. I’ll drown. I’ll DROWN. You guys, you’ll drown me!  What were you thinking?”

            I stared at bridge with a sinking feeling. The only way to get out of the canal was past the bridge. What were we thinking, taking our mom down a swift canal, with no life jacket? What kind of daughters were we?  I looked at mom, and said in a desperate voice. “We have to go under it in order to get out of the canal.”  

            “There is no way I’m going to go under there!” mom said, reaching for the side of the canal, trying to pull herself out by grabbing onto weeds. But the weeds were too short. Much to my mother’s dismay, the water forced us over to the edge of the bridge.

            “I’m not going to fit under there!” She howled, grasping the edge of the bridge, trying to hoist herself up. “Hell and damnation! I’ll drown, I’ll drown.”

            “But it’s the only way,” I told her.

            “No. I’m not going!” She grasped at the edge of the bridge like a cat with claws, wild and frightened. My sister and I struggled to hold mom in place. The force of the water pulled against our stationary forms, trying to take us under the bridge against our will.  

            My sister and I looked at each other, each thinking the same thing.  If we did go under the bridge, mom would drown us.

That moment was one of the longest in my life. It was an unforgiving moment, where I felt like I had taken my mom on a very bad road that we could never get off of. I felt horrible, desperate, and totally afraid. There was no one to help my mom. Only my sister, and me. 

 Uttering one of those silent lightning-flash prayers to heaven, my sister and I hoisted mom up. She grasped the edge of the bridge, in desperation, pulling, swearing, and yelping.

            I took a deep breath, knowing that it would take a miracle to get my mom out. My sister and I were strong, but we weren’t that strong.  I lifted mom, pushing against her butt cheek, with my sister lifting the other. I braced myself, expecting her to be heavier. I sent out another prayer. Please help us lift her.

As my sister and I lifted together, I was amazed that my mom wasn’t as heavy as I thought she would be. In a matter of minutes, mom was on top of the bridge.

            My sister and I breathed a sigh of relief.

            Mom was safe.

            We were stupid.

            How had we been so na├»ve as to think that mom would enjoy this?

I don’t know.

Afterwards, mom sat shivering on the bridge, waiting for us to get out and bring the van back. To top it all off, she got bitten by an ant.

Fun times, indeed. So much for convincing her that playing in water could be fun.

Later that day, when my sister and I were sitting on the porch, pondering the meaning of life, and how we had almost drowned our mom. I told my sister that I had thought she had been lifting the bulk of my mom’s weight. But my sister thought that I had been lifting the bulk of my mom’s weight, as well.  We smiled, somehow knowing that the guardian angels had helped us lift up our mom that day.

After the incident, mom acted really cool about the whole ordeal. She was neither overly upset with us, nor did she blame us for our stupidity. She acted as if the whole thing was some grand adventure she had survived, and lived to talk about.

Mom didn’t remember swearing as she was pushed out, because she’s not the swearing type. But our neighbor from a ways off heard her, so we have witnesses.  

I will always remember that day as one that changed my life forever.  Not in some huge, inspirational, warm fuzzy way.  But in a painful, ouch kind of way. That day, I learned that when a person says that they’re afraid of something, it’s usually for a reason. One person’s bliss is another’s blister.

To my mom, the event is water under the bridge. But to me, it’s water under one very scary bridge. One I will never forget.

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