The Pith of the Pendulum

Ironic, isn’t it, the way the pendulum swings? Most of the time, we barely even notice the back-and-forth rhythm as our days tilt from positive to negative and back again, teasing with blurred glimpses of a “normal” middle ground while dragging us repeatedly to either side. An annoying traffic jam here, a miraculous run of green lights there, when all we really want is a spot in the shade to enjoy a moment of blissful neutrality with a perfectly hot cup of tea.

And then there are those times when the pendulum grows violent, contrasting the bumper crops of summer with the harshest of winters and sunny skies with rolling clouds in the distance. Yin and yang. Balance and counter-balance. Or, as I’ve come to know it, July. It’s been a month now since the publication of my first book breathed to life a dream I never imagined could become reality. But with the weightlessness of elation came an inevitable anchor of darkness to restore my perspective.

I have to believe there is purpose in this balance—a lesson of sorts, buried between the lines. I have my own theories on what it might be, if you’ll indulge me a dive into the diary, but I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Photo of a chiseled angel statue perched atop a crumbling crypt in New Orleans St. Louis cemetery #1
A crumbling angel weeps over an unmarked tomb in New Orleans’ oldest cemetery, St. Louis #1. I’ve often sought sanctuary in the shadow of her resilience.

I sit in the corner of a room I don’t know, my thoughts timed to the somber rhythm of respirators and ventilators and machines I can’t pronounce. It’s cold here now, and hot. Or maybe it’s the absence of both that I’m feeling as a numb familiarity creeps in from every corner while I do nothing but watch and listen.

A calm quiet deafens like noise never could. The din of a lifetime in memories, of births and laughter and tears of all kind, now echoes in silence as loved ones trickle in.

Steel your spine at the door, they tell themselves. Stay strong. Resolute.

Around me, they reunite; their weary eyes well anew with each embrace. I watch as rivalries and differences thaw between them, replaced for now by the harshly shared truth of inevitability—a truth left unspoken because it’s unspeakable. This is the last time they will ever gather as a family. Right here, within the stark white of these walls, they say goodbye to one of their own. Those who remain behind will never be whole again.

At first, I feel so out of place. A watcher. A bystander. An opportune voyeur of another’s private pain.

“Has she eaten?” one turns to ask, his whisper broken and tired.

I raise my head and give it a reluctant shake. She hasn’t eaten for days, and likely won’t again. In the moment, the benign nature of this fact strikes a chord of terror inside. Of all the things we take for granted in this life… Can we ever truly imagine bearing the weight of the knowledge that we’ve taken our last bite, our last sip, our last breath?

He smiles a tightened smile and returns his focus to the bedside, losing his composure somewhere along the way. From both sides, a grieving sister half his size extends a hand to each broad shoulder. Now it’s their time to be strong, and they do so without waver.

To see a life reduced to this is almost more than I can bear. I can’t fathom what it must be like for them.

I stand to leave and give the family its privacy. She’s in good hands now. But before I can make the threshold and release a stale breath held too long, a commotion breaks out at my back.

I turn to see a dozen hands pointed to the bed while one reaches out for me. Her frail arm shakes as she fights to keep it extended. She wouldn’t let me go without one final squeeze. In three mindless strides, I race back to her bed before the exertion becomes too much.

“Thank you,” she says, though her words carry no sound.

“For what?”

Her eyes glow with a smile which her lips can’t form. “You kept your promise.”

Iron cross casts a shadow on a crumbling crypt in New Orleans St. Louis Cemetery #1Had I? Then I remember how she took my hand days earlier and coaxed me into a commitment. She asked that I bring them all back together, whatever discord once drove them apart. Whether due to the morphine or the gradual fail of her body, she actually believes I played some part in this.

I couldn’t have kept them away, not even had I wanted to. Their presence is a testament to her and her alone. As is mine, in some way.

I return the gentle pressure and nod my final farewell, fending off emotion just long enough to reach the desolate hallway. There, I let it all go. No longer brave. No longer stoic.

But it’s more than helplessness and sorrow I send rushing down the corridors. It’s wrath, fury, anger. As a life blinks out behind me, surrounded by a room awash in love, the world beyond these walls continues, unabated, its misguided campaign of hate. After witnessing all I’ve just seen, I can’t help but think, how dare we?

In the miracle of conscious awareness that defines our fleeting time here, how much do we devote to cherishing our own life and how much to judging those of others? How often do we seize on new experiences and how often do we shy away from them for fear that others may not approve? We pretend like spiteful children that boundaries matter, colors define and differences provide cause to bully. Well, they don’t, they don’t, and they don’t.

We’re all blessed with dreams and feelings and the same fragile hearts to be broken, while separated only by the most superficial of traits. A billion years of mutual hardship and struggle and fortune and misfortune have brought us where we are today. We are one, a singular species forged in primordial fire and hardened by the ages. I am you, and you are me. Deal with it. Or better yet, embrace it.

Our tribe is the human race. It should be we, man, woman and child, joined in unbroken solidarity against the fur and fangs of a vicious wild. Instead, we isolate and insulate, dividing ourselves from within while ignoring the majesty of our shared creation. We like to think we’ve left the dominion of nature behind, perceiving ourselves as godlike caretakers of the planet while blind to our own house in disarray. So eager we’ve become to turn our brothers into a false villains over the “evil” of their personal beliefs. So willing to alienate our sister for the melanin in her skin or her love of another woman.

We weaponize the very religions instilled in our youth and turn invisible lines on a map into brick walls that reach to the heavens. Keep out. Keep away. “Whites” only. “Black” pride. This God hates gays. That God hates Jews. “We don’t serve your kind”. And all as our children watch on.

Shame. On. Us.

Together, we’ve reached to the moon and explored the depths of our seas. We’ve conquered disease. Toppled regimes. Mastered the sciences and beautified the world with art. Perhaps it’s finally time to turn our collective focus to a world without hate. A world without intolerance. It needn’t be perfect or utopian but it must finally allow for individuality without fear. And not only those forms of tolerance deemed trendy or popular, nor the ones poised to serve some convenient agenda. Only then can the illusion of freedom give way to the real thing.

We owe this to the generations to come, just as we owe it to those that have already gone.

Of course, some will call it a pipe dream. Some always have. Better not to try, they’ll say. You can track the evil in this world by the sound of its watch cry. When you find it, you’ll see that it isn’t black or white or red or blue or any color of a fabulous rainbow. It’s gray, the color of antipathy masquerading as apathy. And apathy has only one natural enemy…

A cherub sculpture praying beside an iron cross in New Orleans St. Louis cemetery #1As the family trickles out, their faces tell the tale. It’s over. Done. The end. All that remains of a once noble life is the memory etched in the hearts of those touched along the way.

She never had to speak her message for it shone brightly in a lifetime of action. Have the courage to love large and the compassion to love small. Light the way for others by showing them the strength in kindness. Do not fear the uniqueness of a stranger; fear the experiences missed should you judge them at a distance.

Love who you want, when you want and how you want. Fight for what you believe in, but do so with the mercy a healing world sorely needs. Some, you’ll win. Others, you’ll lose. But in The End, you’ll know exactly who you are. And so will they.

One day, each of us will look up from that bed. The crowd looking back will depend on the decisions made along the way. In that final chapter of the book you’ve written, what will the last page say? Will you think back fondly on your vitriol and animosity toward those who looked different, acted different and thought differently than you? Or will you feel pride in the courage it took to make the unpopular decisions and follow your heart off the beaten path of conformity?

As I walk the long, darkened tunnel toward a bright light at its very end, I pass a modest seating nook lined with books of all kinds—a final resting place, perhaps, for those awaiting inevitability. One title grabs my eye, though I don’t catch the author’s name. Freedom. The letters stamped in gold down an aging leather spine seem to wink with self-awareness. How fitting. Half-tempted to sit down and read the first page, I turn instead to the light, throwing the doors open to the glaring sun of a new day.

The heat of its rays burn more intensely than I recall them burning before. The birds sing more audaciously. And maybe it’s just me, but I feel like mankind has grown a little bit gentler. I suppose we all need the occasional reminder that humanity trumps all, and I just received mine. When the final light extinguishes, all the hatred amounts to nothing. Only the love endures, a lasting legacy and tribute eclipsing any other.

We have this one life, and we alone write our journey. I’m genuinely curious—as a writer, as a human, as a friend—what would you like the last line to say about you?

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14 thoughts on “The Pith of the Pendulum

  1. Have you ever read something and it literally touched your soul? If not, this certainly will! So touching and poignant and gives us all a solid reminder of what’s important, thank you so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, J. Who knew there was a big, beating ticker in there after all? 🙂 Seriously, I’m humbled that this one touched you in a meaningful way. I’d hoped it would resonate with others.

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    1. Vicki, thank you so much for your comment and for all your amazing support. I think most of us learn that lesson eventually. The tragedy is what it usually takes to open our eyes to the truth. If only we could embrace what we have before it’s merely a memory.

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  2. I am in awe of you, JD. You write so eloquently and inspirational. This hit home for me with my dad. I saw him take his last breath and what’s eerie – after he took his last breath, the sun came out for brief time (it was grey and cloudy that day). I felt peace – it was four months battle with his health after the car accident. Reading your story sure bring tears to my eyes. It does make you think. I do miss him dearly but he now joined with my mom who passed 20 years ago. Thank you for being you.

    Liked by 1 person

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