Dearest EXPLORE reader,
I just stood at the window over my kitchen sink and watched a big old black crow peck his way around my yard for a solid 15 minutes.
It’s hot today, the grass is green from the rains, and there’s a pleasant breeze. The sun reflects brightly off of his solid feathers, and he pokes here and there in the grass searching for lunch. Occasionally he finds a bite and he hops off to the next area.
As I stood there watching him I had the strongest memory from days gone by. From days of growing up here in town before it was much of a town at all. Back when there were only a couple of thousand people that called this area home and the trees were plentiful. Back before the town had lost its collective mind and things were calm and quiet.
I was lying in the field on the little bit of acreage my family had in the mid ‘80s off of School Street. It’s still there, though for sale now for 7-figures. But I was lying in this field with the knee high pasture grass all around me. It was the heat of summer. I lied beneath this most majestic oak tree that provided me a bit of shade from the sun. The locusts sang. My goodness they sang so loud that when they stopped singing, as they would do from time to time, your head snapped as you realized just how LOUD they sang. I lied there and even the grass felt hot. It waved lightly in front of my eyes as I looked up into the trees and saw the clouds beyond, and I can still feel the way the grass felt hot all around me. It was warm and comfortable and almost embraced me. It was thick and created a bit of a pillow for my teenaged head and my mind was blank and I suppose I was simply safe and happy. I had no real worries in my life, other than Algebra, and as the tree gently creaked this way and that, and the clouds floated above, and the grass kissed my face, the wind cooled me, and the locusts sang. I can still remember how my Nikes looked in the grass on my feet and the plaid shirt I was wearing. It’s almost as if it was yesterday.
And that silly bird in the backyard reminded me of that moment for some reason. Something about the way the sun reflected off of his feathers, and the light breeze that fluttered the grass, and the relative peace of my very small backyard. No huge oak trees around, and I don’t think the locusts are singing yet, but that bird absolutely sent me down a very warm and welcoming memory and I appreciate him for that.
Isn’t that strange about how memories work?
The perfume you catch distantly at the mall that reminds you of a loved one? The smell of leather. The sound of a baseball hitting a glove. Locusts singing. The sound of a particular car. Nice shoes on a sidewalk. The smell of a particular dish being cooked. The examples are endless.
Some find it strange that I like the smell of cigarette smoke. Most recoil from it as it is a shamed act nowadays. But for me, the smell harkens back to a particular night for me: I was with my school aged friend and his father after riding motorcycles for the day. His old man stopped us off at an honest-to-goodness old fashioned VFW bar. We couldn’t have been 10 at the time. But sure enough, his dad strutted in there like he owned the place, everyone called out his name, he got us a bag apiece of freshly popped popcorn and set us in a back office (guess he knew the manager) and we watched some really bad mid-80s sci fi movie. In the meantime, he bellied up to the bar, all the men were smoking (thus the memory) and the smoke hung thick in the air. I thought he was about the coolest guy on earth, save for my own Dad.
To this day, the smell of cigarette smoke reminds me of that day and I always smile.
Sometimes I think about this strange capability that humans have to remember specific moments with laser precision. I see the young couple walking across Main Street and I smile faintly wondering if the guy will forever remember the way that the sun hit her hair and the smile she has as she hustles across the street? Will the mother walking her baby in the stroller on the trail eternally associate the singing locusts with those calm moments of walking her infant? Will she forever feel young again when she hears them? The kids playing basketball on the neighborhood goal – will they etch the sounds of their own laughter into their brains? Will they smile every time they hear that distinctive ping of a basketball dribbling and reminisce to this lazy day with their friends?
I like to think so.
Life is short, friends.
I’m 45 now, and I know that’s not “old” to many of you. I also know that many of you 20-somethings might certainly classify me as “the older guy”. My grey hair agrees with them. I’ve been banging out these little articles for going on 15 years now, and I can look back and say that 30-year old Ben Schooley was certainly a much younger man than the one still sitting here smashing the keys on his laptop. He’s seen a few things, and life has had its way with him. He’s perhaps a bit wiser, a bit more tired, and probably a bit jaded in many ways.
But he also remembers….HARDER.
I find myself assigning the things I see back to earlier days. Simpler days. Quieter days. The kids playing basketball. The pretty couple walking briskly. The young mother. The grass. The sun.
And a silly old black crow in my yard.
I’m not going to lecture you about making time “count” or appreciating each day as you’ve heard those things countless times. I also wish miserable days away, no matter how many times I’ve heard “Never take a moment for granted.” I hate all day seminars, I can remember how hard the infant days with children were, and I remember rolling my eyes back and praying that they’d become less dependent on me. I have focused my energies on the future, and planned for days not guaranteed. It’s all so futile.
But I suppose as I get a day older, and perhaps a day wiser, I have come to understand that perhaps the real beauty in our lives isn’t always the marriage proposal, the graduation, the baby’s birth, or the promotion. It’s not meeting your goal, it’s not getting the beautiful girl, it’s not the amazing vacation you saved for.
Honestly, life isn’t ANY of that. At least the important parts. Sure, those moments are special and memorable, but those moments aren’t where LIFE happens. They are page turning moments for new chapters, and it’s within those chapters that life actually occurs.
LIFE is the smell you’ll forever remember of your new home. Or of the dirty laundry from your kids. It’s the sound of your spouse’s car entering the garage, or of the way the door slammed when they left for the final time. It’s the daily phone call with your brother, and it’s the way the radio played on the 1st day you realized that he was gone and wouldn’t call anymore. It’s the smell as your mother cooked your favorite dish as a kid, and the creak of your old man’s recliner while he watched Jeopardy. It’s the locusts singing while you walked with your own stroller and baby, and it might even be the way your voice echoes strangely in your empty home the first moments after your spouse leaves you. LIFE is not always pleasant, that is for sure, but it is forever punctuated with details that are burned into your psyche and for you to carry forever.
LIFE is silly old black crows hopping around in your backyard that leave you staring with a silly smile on your face out the window for 15 solid minutes while you are transported back to 1985…in a field…under a tree…with the clouds gently floating overhead…and feeling worry free.
Take a look around.
LIFE is all around you even as you read this. Perhaps you’re reading this on the back porch and can hear the birds. Or you’re reading it online while your kids make noise in the background. Maybe you’re visiting town and are sitting outside the Dienger with a cup of coffee. Perhaps you read this, toss it on the coffee table and you might think about it later while driving and the radio is playing and you’re tired and you really, really want to move to Belize. But no matter what, LIFE is happening all around you right this very moment.
You just require the wisdom to see it. Even if it’s nothing but a silly black crow.
Welcome to JUNE. Father’s Day is coming, summer, and less and less stupid ol’ COVID. May you soak up the best summer of your life, may you EXPLORE all you can, and may you experience LIFE like you never have before.
Benjamin D. Schooley