3 01 2013
English: An underwater shot looking up at a pa...

English: An underwater shot looking up at a palm tree and clouds distorted by the ripples on the surface. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ripples, a chain reaction,

dominoes tripping design in relief,

a smile, a frown,

someone’s joy, someone’s grief.

Turn right, turn left,

move straight ahead,

journeys far-flung from each other,

you’re there, I’m here instead.

A single shift of the eyes,

a sideways glance,

I missed something, saw another,

changed the fortunes of chance.

@Janet Mitchell, January 2013

Apocalypse, Now?

24 08 2012
English: Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium

English: Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So much to-do, lately, about the “apocalypse”:  proclamations of the “end times”, the “end of the world”, the “devastation of everything”, the “total destruction of life as we know it”.  All things full of fear.

So I decided to do some digging.  I looked at the definitions of “apocalypse”, and without boring you to tears with all of them, I’ll sum up my interpretation of what I found:


APOCALYPSE:  An unveiling

I see that as quite promising, don’t you?  Each moment is an “unveiling”, in my little mind.  Nothing that ends anything, except the moment that has just passed.  Nothing that hints at devastation or destruction.  Only an opening up, and yes, an unveiling of the new moment.

Comforting, really.

© Janet Mitchell, August 2012

Mom and Dad

21 08 2012

Bear sow with 3 cubs in forest

You are the only people in the world who’ve known me since the moment I took my first breath.

You gave me life.

You committed your lives to making certain that I was safe, fed, clothed and sheltered.

You taught me what you knew about this world.

You gave me pearls of wisdom, borne from a life lived in your shoes:   Sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn’t.  But you loved me enough to share those pearls with me, anyway.

When I skinned my knees, you comforted me.

When I fell, you lifted me up, then taught me how to do it myself.

You took on this job of raising me, knowing that the end goal was to teach me well enough that I would be able to stand alone and let you go someday.

You always did the very best you could, with what you knew at the time:  Never less.  Often more.

At suppertime, you ate the chicken wings and necks:  I didn’t know then that it was so I could have the meatier pieces.

You loved me so much that you were willing to risk losing my affection when you disciplined me:  Being loved was secondary to you.  Teaching me what I needed to know was paramount.

When I was grown, you watched me as I headed for the cliff’s edge, with love and hope and fear and a giant prayer in your heart:  Some things, you knew, I had to learn for myself.  The days of kissing boo-boos away were past.  That must have been harder than hard.

When I succeeded, you cheered me on.  When I failed, you cheered me on:  You never stopped believing in me.

I’m so lucky to still have you both in my life.

Now, it’s my chance to give back to you just a tiny fraction of what you’ve given to me:  Some people never have that chance.  I’m glad I do.

© Janet Mitchell, August 2012

Aging Lenses

12 08 2012
English: There is no fear, until we make it up.

English: There is no fear, until we make it up. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Age has allowed me to back up, to view through a widened lens, to appreciate the chaos of my youth, and to make unnecessary the clarification of the present.   Age has emboldened me not to be fearless, but to embrace fear for what it is.  What a surprise that fear, then, loses its power and transforms into acceptance and peace. 

©Janet Mitchell,  August 2012

Diamonds and Gold

11 08 2012
Anahata chakra symbolizes the consciousness of...

Anahata chakra symbolizes the consciousness of love, empathy, selflessness and devotion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Love and empathy, manifested through our lives, are more precious and rare than diamonds and gold.

Sometimes, we must mine deeply for them.  But if we dig far enough, we will find them, waiting to be discovered and realized and shared.

Love and empathy, forces more powerful than any other in the universe. 

No force can stop or destroy love and empathy. 

Even death, itself, cannot obliterate love and empathy: when a person dies, the love and empathy felt and realized and shared by that person lives on in the lives of those who were gifted those most precious of all riches. 

And so on, and so on, and so on, and it never ends. . .


©Janet Mitchell, August 2012





I’ll Be Somewhere, Watching

28 07 2012

Leading you Down the Garden Path at Hidcote Ma...

Angela Burrows believed in a hereafter.  She thought that was a good way to go out, believing there was something else waiting there.  Angela said her body was done.  All worn out.  She told her family, her friends, her hospice nurse that she would go away on June 25th.  She told them she’d seen quite a few people who were already where she was headed.  They were waiting for her.  They wanted her to come, now.  She told them she’d come when she was ready.  On June 25th.

So Angela planned a memorial service for herself.  She spent hours with her daughter pouring over details of who, what, where and how that should happen.   It was to be in her own backyard, which was filled with hydrangeas, massive decorative cherry trees, a couple of plum and crabapple trees, and little park benches scattered here and there.  There was to be no casket.  Angela was to be cremated, because she said she wouldn’t be needing her body after she died, and she couldn’t see the sense in taking up all that ground space to bury something that wasn’t even useful anymore.  And, she thought a burial plot, casket, funeral and all the fuss surrounding that was a huge waste of money.  A simple urn would suffice just fine.  She told her daughter that she didn’t much care what was done with the ashes and the urn.  Because she’d be somewhere else, anyway.

Angela and her daughter and her friends cried together and laughed together, as they planned this one, last celebration of Angela.  Some of her friends thought it rather morbid to be planning such a thing, so they chose not to participate.  Some found no humor in any of it.  But, Angela said she suspected the joke was on everyone.  Because she’d be somewhere, no matter what everyone else did now.  Angela found happiness and sadness, humor and grief in moving through this whole process.  And if she could find humor in planning her own memorial service, well, it was not her problem if others couldn’t.

When all the planning was done, Angela gave her daughter one, last, stern warning: “Do this like we’ve planned it, because I’ll be somewhere, watching.  I will know if you screw this one up.”

So June 25th came, and Angela Burrows breathed her last breath.  Her daughter was shocked, but not surprised.  Death is always shocking, the way everything keeps going along, as though nothing really significant has happened.  The sun comes up, traffic lights keep working, the wind blows the boughs of trees, children run and play, work goes on, and the moon rises again in the sky.  But for Angela’s daughter, her mother’s death was shocking, and time froze.

Despite the frozen time, Angela’s daughter carried out her mother’s wishes.  The memorial came and went, just as Angela had planned.  And though Angela’s daughter was pretty sure it wasn’t possible, she wondered if her mother had also had a hand in planning the perfectly blue, cloudless sky and the faint breeze that made the cherry and plum and crabapple blossoms gently waft, spreading a sweet scent of summer across Angela Burrows’ back yard.


The hospice nurse went to her mailbox and retrieved a curious manila envelope.  She didn’t recognize the return address.  She carefully teased the flap open with a fingernail.  Inside was a large photograph, with a note attached:

Look at the image in the upper-right hand corner,

just next to the plum-tree.

The note was signed, simply: “Angela Burrows’ daughter”.

The nurse immediately recognized the back yard as that of Angela Burrows.  In the upper-right corner, just next to the plum-tree, floated a shining image, slightly opaque.  It was clearly Angela Burrows, doing just as she had said she would do.  She was there, watching, just to make sure that this one didn’t get screwed up.

(The hospice nurse still has this photo .  . .)

©Janet Mitchell, July 2012.                                                                                                                                                                                              Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.  All characters have been fictionalized.

Until You’re Not There

22 07 2012

On my own

I always thought,

naively so,

you’d always be there,

Never occurred to me

so blind,

that someday you’d go.

So familiar,

your presence:

you brew the morning coffee,

at seven, a good-bye kiss,

but lingering behind,

your essence.

Leaving was always

a temporary thing,

off to work, then home,

never doubted your return,

until that one,  piercing,

unexpected ring.

Wrong number, wrong person,

you’ve always come home,

You were just here,

plans for dinner at eight,

you said you’d never leave,

I’d never be alone.

Oh, I forgot,

there was something I had to say

I meant to ask you,

will you pick up some milk?

Your key in the lock, anytime, now:

you’d never go today.

Can I reel back the time?

Can I put the clocks on hold?

Can I tell the phone not to ring?

Hold that one last morning kiss?

We haven’t had our chance, yet,

To grow old.

© Janet Mitchell, July 2012

Feels Like I’m Goin Home Again

20 07 2012
home is where the heart is

home is where the heart is (Photo credit: alltagskunst)

It feels like I’m goin’ home again,

that place in my heart

where I’ve always been.

Not so much a place,

but more a state of mind,

I feel like I’m goin’ home again.

Far from being lost in a foreign land,

there’s that place in my heart,

and I’m goin’ back again.

Feelin’ the dirt beneath my feet,

smells like my heart’s land

that place I’ve always been:

comfort wrapped around me,

a well-worn robe:

conformed to my body through wear.

softened like my soul,

and always there,

from way back when,

way back from when I first began:

I feel like I’m goin’  home again.

©Janet Mitchell, July 2012

Love: No-Time

14 07 2012
Mountain - Alaska's Denali

Mountain – Alaska’s Denali (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Eon:  Half a billion years or more

Era:  Several hundred million years

Epoch:  Tens of millions of years

Age:  Millions of years

Love: No-Time, eternity


Eons before and beyond my mountains

dare I go

to my own intimidating walls?

Those walls of mine, which

have taken eras to construct.

For what reason? 

Perhaps to protect,

but from what, I’ve forgotten.

Perhaps I shouldn’t make this climb?

Perhaps I’ll stumble, perhaps I’ll fall.

Strange that what I fear most,

I’ve taken ages to build,

solid mountain, rock by rock:

my fortress.

I draw a ragged breath,

then release

an even more ragged one.

Where else would I go

besides to those mountains

that loom before me,

daring me,

each crevice intimately known,

each crevice painfully hewn.

I could go to valleys, deeper,

where pain reaches further than ever before.

But I’m sure I’ve already been there:

So, trembling, I begin.

I think I’m looking for love,

for no-time. 

That place where I cannot discern

where no-time and love blend,

where we are all one. 

Without judgment. 

Fully accepting.

That pause between thought,

between breaths,

that place where is-ness hangs in its place:

simple awareness.

The climb, the burn,

excruciating at times,

and I, sometimes damning it,

prefer to abandon this quest

for something

that might not even be,

 prefer to descend further

into painful

(but familiar)

valleys deep below: 

far deeper than I’ve ever been.

But within, I know.

Ah, the vision: clearer.

The stride: surer.

The mountain: nearer.

Hands, loving, meet my own:

what a revelation to me!

Release of all those ages –

could it be?

So simple,

the merging of my mountains

and me.

Could it be?

The pain of eons, eras, epochs and ages

are escaping me:

separation between us

evaporates into love,

into no-time. 

Spills over into all that is:

 cannot be contained.

My mountain, all along,

a sparkling, glittering, fountain of being,

waiting for my touch,

that says we are one. 

We’ve merged into no-time, no-space, into love.

Stretched before and within, and

now I see: 

I am, we are love.

© Janet Mitchell,  July 2012

Disembodied Voice

11 07 2012

This is one of those real but surreal tales, one of those that make people with children shiver.   Beyond that initial chill, the unexplained effects in this story make people tinkle with nervous laughter,  because, as everyone knows, these things happen only in fairy tales or in Stephen King novels.  But, deep down inside, we all know that these things really happen.  Something has happened in everyone’s life that cannot be explained.  We’ve all been there, at one time or another — or we know someone who has.   But people learn, early on, not to talk about those things, lest they be thought of as “gone round the bend”, or worse yet, “the old woman that lives by herself with a houseful of cats”.  Some call it a twilight zone, some just coincidence, and others say it’s a guardian angel or sixth sense that leads us to do (or not to do) what our character in this story does.  Some say it’s God, some say a higher power, some say it’s our soul speaking softly in our ear to ward us away from danger.  Whatever you choose to call it, know that this story is real: the characters are real, the circumstances are real, and the outcome, which you shall see, is real.

The day was warm, even edging toward hot.  At least for Washington State, where 80 degrees is sweltering.  It was a wondrous Saturday afternoon in July, and the condo parking lot was full of people, happily enjoying a day off work, with gorgeous sunshine and blue skies to boot~~a rare combination for this part of the country.  Cars were being washed, somebody’s boom box was blaring Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band’s “Shame on the Moon“,  children zipped by on their skate boards, dodging cars and people, amazingly missing both.  Men, usually seen only in tailored suits and ties, were now bare-chested, sporting cut-off jeans, deeply engrossed in bringing their chrome-rimmed wheels to a mirrored shine.  Women, otherwise seen in broad-shouldered, padded jackets and pencil skirts, sloshed about washing their cars in flip-flops, short-shorts and halter tops, hair clipped in loops on top of their heads, or hanging wet and loose to their waists.  High-pitched shouts and squeals of glee could be heard from smaller children and teenagers in the nearby community pool.

Two little girls sat on a sidewalk, making stick-figures on the cement with colored chalk.  Occasionally, a giggle erupted as they pointed at a shape they saw in the clouds, then resumed their chalk-frescoe version of the cloud-man/beast seen moving across the sky.  They giggled again.

“They keep changing shapes, Mommie!”  The little girl looked up at a young 30-something woman, who stood with keys in hand, purse slung across her shoulder.

“That’s what clouds do, Honey!  You’ll have to draw fast to keep up with them!”  The little girl’s mother peered up at the clouds.  “It looks like an elephant, now, don’t you think?”

The little girl’s nose scrunched, as though something stung when she sniffed.   She squinted for a long while at the clouds in the sky, then frowned.  “The bad man in the blue truck,” she mumbled quietly.

“What did you say?”  Her mother kneeled, put her hands on her little girl’s shoulders.  “Look at me, Tanya.  Tell me what you just said.”  Tanya’s mother looked from her daughter to her little friend.  “Emilie?  What is this about?”  Emilie stared, blank-faced, at the chalk frescoes on the sidewalk.

Tanya’s mother looked around the parking lot at the neighbors.   Everything seeming so normal.

“The Blue Truck Man, Mommie.  Remember?”  Tanya’s eyebrows knitted together.  For someone only six, she looked old, thought Tanya’s mom.  With a sudden start, she stood.

“Oh, Honey!!  The Blue Truck Man!!  Oh, honey, I am so sorry!”  She reached down and lifted Tanya up into a bear hug.  “I forgot, I forgot.”  She looked up at the clouds again, and pointed.  “See, Tanya?  He’s gone now.  He’s just a rabbit, now!”  She tried to make Tanya laugh.  But Tanya didn’t laugh.

Emilie spoke up, still looking somber.   Way too somber for a six-year-old.  “Remember the paper the school sent home?  About the Blue Truck Man?  I think Tanya’s talking about that Blue Truck Man.”

Tanya’s mom recalled the two notices the school had sent home over the past six weeks.  It warned parents of three, separate, alleged kidnapping attempts of three young children in the area.  The only consistent, specific piece of information available was that a man, driving a blue truck of unknown make, model or year, had stopped these children, asking for directions.  His aggression seemed to be escalating.  On the last attempt, he had actually gotten out of his truck and approached a little girl, who had, fortunately, run, screaming and shouting, to a nearby home and banged on the door.  Apparently, this had frightened the man off, because he “speeded away in the blue truck”, as reported by the little girl.

Tanya’s mom scanned her surroundings again.  Unlikely, she thought, that anything like that would happen on a day like this, with so many people outdoors, so much activity going on, and during the bright sunshiny daylight.  She tried to reassure herself, silently.  She had to get to the pharmacy for medication, that afternoon.  Surely, the kids would be fine, especially with Tanya’s big sister in the condo next door.  Momentarily, she considered loading the children up in the car and taking them with her, but they seemed to be having such a good time!  Surely, she was over-reacting.  People were all over the place!

“Stay here, guys.  I’ll be right back.  I’m going to talk to Annie.”   She turned on her heels and marched up the sidewalk to the neighbor’s condo.  The Cavanaughs were home.  Their son answered the door.

“Hey, David, could I talk to your mom?”

“Sure.”  David ambled slowly down the hallway, tripping on the scatter rug as he went.  MOMMMMMMMM !  Annie’s MOMMMMMMMM wants to TAAAAAAAAAAALK to YOOOOOOOOOOO !”  He shouted.  It was a small condo.

“Ya don’t have to yell, David.  I’m three feet away!”  Ellen Cavanaugh came to the door.  “Sorry.  Wassup?”  Ellen looked like she’d been sleeping.

“Hey, Ellen.  Annie’s here, isn’t she?”  She peeked around the corner into the living room.

“Uh, yeah.  They’re back in David’s room.  Playing Nintendo.”  Clatter and bangs and shouts emanated down the hallway from David’s room.  Ellen turned toward the hallway.  “WANNA KEEP IT DOWN TO A LOW ROAR BACK THERE?!!  THE NEIGHBORS AREN’T INTERESTED IN PLAYING NINTENDO WITH YOU GUYS !!”  She turned back to Annie’s mom.  “Why?  You want Annie home?”

“Uh.  No.  I’m~ I’ve just got to run real quick to the pharmacy, maybe 10 minutes–15 tops.  I wanted Annie to keep an eye on Tanya.”

“No bother.  I’ll do it.  Where is she?”

“Out on the sidewalk.”  She grinned.  “Becoming the next Leonardo da Vinci with Emilie.”

“No prob.  I’ll be here.”  She looked down at her rumpled clothes, self-consciously, then ran fingers through her bed-head hair.  “I was just reading.”

“Thanks, Ellen.  I won’t be long.”

“No worries.  Go!”   Ellen smiled and closed the door behind her.

Tanya’s mom hurried back down the fifteen steps from the second floor to the sidewalk.  “Tanya, I’m gonna run to the drug store.  Be back in a minute.”

Tanya looked momentarily panic-stricken, then Emilie piped up, “Tanya.  C’mon.  Draw the clouds with me.”  Emilie seemed to have completely forgotten The Blue Truck Man.

“Annie’s at David’s, and Ellen says she’ll keep an eye out.  Go up there if you aren’t comfortable out here.”  Tanya’s mom scanned the parking lot once again.  It remained full of people and activity.  She sighed.  She really was a worry-wart.  It was a beautiful, bright, sunshiny Saturday, with everybody and God playing in the parking lot.  This was just silly.  She’d be back in ten minutes, and she was worrying about absolutely nothing.

She turned and trotted up the fifteen stairs to her condo on the second floor, stepped inside and grabbed her prescription, then turned and closed the door, keys in hand.  She inserted the key and turned the deadbolt to the lock position.  But something wouldn’t let her leave it there.  She reinserted the key and unlocked the deadbolt.  “Those little stinkers are going to run in here and get into major mischief the minute I leave, if I leave this door unlocked,” she muttered to herself.  She started to reinsert the key to relock the deadbolt, but it would only fit halfway.  Puzzled, she looked down at her keys to make sure she had the right one.  She did.  “That’s odd,” she thought.  Again, she inserted the key, and this time it went in all the way.  She turned the deadbolt to lock, then turned to leave, but couldn’t take a step down the stairs.

“Don’t do it,” she heard.  The whisper startled her, sounding so real that she turned to see if someone was standing behind her.  No one.  “Hm,”  she thought.  Sounded like someone whispering to her, but perhaps she’d said it out loud and not realized it.  She turned again toward the stairs.  “Ja-net.”  The whisper was sharp, urgent, the first syllable louder than the first.  She jumped.  She turned back to the deadbolt and unlocked it, then ran down the stairs to her car.

“Bye, hon!  Remember, Annie’s right up there!”  She pointed to the condo next to hers, a few feet away.  “Back in just a few minutes!”  The parking lot remained packed with summer people, enjoying the rare, Seattle Saturday.  Janet pulled swiftly out of her parking slot and drove away.


When I returned from the drug store, I was greeted with a parking lot swarming with police cars, cops and two children sobbing hysterically.  Despite the warm security of the summer day and the neighborhood full of people, that security had been false.  Two young teenagers who happened to be bicycling by were the only witnesses.  Everyone else was too preoccupied with their fun-filled activities and the carefree feeling that the summer day brought to notice.  The two witnesses said that, just as I pulled out of my parking spot, a blue truck whipped from around the corner, sliding to a sudden halt into the space I had just left open.  Tanya and Emilie were still on the sidewalk chalking frescoes.   The man emerged from his truck, and the witnesses stated that it appeared he held something out toward Emilie and Tanya.  He seemed to speak to them, a warm smile on his face.  He wandered to the passenger side of his truck and opened the door.  He gestured toward the girls, then toward the open door.

My daughter told me she screeched, “Emilie, it’s The Blue Truck Man!”  And she grabbed Emilie’s hand, both scrambling, just ahead of him, up the fifteen stairs to the door of our condo. The witnesses stated he followed the girls, making a pounding ruckus as he went.  He was a morbidly obese man, so he couldn’t move quite as fast as the two, young girls he was chasing.  My daughter stated that she reached for the condo door and it opened.  She slammed it shut, and threw the deadbolt.  The man stood pounding on the door, despite the people who were still swarming around, unaware yet of what was happening just a few feet away.  My daughter dialed 911, and the pounding soon stopped.  The witnesses watched as the man came lumbering down the stairs, jumped into his blue truck and screeched out of the parking lot.

I don’t know if they ever caught The Blue Truck Man.

But I do know, if I’d not listened to that disembodied voice, two little girls likely would not be here today.

And when I have a feeling that something’s wrong, when I hear a voice, I pay attention.  Very close attention.

©Janet Mitchell, edited and published July 2012.


15 06 2012
Eternity, as symbolized by Armenians since anc...

Eternity, as symbolized by Armenians since ancient times. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



devoid of measure and space.

Linear brain

devises a way

to somehow exact a place

where all exists

(where no thing is)

mortal mind insists

on one point,

a place,

on one moment,

a time,

infinitely huge and small,

stretching out endlessly in a line,

forgetting time

is three-dimensional,

(yet, not at all),

only a construct, a tool of our mind,

a vain attempt to

define what is

everything and nothing,

forever and never:

we cannot comprehend.

So we build a box,

a tidy, measured square,

time marking our lives in

seconds, minutes, hours,

and years spent there.

If not for us looking

it would not be,

but for our eyes

there’d be nothing to see,

but for our ticking clocks

there’d be only one moment:

this eternal Now.

© Janet Mitchell, June 2012

This Sacred Day

14 06 2012
English: Sculpture "Mother of Fair Love&q...

English: Sculpture “Mother of Fair Love”(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I look at you in wonder, this beautiful human, blossomed into a woman of grace.  My mind reels back to the day you were born, the sound of your first cry, those blue, blue eyes that locked onto mine.  I thought then, you belong to me.  You carved a place into my heart, a place where you’ll live forever.

This day, this sacred day of yours.  It belongs to you.  Your wedding day.  The day you’ll lock yourself  in the embrace of another, the day you’ll pledge your life to him, to have and to hold, forever, until death rends you apart.  But you’ll never be able to tear yourself from my heart.  You’ll always be my little girl.

You stand there, wrapped in a cloud of something beyond beauty.  I smell your hair, and breathe in that baby-smell that I’ve known for so many years.  The wind gently tosses those blonded locks, once braided into pigtails that flopped when you ran, but now lifts in soft waves around that still-baby face.  Sunshine kisses the blooms of roses on your cheeks, blushed with the excitement of all those dreams you dream.  Sparkles of star dust dance round your smiling mouth, and I feel baby kisses once given to me.  Will his kisses hold you with such tenderness?

Your hands, now long and lithe, a single finger wrapped in gold and diamonds, that hand that once folded into mine, will soon be folded into the hand of your beloved.  I see those hands, still plump and dimpled as when you were just a babe, grappling with determination to hold that crayon straight, straining to draw stick-figures of you and me.

You walk so confidently down that aisle, all eyes on you.  Those legs that once ran four steps to my one, just to keep up with my stride, now walk evenly with mine, not running, but gliding on air, all grace and poise and confidence, each step drawing you closer to your love.  My hand, still folded around yours, and I wonder, can I release it to the care of someone else?  Can I trust any other to care for you, to love you, to treat you with tenderness, always, as I once did and forever will?  Rain should fall to hide my bitter-sweet tears, as I give your hand to his.

This is your day, your sacred day.  I feel the wind against my cheek: a mother’s whispered, wordless prayer that only love and joy and peace will follow you.  The sunshine caresses my body: a mother’s wish that life will wrap you only in warmth.  A sprinkle of rain that touches my face: the heavens washing away the bitter-sweet sadness as I watch you begin a new life of your own.  The stillness, the silence than hang in the air, before that sealing kiss, before those life-changing, poignant words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife”: the trepidation mixed with hope and prayer, cause me to hold my breath, then exhale, giving you over to your lover.

And it is done.  The ecstasy and hopes and dreams wash over the faces of you and your beloved, as you march confidently into the world, two lives woven together as one.  Silently, I wish you hope and love and peace, I wish the storms in your lives be few, I wish you a lifetime of happiness and wonder and awe, I wish that you will forever be bathed in the exquisite arms of love.

A rush of glorious, wordless joy washes over me and through me, as I am struck that I’ve just given you that ultimate gift of a mother’s love: that gift of letting you go, trusting that I’ve taught you well.  No matter, that place you carved into my heart when you were born will never be erased.  And that place will always be your home.

©Janet Mitchell, June 2012

The Test Pilot

10 06 2012
Test flight of the Boeing Y1B-9 bomber in 1932...

Test flight of the Boeing Y1B-9 bomber(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Test pilots are a rare breed.  Their training indoctrinates them in the tangible, in the three-dimensional world.  It teaches them to trust only what can be seen, touched, and then measured.  If it cannot be measured, it is simply irrelevant, something to be ignored, a source of distraction that could result in sudden death.  It is that training that allows the test pilot, in an emergency, to push away all extraneous factors, and to concentrate on the Now, on the immediate moment at hand.  Years of training demands that the test pilot focus intensely only on the present moment, to address not “what if”, and not “I’m scared out of my mind”, but to address “this is what is happening Now, and this is what I must do.”  Test pilots are trained to make an absolute servant of adrenalin.  They know that unchecked adrenalin brings on deadly fear and panic, spinning their minds into irrational reactions based on sheer dread of past incidents and on what terrible things might happen if the wrong decision is made.   Test pilots are trained to use adrenalin as a tool to focus only on the present moment, to move into that entrenched mode of training, a place almost without thought, a place where everything but training and the present evaporates from the mind.

I once knew a test pilot, who flew numerous bombing missions in World War II and survived to tell about them.  He was a man of few words, so his harrowing stories had to be pried from him, and he told them without flourish or drama.  Just the basics.  Just the facts.  His stories were punctuated with periods, rather than exclamation marks.  After the war, he became a test pilot for Boeing, the kind of pilot who climbs into a plane and propels it, hurtling through the air, to determine if it’s airworthy, or if it will plummet in an uncontrolled, downward spiral from 50,000 feet in the clear blue yonder, pitching into the hard earth, exploding in a blast of aviation fuel, unrecognizable shards of debris scattered for miles, and not a trace left of the human being who was once a test pilot.  He went on to become an airline pilot, and a fine pilot he was.  His passengers were safe, because he knew well how to remain in the present, to take care only of the issues at hand, the factors that would lift the plane into the air, keep it flying, then bring it to a safe, smooth touchdown on a runway.

Fred was his name.  He was retired.  And he was human, which meant that he, too, despite all his training as a pilot, would someday die.  But Fred didn’t think of that.  Because death was some future event that would distract from his present life.  It would distract from what is, right now.  It would take away from savoring this very moment, it would cause death to his Now.  So, until he died, Fred stayed in the here and Now.  He didn’t speculate about what might be, he rarely discussed what once was, unless someone asked.  He drank in the Now, and the Now, and the Now.  It seemed to be a waste of the present to spend it dwelling upon what was or upon what might be.  Like flying a plane, it was important to Fred to remain focused only in the present, to immerse himself in all around him, to be a part of Now.  To be drawn away into the past or into the future could mean veering off the present course, and that could be disastrous.  At the very least, he would miss something happening, Now.  Besides, the past and future couldn’t be measured, there were no defining parameters, hence it was a waste of time to spend energy in either of those places.

Which is not to say that Fred didn’t have fun!  Fred could revel in the moment, with laughter and joy.  Fred liked people, largely because he had an almost-magical way of pushing away those things about a person that really didn’t matter, focusing only on those things that were that person.  If you didn’t say it, it wasn’t there, and if you said it, Fred believed you–unless of course, the observed facts contradicted what you said.  In that case, Fred ignored it, giving it no power.  And he wasted no time worrying about those inconsistencies he observed in people.  Fred was who he was, and he knew that was the only thing he could do anything about.

One day, Fred’s doctor told him he had pancreatic cancer.  It was incurable.  But Fred didn’t hear the part about the cancer being incurable, because there was nothing he could do about that.  So he went for radiation, and he listened to his doctors, carefully filtering out what couldn’t be changed from what could be changed.  And he focused only on what could be changed.  He took his medications, tried to eat a well-balanced diet, despite his lack of appetite.  He asked few questions.  Every day that he woke, was another day of living for Fred.  Living in the present.

Fred was my father-in-law.  My husband and I went to visit him during the last month of his life.  His family asked me if I would tell him that his cancer was not curable, because he seemed not to be aware of this.  He knew he was becoming weaker, was losing weight, and found it more and more difficult to eat.  An out-of-character question started coming from him: “What do we do next about this problem?”  He hadn’t let some future maybe interfere with his present-moment way of living.  Until now.

So I sat with Fred on the living room couch, while the family waited in another room.  Fred had a quizzical sort of look on his face, as he tilted his head toward me.  He slung one arm lazily across the back of the couch and waited.

“Fred,” I began, hesitantly.  “Your family asked me if I would talk to you about your cancer.”  I knew that Fred was not one who responded well to vagueness.  Fred liked directness, Fred expected directness.

“Unh,” Fred grunted.

“The cancer you have is not curable, Fred.”  I waited for a reaction, but his facial expression remained stoic.  He didn’t speak.

“Do you understand what I’m saying, Fred?”  My heart thumped in my chest so loudly that I was sure he could hear it.  I could feel my pulse throbbing in my face and neck.  I hoped he understood the meaning, but sensed I was committing the sin of vagueness.

Fred shrugged his shoulders.  “Not really,” he said, and his words fell like a thud on my heart.

I took a deep breath, and scanned the room, the carpet, the ceiling, hoping to find something written there that would choose my next words for me.   “Your family wants me to tell you that you’re dying, Fred.  This cancer will end your life, and it will happen soon.”  There.  It was said.

For the first time, Fred’s eyes broke away from my face, and he looked at the floor, then back at me.  “Well, pissers,” were his only words.  He spoke no further.

I sat with him for many minutes, wordless truth surrounding us.  It wasn’t uncomfortable, it just was.  I sensed gratitude, relief from Fred, that the facts of the situation had been spoken.  Fred did well with facts.  He did not do well with innuendo.  And now he had facts, and he could deal with that.  Speculation was like a foreign country to Fred.  Facts were friends that would guide him.

It took only a short time to render Fred bed bound.  He continued to lose weight, and spent more and more of his time in a netherworld, known only to him.  Fred drifted back and forth between this world and his somewhere else.  In a crystal clear, lucid moment, Fred the test pilot uttered the most amazing thing.  This man who believed only what he could see, touch and then measure, looked at his son, Scott, and said, “There are people here, sometimes.”

Scott, my husband, said, “We’re all here, Dad.  Mom’s out in the garden, and sis and I are here.  Janet’s here.”

Fred shook his head, “No, there are other people here.”  He looked at Scott.  “Sometimes they are here.”  Fred stared at the in-between airspace in front of him.  He laughed lightly.  “That’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?”

Scott left the room, and I remained by Fred’s side.  I took his hand in mine.  “Do you know those people, Fred?’

Fred shook his head, “no”.

“Do they frighten you?” I asked.

Again, “no”.

I just sat and held Fred’s hand for a while.  He slept.  I wondered what his test-pilot mind made of this other world.  No doubt, he was trying to measure those things he saw, trying to make sense of them.  I left the room soon after.

Fred died days later.  Fred had no use for the past or the future, and I imagined he would be happy in his new world, where he was most comfortable, in that realm where there is no time and space, only Presence, only the eternal Now.

©Janet Mitchell, June 2012

Defining Moments in Time

26 05 2012

English: Happy human Humanist logo, white and ...

It was a very simple moment in time, which I recognized as it was happening: it was one of those moments in my life that defined me.

I had returned to school in my late thirties.  I sat in a class called “Women’s Studies”.  They probably don’t have those anymore, but they did then.

The instructor stood at the front of the class and said, “Your assignment is to take out a piece of paper, and in one sentence, state what it is you want in life.”

I reflected, only for a few seconds.  I wrote:

“To love, to be loved, to be happy.”

The instructor walked around the room and silently read each student’s statement.  When she got to my desk, she read what I’d written, arched a single eyebrow at me, and said, “Well, now, that’s quite a tall order.”

I looked directly back at her and said, “Is it?”

It hasn’t changed.  That statement still defines me.  No, I don’t always love, and no, I’m not always loved, and I’m most certainly not always happy.  But there’s always a glimmer of all three, sitting there waiting to be recognized by me.

©Janet Mitchell, May 2012

If You Will Listen, I Will Tell You

23 05 2012
The Mona Lisa (or La Joconde, La Gioconda).

The Mona Lisa (or La Joconde, La Gioconda). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Helen sat dozing in her rocking chair, a hand-knitted blanket draped loosely over her lap and legs.  Occasionally, one foot would touch the floor, and the chair would rock easily back and forth, back and forth, a soft creak punctuating the movement on the back side of the fro.  For awhile, Helen would sit still, after the chair had slowed to a stop, then touch the floor again with her foot, and the rocking would resume.  I sat on the edge of her bed, quietly waiting for her to wake, not wanting to disturb what seemed to be a peaceful slumber.

Oxygen tubing ran from her nose to a machine nearby, humming out a low drone.  Helen’s hair was silvery-white, and it looped in short, easy curls around her face.  One curl fell softly over her right eyebrow, and it would shift ever so slightly from the brow to the bridge of her nose as she rocked in her chair.  Her breathing seemed easy, with a deep sigh every so often.  Her face and lips were pale, but I could picture her as a younger woman, with lips of ruby highlighted by a flush of color in her cheeks.  Quotation marks etched the corners of her mouth, from years of laughing and crying and stern contemplation.   Her eyelids sagged heavily down, and her eyelashes were scarce.  She wore a flowered, flannel night-gown, with two buttons left open at the top.  Her skin hung in little folds from her chin to her collar-bone.  Helen was ninety-one, and her body showed its years of living life.

But Helen’s mind was anything but worn out.  I was caught by surprise as her eyes flew wide open, and she peered straight at me.

“How long did you think you’d sit there waiting?” she asked me with a half-grin.

“Um, how long have you been waiting for me to leave?” I stuttered.  I felt like a child, caught raiding the cookie jar.

She closed her eyes again, and I thought she’d returned to sleep.  “Give me your hands,” she ordered.  She reached out toward me with both arms, the elbows not quite able to extend fully, and I noticed a tremor in both hands.

I reached back to her with my own hands.  I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the firm plumpness of my own hands, and the loose skin of hers.  I grasped her hands gently with my own.

“Oh, come now,” she said.  “You can give me a squeeze–I won’t break.”  She laughed, her eyes still closed.

I squeezed her hands more firmly.  She tapped a single foot against the floor and rocked back and forth, still holding my hands in hers.

“You can come back and see me again,” she finally said.

“But–” I began to object.

“I know who you are,” she interrupted, as she released my hands.  “My doctor sent you from hospice.  You can come back next week.”  She closed her eyes and appeared to sleep, though I couldn’t be sure she slept.  I stood to leave the room, noting the intermittent tap of a foot and the to and fro rocking of her chair, the same consistent squeak marking the end of the fro.  She neither frowned, nor smiled, she merely sat in peaceful repose.  I thought I could detect just the hint of a Mona Lisa smile on her lips.  The oxygen machine hummed on, and Helen breathed a deep sigh.  I left her to be with herself.

Before leaving Helen’s home, I gathered as much information as possible from her daughter, then arranged to return the following week.

“Mornings are best,” her daughter told me.  “That’s when she’s most awake.”

The following Tuesday at nine in the morning, I returned to visit Helen.  She was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.  Occasionally, she would extend her arms and move her fingers, as though grasping at invisible strings.  She seemed unaware of my presence.  Her arms opened, as though welcoming an embrace.  She smiled at something I could not see, something in mid-space.  Quietly, she spoke a question that I could not understand, then she seemed to wait, as though listening to an answer.  She shook her head “no”.  “Not yet,” she said.  “Not til I’m ready.”

The daughter stood behind me.   “She’s been like this for the last three days,” she said, and shrugged.  Her face screwed up into a mixture of fear and disgust.  “She’s been talking about her mother and her sister, and some people I’ve never heard of.”

“Is she talking about them, or to them?” I asked, taking the daughter gently by the elbow.

The daughter’s expression turned to one of panic or horror, her mouth opening into a wide “O”, then she covered it with a hand.  “It’s like she’s talking to them, I think.”  She turned away, and walked quickly out of the room, then stood in the hallway and beckoned me with one hand.

“Those people have been dead for years!” she explained.  “It’s got to be the morphine.  We’ve got to get her off the morphine.  I think she’s out of her mind, and the morphine is making it worse!”  The daughter’s fear was escalating, and she fled down the hallway and into another room.

I sat in Helen’s rocking chair, and found myself tapping a single foot on the floor, making the chair move gently back and forth, as Helen had done.

“I see you came back,” Helen spoke softly, startling me out of my thoughts.

“I said I would.”  I leaned forward, as I spoke.

“Let me hold your hands,” she said.

I rose and stood next to the bedside.  Helen once again took my soft hands into her fragile-skinned squeeze.  “You know,” she said.  “You will understand me when I tell you.”  She smiled vaguely at me, her gaze locked firmly on mine.

“What, Helen?”

She squeezed my hands again.  “You won’t tell me it’s the morphine, because you know.  You have been there.”

“Tell me where, Helen,” I encouraged her to continue.

“That place I’m going, where there is nothing but love.  You know–it’s nothing like earthly love.  I can’t describe it, and you know that, so don’t ask me so many questions.”  She was adamant and instructive.  “It is light and there are colors like I’ve never, ever seen before, and it cannot be described with words.  And the people who are waiting . . .”   Her voice drifted off, and a tear trickled down the side of her face.  “The people who are waiting for me want me to come.”  She was silent for several minutes, as she returned to her thousand-mile stare into the in-between.  “I told them I’m not ready, and they will wait for me.”  She smiled, and I saw a radiance glance across her face, the lines smoothing into younger skin for several moments.

“I do know,” I said.

“I told you, I already knew that.  So you don’t have to tell me.  It’s enough that I know you believe what I say.  I know you’ve been there.”  She smiled again, and squeezed my hands so hard that they began to ache.  “Can you come back again?” she asked.

“How about Friday, Helen?  Friday morning?”

She furrowed her brows for a moment, silent in thought.  “Maybe you should make it Thursday, if that’s alright with you.”

“I can do that,” I agreed.

“It’s just that Friday will be too late.”  A matter of fact statement of certainty.

“Can I ask you, Helen, are you afraid?  When you see these people and talk to them, are you afraid?”

Helen laughed out loud, a strong, ridiculous laugh.  “Oh, heavens no, dear.  You should know that!”  She patted my hand gently, and slipped away into quiet sleep.  Her breathing was easy and even.  And still, that hint of Mona Lisa’s smile lingered, just barely perceptible to me.

I sat with Helen’s daughter for a while, before leaving.  “Your mom is crossing a bridge, she’s transitioning from here to there, from physical life to what we think of as death.”  I watched her daughter’s face closely, trying to discern understanding.

“I think it’s the morphine.”  Her daughter was defiant.

“When your mom talks to these people, does she seem afraid?”

“No,” her daughter admitted, “but it’s crazy talk!  She can’t be talking to anyone, because there’s nobody there!”

“Well,” I began carefully, as though maneuvering carefully through a field of glass, “perhaps your mom is sometimes here, and perhaps she’s sometimes somewhere else.  Somewhere we can’t see, but it’s real to her.  It’s comforting to her.”  I waited for Helen’s daughter to process what I had said.

“I’m not sure I understand.”  She fiddled with her fingers as she waited for me to respond.

“This is part of dying, and it’s very common for people to go back and forth, just like your mom’s rocking chair–people go from this world to somewhere only they can see, prior to dying.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do when she talks like that?” her daughter asked, flustered.

“Ask her how she feels, ask her if it is good to see that person she’s seeing or talking to, then just listen.”  I paused for several moments.  “Most of all, let her know you believe her.”

“But, the morphine!” her daughter objected.

“Have you tried to withhold it?” I asked.

“Yes, of course.”  She flushed, and looked away from me.

“And what happens when you withhold it?”

“She has a hard time breathing,” her daughter answered, then heaved a loud sigh.  “She has a hard time breathing, and she keeps seeing and talking to those–those–people.”  She rubbed her hands across her face and cried.  I waited til she wiped away her tears.

“Letting her know you believe her won’t make her worse,” I said.  “It will be the best gift in the whole world that you can give her, just to let her know you believe her.  And giving her the morphine will help ease her breathing.”  I tried to be reassuring and comforting, while knowing that nothing that I could say would take away this pain of anticipatory grief and fear that Helen’s daughter was feeling.  “If you will just listen, she will tell you what she wants you to know,” I said.

She sat silently for ten minutes, as the grandfather clock in the corner of the room tick-tocked the seconds away.  At last, a gong sounded out the hour, and Helen’s daughter startled.  Her shoulders were slumped.  I stooped and gave her a hug, and she hugged me back.

“How long–I mean, how long do you think it’ll be till–” she started crying again.

“Your mom says by Friday,” I said, making my voice as soft and gentle as I could.

Helen’s daughter began sobbing softly, again, and I waited until she stopped.  “Call me if you need me, even if you need to talk,” I said.  “Can you promise me that?”

She shook her head in affirmation, and walked me to the door.  “See you Thursday, then?” she asked.

“See you Thursday.”  I hugged her again.

On Thursday morning at seven o’clock, I called in for my usual report, left by the night call nurses.  Helen had died at five o’clock that morning, her daughter by her side.

I waited until eight o’clock and called Helen’s number.  Her daughter answered, and I could hear the fatigue and relief and anguish in her voice, all at once.  “What can I do?” I asked, simply, knowing there was nothing, really, that could be done, except perhaps to listen.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Helen’s daughter spoke.  “I got to talk to her, and I told her I believed her–she seemed so happy when I told her that!”  I could hear her soft, muffled cry across the telephone line.  “It was only about an hour later that she went away, but I had the chance to tell her, I got to let her know.”  She was silent for a moment.  “She finally crossed that bridge, I guess, and now she’s somewhere else.”

©Janet Mitchell, May 2012.  Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.  This is a work of fiction.

Come Play With Me

21 05 2012

Description unavailable

Come play with me,

come run with me,

come dance with me in the sun!

Run up the hills of heather,

go bounding down and around,

I’m not sure I can anymore,

my body’s just not the same,

“Oh, yes, my dear, we can”,

you said,

as you pointed to your head,

“We’re only twenty-one”.

Come play with me,

frolic with me,

roll about in the sand.

In our memory we can go there,

again and again and again.

I’ll rock in my rocking chair,

and you will keep my beat,

before you know it,

we’ll be there,

frolicking in love’s heat.

I love you, I love you, I love you,

and that’s where we will go,

to play and run and frolic and laugh,

love giggles that only we know.

“We’re ageless”, you said,

“and here we are,

only twenty-one,

though our bodies are eighty-four,

nothing can take that youthful glow

so let us go play in the sun”.

© Janet Mitchell, May 2012


All Those Years Ago

20 05 2012

Old marriage at Plac Kaszubski in Gdynia. Pols...

All those years ago,

when you first touched my hand

and said it was then you knew:

we thought we did,

but there was much more

we’d yet to traverse through.

For all those years,

you’ve been my rock,

and, sometimes, I, yours,

memories made and

to be made, with all of life’s

twists and turns,

It was first, you, who knew,

and now this I know:

Our hands belong intertwined.

No matter, my dumpy mood,

my discouragement, my joyful elation,

always, that twinkle in your eyes,

that spark with the gentle touch

of my hand,

never escapes my mind.

Why you’ve never left, when

perhaps I would have gone,

I cannot comprehend.

But each time I turn

to catch a glimpse,

there you are again.

You’ll take my hand, that same gentle way,

“Come, give me a hug, my love”,

And our arms wrap us together,

that calm oasis, that wordless bond

that once, we thought we knew,

was just the whisper of forever.

©Janet Mitchell, May 2012


Barnard and Maynard

15 05 2012
st. bernard

st. bernard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barnard (pronounced “barn-ard”, with emphasis on barn) was a lumbering, gentle giant of a dog, if indeed he was a dog.  His human, Maynard, had long-suspected that Barnard’s reincarnation had somehow become confused with a human, and that inside Barnard was a human trying to get out.  Barnard was a 140-pound St. Bernard.  Maynard had rescued Barnard from a dumpster when Barnard was a pup.  This had confused Barnard, because instinctually, he, Barnard, knew he was meant to be the rescuer.  Barnard wondered if, perhaps, Maynard was a dog in a human’s body, whose reincarnation had also been confused, and that Maynard had been intended to be the St. Bernard rescuer.  At any rate, Maynard and Barnard had been life-long friends (Barnard’s life), and wherever one went, the other could always be found close-by.

Barnard had suffered through many a human crisis.  He had survived children, who thought him a horse and tried to ride him; grandchildren, who thought his ears silly putty and endlessly tried to pull them into unnatural shapes; and when Barnard took the children for a walk, he strutted through the neighborhood, and the children who weren’t trying to ride his back or his tail or hang from his ears, followed behind like ducklings, as though they were his own offspring.  Barnard had suffered the divorce of Maynard and Maynard’s two wives, one of whom thought Barnard her child and had tried to gain custody of him.  Barnard, like a child, had tried his hardest to stay out of the middle of these battles, but he’d had to resort to chewing up many, many pairs of the woman’s shoes, as well as other things, belonging to the human who wanted to take Barnard away from his master.  Barnard felt badly about all of those terribly mangled shoes and purses and once-stuffed pillows, but the strategy had worked well, and Barnard had finally come to be in the permanent custody of Maynard.  The fact that Barnard was more accurately Maynard’s custodian would forever remain Barnard’s secret. 

Barnard was well-trained.  His nose was that of a bloodhound.  His hearing was acute enough to know, not just that a car was approaching from a mile away, but whether that car was a known or an unknown entity.  Hence, he would alert his master with either a growl for the unknown entity, or an excited pant and his best imitation of a grin, for the known entity.  His tracking skills were remarkable enough that, when one of the small, human offspring had gone missing, it was Barnard who had tracked the wayward child, finding him sitting precariously on a branch in the upper-most parts of a tree, many blocks away from Maynard’s home. The fire department had been called to rescue the child, but Barnard was ecstatic about all the accolades given him for being the “real” rescuer.  Barnard felt that he had fulfilled his life’s purpose: the rescuer.  It was the curious bow that someone had wrapped around his neck that bothered and puzzled Barnard to no end.  It would be embarrassing to be seen this way by another dog, so Barnard worked it off as quickly as possible, as he pretended to do his business behind a tree. 

Barnard was intensely curious and the quintessential observer, and perhaps that heightened the sharp acuity of his senses.  Barnard had the perpetual expression of a question mark on his face, as though always trying to solve some complex problem.  When Barnard was hungry or thirsty, he went to his bowls and sat patiently beside them, looking back and forth between his master and the place where he would procure sustenance.  When nature called to Barnard, he sat next to the back door, looking to and fro between the door and the master, his panting growing into a crescendo according to his mounting need to heed nature’s insistent call.  Drooling was a last resort for Barnard, because he was a tidy dog.  He had trained Maynard to understand that, once the drooling began, little time remained to avert a full-blown disaster. 

At bedtime, Barnard lay on his mat, crossways in front of the entry door.  Barnard took his sentry-duty quite seriously, and mostly for effect, would occasionally get up and march back and forth, from window to window, showing his sizeable mug to anyone who might even think of being interested in making an unwelcome nighttime visit.  Barnard’s bark wasn’t particularly ferocious, but it was low and gruff and loud, and few would-be intruders hung around for long enough to match the size of the dog with its bark.  Truth be told, Barnard’s jaw could easily pull down 400-pounds of bite, quite enough to pierce and rip and do significant damage to a leg, or a buttock, or an arm.  It pleased Barnard that, aside from his toys, he’d never resorted to a bite; his growl and bark had always proved adequate to ward off all danger, imagined or otherwise. 

One morning, Barnard went to his food and water bowls, and sat, looking expectantly toward Maynard’s open bedroom door.  Maynard did not emerge to tend to Barnard’s breakfast.  Barnard lived in a constant state of now, and now, and now, so he didn’t know how long he’d waited, but at some point, he’d picked up his bowls between his teeth and carried them to Maynard’s bedside.  There, he sat and waited.  He waited for so long that, not only was he now hungry and thirsty, his bladder was beginning to protest.  Barnard began to pant.  His hunger and thirst could wait, but Barnard’s bladder could not, despite the humiliation of having to urinate on his human’s tiled bathroom floor.  Afterward, Barnard’s bladder felt much better, but he knew his master would not be happy.  Barnard slunk low to the floor, and back at the bedside, he sat, then lifted a paw to nudge his sleeping master’s arm.  After several, progressively more firm, nudges, Maynard awoke.

Barnard watched as his master slung his legs over the side of the bed, where his feet landed in the empty food and water bowls.  Barnard felt his stomach turn sour, as his master’s gaze drifted toward the puddle of urine on the bathroom floor.  Barnard lay down onto the floor and curled into a half-circle, his tail firmly tucked between his hind legs, his sad eyes flitting apologetically between Maynard and the floor.  He covered his muzzle with one paw, and his eyes with the other, while at the same time managing a high-pitched, two-syllable whine.  Then, he felt the gentle touch of his master’s hand stroking his coat.  “It’s okay, Barnard.  It’s okay.”  Maynard proceeded to clean the puddle, filled the water and food bowls and put them back in their usual place, then sat heavily down into his recliner.  “Food, Barnard.  Hungry, boy?”

Barnard was a creature of habit.  Maynard was a creature of habit.  And Barnard was disturbed, because this morning, Maynard did not get his human bowl of food and cup of liquid, as he’d always done before, right after feeding Barnard.  That was when Barnard knew something had changed.  That was when Barnard realized he’d have to be keeping a much closer eye on his master.  And, even more worrisome, Barnard noted a strange, different smell when he sniffed at Maynard.  He didn’t smell the way Maynard usually smelled.

After that day, Barnard moved his sleeping mat halfway between the entry door and Maynard’s bedroom door.  Barnard slept a half-sleep, alert to the slightest change in Maynard’s snoring, keeping a vigilant eye on Maynard’s every shift in bed.  Barnard wandered to his master’s bedside, several times each night, to sniff Maynard and to make sure he was still breathing.  That unusual smell had become stronger, and this was quite bothersome to Barnard.  Something was wrong, he knew, but what could he do?  He had never left his home without his master in tow, not even to relieve himself.  And how would he tell another human that something was wrong with Maynard?  He began to notice that Maynard’s movements were slower, and Barnard had to nudge his master to remind him that it was time for a walk.  The last time Barnard and his master went for a walk, Maynard stumbled and fell.  This had never happened before, and Barnard was frightened.  A neighbor came and helped Maynard back to his home, Barnard hanging closely enough to Maynard that his master could lean on him.

The next afternoon, a strange human woman came to the door.  Barnard growled and placed himself between the strange human woman and his master.

“Friend, Barnard.  It’s okay.  Friend.”  Barnard reluctantly moved aside, but kept a watchful, suspicious eye on the human woman, who carried a bag with strange instruments which she placed against and into his master’s body.  Barnard whined a worrisome whine, but was reassured by his master’s, “It’s okay, Barnard.  Friend.”   When the human woman left, Maynard had tubes attached to his body, and Barnard couldn’t figure out what they were.  He sniffed at each one, and Maynard gently told Barnard “no”, when he tried to chew them off.

Later that day, strange men came and moved out all of the familiar living room furniture, which had taken years of work to make smell like Maynard and Barnard.  The men left Maynard’s easy chair in its original place, and set up an odd bed, which smelled of chemicals and had metal rails, and a mattress that did not smell at all like Maynard and Barnard.  Barnard’s familiar landmarks were gone, and with the exception of Maynard’s easy chair, which still had that wonderful, Barnard and Maynard homey smell, Maynard set about his job of giving the bed a proper scent, by rubbing up against it as much as possible.  That night, Barnard began his nightly vigil, at the side of Maynard’s new bed.

A neighbor human came to sit with Maynard every day, took Barnard for his twice-daily walks, and made sure Barnard was fed and watered.  She made Maynard meals, and spooned food into his mouth.  Barnard cocked his head to one side, as he’d never seen anyone feed his master before.  At night, an unfamiliar human woman came to stay with Maynard and Barnard.  It was then that Barnard took to sleeping on his master’s bed, as he didn’t really like this new, nighttime woman.  She smelled like old shoes, and her breath was stale.  He wanted to be as close to Maynard as possible, to comfort his master with the old, familiar Barnard smell.  He felt proud when the woman tried to shoo him off the bed, and Maynard had waved her away.  “I want him here, he makes me feel better.”  Barnard was sure this meant that, if he stayed close enough to his master, his master would get better, and all of their wonderfully scented furniture would come back, and Maynard would put food and water into his bowls again, and take him for his walks, and the strange tubes on Maynard’s body would go away.  But something kept bothering Barnard: no matter how closely he curled up to his master, no matter how long he put off going for his walks, no matter how often he licked Maynard’s wonderful face, that smell just kept getting stronger, and Maynard spoke to him less.  Didn’t Maynard love him anymore?  Barnard whined a heart-broken whine, and nudged his muzzle into Maynard’s neck. 

Weeks passed, and Maynard began sleeping most of the time.  He no longer woke to Barnard’s gentle pawing, nor to his loving, wet kisses to Maynard’s face.  A human woman put a mask over his master’s face, and attached it to a tube on a machine that made a strange, loud humming noise.  Barnard tried to lick the mask away, to give Maynard kisses, but the mask wouldn’t budge.  Barnard’s heart was heavy, because his master no longer stroked his coat or patted his head or scratched behind his ears.  But, still, he nestled closely to his master.

One morning, Barnard woke from a fitful sleep, and noticed Maynard’s chest was no longer moving up and down.  He laid his head against Maynard’s chest, and he could not hear the soothing, regular beating that often soothed him to sleep.  The mask was no longer on Maynard’s face, and the loud, humming noise was gone.  Something inside of Barnard knew that Maynard was no longer there.  Barnard jumped from the bed and crawled beneath it, where he covered his face with both paws.  After awhile, some men came and took away the bed and they took away Maynard.  Someone left the entry door ajar, and Barnard bolted from the room.  He ran and he ran and he ran, until he could no longer smell that smell of home.  Until he could no longer smell Maynard. 

Someone eventually found Barnard, miles away from his home, exhausted and malnourished.  They took him in and fed and nourished and loved him.  But nothing ever took away the smell of Maynard.  Perhaps, Barnard thought, if he was good enough, Maynard would come back.

©Janet Mitchell, May 2012.  All Rights Reserved.  Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.  This is a work of fiction.


12 05 2012


Whether or not you are

one of those people, with

predisposition (of your

own making),

to believe

in those wholesome little folks

who leap spritely

from underneath bushes

and trees:

they’re there,

eluding  discovery

by folks who’ve been disillusioned

of all their childhood magic,

who’d dismiss them mistakenly

to simple imagination

(or worse, deluded fantasy!)

Ah, yes, they’re there, and

at times in the strangest of places,

they come bouncing eagerly,

from beneath the beds and houses,

bemused, a grin at the

non-believers who sleep,

mistaking these tiny elven ones

for mindless, nonsensical dreams!

And so, tonight,

when drifting off to sleep,

into that impassioned

place of dreams:

when tiny elven figures

dance across your brain and

lead you to believe,

it’s only imagination, a

sleepy hallucination

of the night.

Entertain this thought:

perhaps a dream,

a fantasy,

and perhaps these tiny figures

are reality.

And, am I

their dream?

©Janet Mitchell, August 2011

The Golden Rectangle

4 05 2012

AnimationGoldenerSchnitt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Spirals created from


round and round,

down and down, or

perhaps it’s up and up.

How did it get there,

morphing from

sharp right angles

to softly defined:

circles within circles,

arches within arches,

ever smaller,

that spin-off to infinity?

I do not know,

though I feel the flow,

I feel it inside of me.

Eternity springing

from finite, parallel,

adjacent lines,

abruptly intersected

with perfectly arched


A simple rectangle,

transformed somehow

to circling corkscrews,

from rectangles,

ever-widening springs.

The rectangle,

then a triangle,

the Golden One,

spinning out

to no-time.

The Golden Rectangle

making us dizzy

when we try to comprehend.

Take a lens,

peer through it,

and follow all

right angles,

follow each spiral.

There we find life.

There we find infinity.

Except we cannot find it

within our mortal minds.

©Janet Mitchell, May 2012, All Rights Reserved



Speaking of Walter . . .

4 05 2012
A large wooden box, possibly Victorian, thrown...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walter can’t speak for himself, because he died.  One cold day last winter, he just sucked in a last breath, and that was it. 

Walter was sixty years old when his heart finally decided to crump on him.  It had beat for as long as it could, then it just stopped.  It was quite a surprise to everyone.

Walter was not a planner.  He liked the unexpected, and he liked spontaneity.  His heart stopping definitely fell into the category of “unexpected” and “spontaneous”.  Usually, Walter was the instigator of these sorts of spontaneous and unexpected ideas.  This was one that his heart thought up all on its own.

Nobody really knew what to do, after Bertha found Walter dead in his easy chair.  She knew he was dead because his cigar had fallen from his mouth and into his lap, and his ever-present beer can had fallen from his hand and spilled onto the floor, where the dog had finished it off.  When Bertha walked into the room, she screamed.  Then, she yelled at Walter.  Bertha never yelled.  Finally, Bertha did something she hadn’t ever conceived of herself doing: she slapped Walter across the face, but he didn’t wake up.  Bertha felt terrible, because she wasn’t a violent person.  When everything failed to rouse Walter, Bertha called her three daughters and son on the telephone.  Someone called the paramedics, and everything spiralled into chaos from there.

Bertha considered herself a devout Christian woman.  She was a Southern Baptist, and she attended church, alone, every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and went, unfailingly, to the Wednesday night prayer meeting.  Walter was not a religious man, and he refused to pass through the doors of a church.  Walter felt that if God really wanted him, God would come and see him, not the other way around.  Walter hated gospel music, preferring a Country and Western fare, much to Bertha’s dismay.  Walter loved the crack of a bat against a baseball, so he would spend hours during baseball season watching his favorite teams play on television.  Bertha hated sports, and much preferred to listen to televangelists giving sermons to great crowds of people.  Bertha had received an i-pod from a daughter one birthday, so while Walter listened to his Country and Western music and watched his baseball teams play, Bertha could swoon to her heart’s content over gospel music, or listen to all the sermons she wanted, and everybody was happy.

Walter and Bertha had been married for forty years.  They married on the dock of the lake near the house they had bought for $4,000.  It had required an $80 down payment, and Walter, who thought all debt was the one, certain way to the poor house, had paid it off in seven years.  No one had been able to convince Walter that “debtors’ prisons” no longer existed.  So when he died, Bertha was, indeed, debt-free. Walter retired from the postal service at the age of fifty-five, but until his death, he worked odd jobs as a mechanic and handyman.  He loved to tinker, and thought himself an unsung inventor.  His garage was filled with little drawers, full of little tinkering tools and odds and ends.  Projects started but not finished, were stacked around the perimeter, and nobody quite knew what to make of any of them.

Walter never asked for directions.  Instead, he carried a Thomas Guide with him in his car, whenever he went looking for a new place.  He would study it carefully, before setting out on any journey, long or short.  Getting “lost” never happened; Walter just went on what he called “sight-seeing adventures”.

No one could remember, ever, seeing Walter in a suit.  Of course, he wore his mailman’s uniform during his working years, but Walter hadn’t considered that a suit.  Bertha claimed that, not only had Walter never worn a suit, he’d never even owned one.  When Walter’s parents and several of his nine siblings had died, he attended their funerals wearing jeans and a plaid flannel shirt.  Funerals were one occasion when Walter donned stockings with what he still called tennis shoes.  Walter could not understand why people felt they had to wear clothes that made them miserable, just because someone had died.  So Walter went comfortably dressed.

Walter and Bertha shared a love for hot dogs, potato chips, hamburgers (preferably grilled on the backyard barbecue), and warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream piled high on top, its melting sweetness drizzling down the sides of the pie.  Walter also loved anything “beef”.  He considered a good, well-marbled beef steak commensurate with manhood.  Walter didn’t give much credence to the doctors, who warned him about the dangers of too much beef and cholesterol and heart attacks, because most of his relatives had died of heart attacks, anyway, and he figured that was the way he would go, too.  He saw no reason to leave this earth feeling deprived.

Walter was prolific at profanity.  To Walter, profanity was a dialect.  Bertha called it filth, and told him that if he was her child, she’d wash his mouth out with soap.  She also told Walter that taking the Lord’s name in vain was a sin.  But the neural pathways involved with cursing were too deeply ingrained in Walter’s brain, and his own colorful dialect never changed. 

When Walter and Bertha married, Bertha wore a sun dress, and Walter wore deck shoes without stockings, Bermuda shorts and a tee-shirt that had an arrow pointing to his then-trim belly, that said “The Beer Goes Here”.  He had stencilled the tee-shirt himself.  In Walter’s defense, Bertha went barefoot, even though she thought sandal pumps would be much more appropriate for a wedding.  Walter gave Bertha a simple gold band for a wedding ring, and Bertha gave Walter one that matched.  Walter thought diamonds were excess and a waste of money, so Bertha settled for the gold band.  Bertha was so in love with Walter that she would have settled for a silver ring, or even one from a box of Cracker Jacks, because she just wanted Walter.  And she had him.

Walter didn’t go anywhere beyond the mailbox, without his cooler of beer.  He didn’t drink to excess, he just sipped and sipped and sipped, and he didn’t really care if the beer was cold.  So a six-pack could last him all day long.  He just liked the taste.  He enjoyed puffing on a cigar every day, and as far as Walter was concerned, everybody he knew could just buy him a box of cigars and a six-pack of beer, and put them under the Christmas tree, and he would be happy.  He didn’t want much besides Bertha, his cigars and his beer.  And his Country and Western music.

Because Walter wasn’t a planner, he hadn’t planned for his death.  His daughters had asked once, but he had refused to talk about what he wanted done when he died, because, he explained, it was vital to sail under the radar when it came to matters of the Grim Reaper, otherwise, he was likely to come calling even sooner.  Bertha had gone ahead and bought two plots at the local cemetery, side by side, where she had arranged to be buried next to Walter–when the time came.  But that’s as far as it had gone.  That was the only secret Bertha had ever kept from Walter, and now the time had come.  And nobody knew quite what to do.

After the paramedics pronounced Walter officially dead, Bertha called Ralph, the funeral director at Prairie View Funeral Home.  Bertha was never quite sure  of why a cemetery needed to have a view; after all, she thought, nobody there was likely to be looking.  So she had purchased what was considered a “non-view” plot, which was much less expensive.  And she figured it was something that she and Walter could easily do without–when the time came.

So now that the time had come, the planning had to be done.  Everyone had their own ideas about the funeral, and how it should happen.  Since Walter hadn’t been vocal on this subject, the discussion became a free-for-all.  Ralph, the funeral director, sat quietly in Walter’s living room, while the family battled on about what to say about Walter at his funeral, what Walter should wear, should the casket be opened or closed, what music should be played, should the Southern Baptist preacher preach, and so on and so on and so on. 

Bertha had chosen the most basic casket available, because she was certain that was what Walter would have wanted.  The children agreed.  Bertha wanted an organist from her church, to play “Amazing Grace” and “In the Garden”, which were two of Bertha’s favorites.  The children disagreed, pointing out that Walter hated gospel music.  To side-step an all-out war on the subject, everyone agreed to table the discussion about music; it could be decided later.  Everyone except Walter’s cousin wanted an opened casket; Walter’s cousin was squeamish about seeing dead people, and thought it was disrespectful of the dead and a violation of privacy.  No one could agree on Walter’s final attire, so after listening to the family wage war for fifteen minutes on the subject, Ralph, the funeral director, suggested that the usual attire was a nice suit and tie; shoes, he said, didn’t matter, because nobody would see his feet.  Bertha said, fine, Walter would wear his flip-flops, and no stockings.  Bertha insisted on the Southern Baptist preacher saying a few words, but compromised with the son and daughters, who wanted an open session, where everyone in attendance who had known Walter could stand and say a few words. 

The day before the funeral, the family met at the funeral home to inspect Walter and his casket.  The casket was basic, and all members of Walter’s immediate family agreed that it was in keeping with Walter’s character.  But, Ralph, the funeral director, had dressed Walter in a black suit, with a starched white shirt and tie.  Bertha said he didn’t look like Walter, especially with the make-up that disguised his red, bulbous nose and the lipstick, which according to Ralph, was intended to put “just a touch of color” on his lips.  The son said he looked like a drag queen.  Ralph gasped, as Bertha pulled a kerchief out of her pocket, spat on it, and gently wiped away the color.  The son and daughters said the tie made Walter look like he was strangling, and that, too, must go.

When the day of the funeral arrived, Bertha and her children filed into the front-row pews, followed by other surviving family members and people Walter had known over the years.  Music played quietly in the background, a Country and Western singer crooning “Amazing Grace” and “Back in the Saddle Again”.  Walter lay reposed in a basic coffin, which had been draped with an American flag.  He wore jeans and a tee-shirt with an arrow pointing toward Walter’s stomach, where “The Beer Goes Here” had been freshly stencilled.  The Southern Baptist preacher shared a few, short words, mostly penned by Bertha and the family, then invited the group to join in a little prayer.  Many people stood to share their personal memories of Walter. 

At the end, the family was asked to lead a procession by the casket, for one, last viewing of the man they knew as Walter.  Bertha went first.  She touched his hands, which were folded across his chest, kissed his cheek lightly, then placed a rose from her garden across his chest.  Daughter number one carefully nestled a six-pack of beer next to his left elbow.  Daughter number two gently worked a cigar between his right forefinger and middle finger.  A small, framed photo of Babe Ruth at bat, along with a new baseball and bat, were tightly wedged between Walter’s right side and the casket, by daughter number three.  And, lastly, Walter’s only son laid the newest edition of the Thomas Guide at his side.  “That’s so you don’t lose your way, Dad,” his son said quietly to Walter.

With that, Walter was laid to rest.  Walter had, after all, spoken for himself.

©Janet Mitchell, May 2012.  All rights reserved.  Any resemblence to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.  This is a work of fiction.

The Man With Nothing But Love

28 04 2012

Wooden barn, Masterdyke, Sutton St James. This...

Peter was a wealthy man.  He had nothing but love.

He lived in a two-story, tacked together shack that sat precariously on a gently sloped clearing, in the middle of wilderness forest, deep in the shadowy foothills of a great mountain.  During the fall and winter, a trickling stream meandered just below his rustic home; once spring arrived, it brought with it the melted snow from high in the nearby mountains, and the trickling stream swelled to a gushing, white-water river.  Some years, the water would rise to such great heights that Peter would have to paddle his old and battered wooden canoe 200-feet from his tumble-down home to the mailbox.

I arrived for my first hospice visit, after losing my way for a couple of hours on winding, narrow, two-lane dirt roads.  My GPS had been useless; no satellite or cell service here.   Neighbors were miles apart, hidden away in the densely packed forest.  As I pulled into an open area, set back from the dusty road, I saw what could not possibly be a house.  I stared at the gutted out frame of a deteriorating barn shed, only the back and side walls still standing, with pieces of an old roof jutting out here and there.  The front had been faced with unpainted, roughly weathered and warped plywood sheets.  Perched atop the old barn shed was a slightly crooked, plywood rectangle structure, with gaping squares sawed out for windows. Old, flower-patterned sheets hung inside the window openings, and wafted back and forth in the warm summer breeze.

I was met by a woman, who smiled and waved me forward.  She stood at the bottom of a wooden ramp, which was randomly reinforced every several inches with 1″ x 2″ cross boards for footing.  The ramp leaned against the side of Peter’s home, and led upwards to the plywood box above.  This cannot be where he lives, I muttered under my breath.

“Hey, you have gotten to Peter’s home!”  the woman sang out to me.  Had I spoken aloud?  I blushed, then worked up something that I hoped resembled an enthusiastic smile.  Inside, I was feeling something close to dread.  Surely, this was the wrong “Peter”.

“Yes! Good!”  I called back to her, as I reached into the car trunk for my nursing bag.  “Be right there!”  I hugged Peter’s chart close to my left side with one arm, and hauled the heavy bag along with my right, as I trudged across the grass-and-weed meadow that stretched between the dirt drive and the woman.

She laughed as I drew near, and she reached for my bag.  “I’ll take that for you.”  She turned her head upwards to the second level of the structure.  “Peter’s up there.  He’s waiting for you.”  Silently, I groaned.  It was the right “Peter”.

“Sorry I’m late.  I got–”

“You got lost.  They always do,” she interrupted.  Still laughing, she took her first few steps up the wobbly wooden ramp, half-turned and again waved me up.  I watched as she climbed to the top.  She seemed completely unconcerned about whether or not the ramp would hold her up.

“C’mon up!”  She was still laughing.  “It’ll hold you just fine!!”  She gave a knowing look at me and at the ramp, motioning with her arm for me to follow.

My first few steps were tentative, but as I climbed, I comforted myself by looking at the grass and weeds below me, and thinking it really wasn’t that far to the ground, even if the ramp did topple over.  I sighed a great sigh, when at last I reached the top.  As I stepped into the room, I found myself surrounded by a dozen people, some chatting quietly with a man I took to be Peter, whose slight and bony form lay on an unsheeted mattress in the corner of the room, and some preparing food on a wooden board, which ran the length of the far wall.  I smelled the smoke of a campfire, as it drifted hazily through a window opening.  I was suddenly reminded of barbecue.  My stomach rumbled, and my mouth watered.

“Are you hungry?”  Peter asked from his bed.

“Uh–” I looked at the people standing near the counter, then at Peter.  “No, uh,  I just ate.”  I was actually famished, but wasn’t sure of what lunch would be, so thought it safer to politely decline.  There didn’t appear to be a sink or a stove.  But the small area seemed clean enough, though dwarfed now by the room-full of people.

Someone grabbed an old wooden apple crate and set it on its side, for me to use as a stool next to Peter’s mattress.  I sat and introduced myself to Peter, who in turn, rattled off the names of the people around the room, along with a quip about how he had met each one.

” . . . and here’s Clare.”  He gently squeezed the hand of the woman who had given me enough moral support to get me up the ramp.  She smiled at me again, as she stood at Peter’s side and looped her fingers through his shoulder length black hair.  “Clare is the woman I nearly shot, back in the day, thinking she was a deer . . . ”  They laughed together at the memory.

“But we’ve since improved our — ”  Peter and Clare smiled at each other, two people who shared a deeper secret.

” – - we’ve since improved our relationship.”  They both laughed quietly.  Clare squatted next to Peter and brushed a quick kiss against his lips.

And so Peter continued, around the room, til by the end I couldn’t remember anyone’s name except for Clare’s, but I had a good grasp of a life that was full to the brim with love and friendship.  I sat speechless for a few moments, wondering where these people all came from.  I’d hadn’t seen any nearby houses on the drive into this forsaken wilderness.

As though reading my thoughts, Peter explained with a big grin, “Some of them are just old strays, others are transplants from a previous lifetime, and they just . . .”  He looked around the room at several giggling people.  “. . .  and they just never left.  Couldn’t get rid of them,” he teased.

“And you couldn’t get rid of us, even if you really wanted to!”  A few high-fives went around the room.

“It’s all the glamour,” someone added, teasing Peter back.

“Where do you all live?”  I asked.  My curiosity over-ruled politeness.

Another round of laughter.  “Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s quite a bit of open space around here!”  a man said, as he peered out an undraped back window opening that faced in the direction of the stream below.  He was dressed in a pair of overalls that had one broken buckle, so the left strap hung loosely down around his elbow.  “To be honest, we can always invade Howard’s or Jules’ cabins–if the winter comes in too hard.”

“But most of the time, we bundle in down below.”  He tapped his foot lightly as he glanced at the floor, a crude row of well-worn two-by-fours lined up evenly against each other.  “It’s warm enough, with a fire going out front,” he said.  “Nice thing about plywood walls, they’re easy to remove to let the heat in–or out.”  He imitated someone reaching out and pulling down a panel of wall, then tacking it back.  Everyone in the room shared in another round of laughter.

” . . . and the blankets and the sleeping bags and the hot coffee,” somebody added.  Murmurs of agreement floated around the room.

“Don’t forget–” Peter chided, with a slightly mocking frown.  “Each other keeps you warm!”  He pointed a stern finger at each of them.

Laughter, again.  “Oh, right!  Can’t forget each other!”  A man tickled the ribs of the woman standing beside him, and Peter wiggled his eyebrows up and down at Clare, who was now sitting cross-legged on the floor next to him.

Over the next two hours, I did my nursing evaluation, while others resumed a casual presence in the room, all occupied with a variety of tasks, and quietly visiting with one another.  Halfway through, somebody passed me a plate piled high with a generous portion of grilled potato wedges and what someone told me was rabbit.  My stomach rumbled hungrily, again, and I eagerly pushed aside all pretense of not being hungry and joined in the feast. I ate until there was nothing left.  As I ate, Peter unraveled his long journey to “now”.

Finally satisfied that my stomach was full, I lowered my voice and cautiously ventured into a few, very personal questions.  I glanced uncertainly around the room at the others, then back at Peter.

“Don’t worry about them.  They’re okay.”  He nodded at his friends, who continued to putter around the room as though nothing unusual was going on. “Nothing about me they don’t already know,” he said with a chuckle.  “–and, nothing unusual goin’ on here, not that doesn’t happen in all of nature.”  His words startled me in their sudden, almost-casual, frankness.  He met my startled gaze directly.

But something unusual was going on, I thought.  Peter was dying.  Only forty-three and dying of a brain cancer.  How could he say that nothing unusual was going on here?

“You live with nature, you kill for your food, you plant your food, eat what you bring in, carry your own water, cut your own wood.  You shit and piss in the woods, unless it’s the middle of frickin’ winter–then you use a bucket,” he explained, bluntly.  “You think you know, but you don’t.”  He pointed a single finger at me, and the few lines on his face softened a little.  “But you’re removed, you’re taken away from nature.  You have forgotten, because you don’t live in it anymore, and you’ve forgotten about this cycle of life and death.”  He leaned back against an old, yellowed pillow, silent.  I wanted to say something to break the oppressive quiet, but I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just sat there, feeling awkward.  I shifted on the crate, and it wobbled beneath me, threatening to topple over.  My own world view was tilting inside, as I realized that Peter had seen me coming long before I had.  His voice turned smooth, and he said, “I know you see it, but you don’t live it anymore out there, because you don’t have to ’til it gets you.  And then you’re alone.”  He looked at Clare, then back at me.  “But living out here?  We see it every day.  We learn it’s part of living, the dying is.”  He was very still for a while, and no one spoke.

“Yup!”  he summed up, a knowing grin wiping away the somber face of a sage.  He sat more upright, an elbow leaned against the wall for support.  “A well-educated, big-airplane-company-engineer-turned-mountain man — at last.”  He pointed a finger at his chest, and he smiled and nodded his head firmly, as he let out a loud, satisfied sigh.  “It took awhile, but I found my way home.”  He glanced around the room at his friends.  “This isn’t where I was born, but this is where I will die — and I won’t see another winter with my friends, but they’ll be here when I go.”  He put a period at the end of the sentence.  He appeared to be completely at peace with his words.  “At the big airplane company, I must’ve worked with a hundred different people.  But I only really knew one or two.  Out here?  I know everybody, plus a critter or two.  And where I worked, it was everybody for himself.  Out here if a friend falls on hard times, everybody comes from everywhere to help out.  It all goes round and round.”

I realized that he hadn’t eaten, and I apologized for so impolitely wolfing down my food, while he lay there calmly telling me his life story.

He shook his head.  “No, no.  I’m not hungry,” he assured me.  “Haven’t been hungry in a couple of weeks.”  He pulled at the elastic waist band of his pajama bottoms, which sagged loosely around his hips.  “Finally lost that last, nagging, twenty pounds!”  He laughed, and poked gentle fun at himself.  “Not that I’d recommend this particular diet.”  He tapped the side of his head with a forefinger.  “No, no.  Brain tumor diet is definitely not the way to go!”  He laughed again, this time more quietly.  “But I was always an ‘all-this’ or ‘all-that’ sort of person.  Couldn’t ever seem to do anything just sort of, couldn’t be just kind of anything.  Had to be all-or-nothing!”  He glanced around the room at his friends.  “But I coulda done worse, huh?”  He looked back at me.

“Yeh, you could have,” I answered.  “Looks to me like you’ve done just fine.”  Silently, I tried to remember the last time I’d had enough room in my schedule to have even six friends to my home for a gathering, let alone more than a dozen.

“Oh!  And you haven’t met all of us, yet!” someone called to me from a corner of the room.

“There’s more?” I asked, eyes widened.

Laughter around the room, again.  “Couldn’t even squeeze us all in here–not all at once!”

“Hell, no!” someone else said.  “Wouldn’t hold us up!”  He stomped his foot on the floor.

A ragged blanket and an old sleeping bag that was losing its stuffing curled around Peter’s pencil-thin legs.  Two rows of pills stood like soldiers marching in formation in a little wooden box, which someone had undoubtedly made just for that purpose, then tacked up on the wall next to Peter’s mattress.  He opened two bottles and threw back a few pills with a swallow of water from a chipped coffee mug that said, “Holy Cow! Help Me!” on the side, and showed a mouse clinging desperately to the side of a cliff, while a cow stood at the cliff edge, peering down at the mouse with wide, soulful eyes.  Peter watched as I studied the cartoon on the mug.

“That mouse used to be me,” he said.  I noticed Clare had drifted off to sleep where she sat on the floor, legs still crossed, her chin rested softly against her chest.  Her breathing seemed easy, undisturbed.

“And it isn’t now?”  I asked.

“Nope.”  Peter lifted his eyebrows, the right arching higher than the left.  “Livin’ out here cured me of that.  I was workin’ fourteen, sixteen hours a day, six days a week, never had time for anything but work, work, work.  Can’t remember the last meal I ate at home.”  He chuckled softly and shook his head.  “In fact–I dunno why I even bothered to keep a house–I was never there!  Overtime was good, ‘cuz we were union engineers, but–”  He shook his head slowly back and forth.  “I mean, it helped me get this here–” He waved at the floor and the ceiling.  “But what did all that cost me, do you know what I’m saying?”

I heard the faint hum of an engine in the distance, then the growling churn of gravel-against-gravel.

“They’re here!” someone yelled and raced from the room.  I heard the soft sound of feet scampering down the wooden ramp.


“You’re here!”

“How long did it take you?  Come on up, we’ve got food!  Are you hungry?!  It’s so good to see you guys!”  The excited sounds of greetings being shared found their way in through the holes in the second-story plywood walls.

Footsteps up the ramp, and one by one Peter’s parents and a sister were introduced to me as they entered the room.  They gave me a tilt of their heads in greeting, then hurried over to Peter, where hugs and kisses were shared amply all around.  Someone handed each of the visitors a plate piled high with deliciously steaming food, and magically, three more wooden crates appeared out of nowhere, and all three sat down next to Peter.

“Hey, Mom, Dad, Sammie–”  Peter propped himself on his side, an elbow against the mattress.  “Good to see you guys again!”  He smiled broadly, and a bit of cheek color showed through against his otherwise gaunt, sallow face.

I guessed that Peter’s parents were in their late sixties.  His father was dressed in a sports jacket and tie, with pressed dress slacks, and expensive, alligator shoes.  His mother was tall, with carefully coiffed hair.  She wore a trim, brown jacket over a fitted white blouse, and a long, cotton print skirt that billowed out when she walked; she carried a white leather clutch bag and wore sandle pumps that matched her clutch bag.  Silently, I wondered how she had managed the ramp with those heels.  Sister Sammie wore designer skinny jeans with pre-made holes torn in the backs of both legs, and a snugly fitted spandex tube top, which outlined her slim thirty-something body.  For nearly an hour, they chattered noisily and eagerly, and they interrupted the chatter, frequently, with hugs back and forth.  Peter’s mother and father picked at their food, barely touching it.  His sister gobbled hers down in less than five minutes.  I sat in a corner of the room and finished paperwork, while quietly absorbing the pleasant, harmonic mood, as family members engaged easily with Peter and his oddly matched friends.  The contrast between Peter and his parents and friends struck me.  Yet, they all seemed to be at ease.  Soon, his parents looked toward me, and carried their make-shift chairs to a corner, motioning me toward Peter’s mattress side.

“You’ve got work to do, I’m sure,” his father said, as he motioned at Peter.

“It’s getting late, and I’m sure you have family waiting for you at home,” his mother said graciously.

I hadn’t noticed ’til that moment that the sun was setting in the distance.  It was getting late, and I was nervous about finding my way out of the forest.  But I had a few more questions.

“Before I go, I just have to ask,” I began.

Peter grinned, “How did I get from big-airplane-company-engineer to here?”

His mother sighed, and shrugged her shoulders, as she looked expectantly at Peter.  “He’ll tell you.  But I’m still not sure I get it.”

“I’ll give you the short version,” Peter offered.  “I’d been working at the big airplane company for about ten years, when one day I started getting stomach pains.  I mean, really bad stomach pains.”  He grimaced as he patted his stomach.  “Went to the doc, who did a bunch of tests and told me I had ulcers.  I needed to cut back on the stress in my life–you know, simplify things. ”  He held a hand up and ticked off fingers as he spoke.  “–cut down on the hours, eat at least two home-cooked meals every day, get more than four hours’ sleep every night, don’t sleep around, drinks don’t count as food.  You know the drill.”

“And you’ve never been able to do anything just sort of!” I said.

Peter chuckled.  “You were listening, then!”

“So what did you do?”

“I quit.”

“Just quit?” I asked, tilting my head in a way that asked for more.

“Just quit.  I had a few bucks set aside in my savings account,” he said, as he glanced tentatively at his parents.  “I wasn’t totally irresponsible, you know.”

“We never said you were,” his parents said in unison.

“Anyway . . .” Peter began, leaving an intentional pause hanging in the air for a few moments.  “Anyway, I bought this place–forty acres of nothing but a barn shed, and a bunch of hooligans came with it.”  Everyone in the room clapped and laughed.  Someone whistled, and another friend hooted.  “And, that’s pretty much it.”

He waited for questions.  I didn’t know where to start, and soon Peter filled in the blanks for me.  “Howard, over there,” he pointed to a man standing in the corner of the room.  Howard had thinning, wavy, white hair pulled back in a pony tail, and a matching beard that just grazed the bib of his overalls.  His clothes were well-worn and needed a wash.  “Howard–he was a buddy I worked with before he retired to–”

Howard interrupted, “–the good life.”  He laughed loudly, exposing a full, toothy smile, as he waved a hand toward the window.

“Howard retired, and moved up here.  We always kept in touch, and when my doctor told me I needed to ‘simplify things’, Howard told me about this place.  Price was right, if you considered there was no habitable place to live on any of the forty acres!  Except this old thing,” his hand knocked on the plywood wall.  “And Howard said, ‘I’ll teach you how to live out here’, so I bought the place, and just went on a wing and a prayer that it was the right thing to do.  Well, I had hunted and fished as a kid,” Peter glanced at his father, who smiled and pretended to beat his chest.  “And, Mom, over there,” he glanced at his mother, who sat quietly listening, a vague smile on her lips.  “Mom always had a little, bitty garden.”  Peter held up a thumb and a forefinger, showing a half-inch of air in between.  “So I had some basics.”

Very basic,” laughed Howard.

“Anyway, I learned how to pretty-much make it out here on my own, with Howard’s help.  Then, I met Clare,” he said as he patted Clare’s head.  She had woken up and was watching Peter as he told his tale.

“Not the way to meet,” she muttered, a grin on her face.

“Well, aside from the rough beginning when I thought you were a deer and almost shot you,” he replied, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.  “Aside from that, we’ve been together ever since.”  He smiled contentedly.  “I had friends–some you’ve met,” he waved his arm in an arch at his friends who speckled the room, some standing, some sitting, some lying on the floor.  “Some joined me, and some came in from–”  He squinted his eyes.  “I don’t know–where did you all come from?” he asked.

Everyone joined in a laugh.

“Some were Howard’s friends first, some already lived out here,” he explained.

“But, where did you all live?” I asked, without addressing anyone in particular.  “I mean, where did you come from, before here?”

“Well, that’s a very long story for another day,” someone offered.

“Some of ‘em lived in the forest, with little places like this, of their own.  Some moved in from the city, like me.  Howard, he’s got a sweet little cabin with a wood-burning stove, even a bunk bed and a real kitchen table–about a mile from here!”  Peter looked around the room at his friends.  “But all of us wanted a simpler life.  We all wanted to find out how to really live, get out of the numbing rat race.”  Peter sat quietly for a few moments, as though carefully considering his next words.  “And, when you live in nature, like this–have to do everything for yourself–you find out, not only how to live, but who you really are.  You learn how to come together when somebody needs help, and–”

Someone standing at the wooden counter interrupted, “–and when the newbie just throws his arms up and wants to drive to the non-existent corner store for a cold one, or to the non-existent McDonald’s for a burger, you get to do what any good neighbor does–hand him his rifle or water bucket and tell him where to go to get it!”  Loud laughter around the room.  “And, then, how to cook it!”   More hoots and claps.

“Okay, so I’m a slow learner, but I’m here, okay?”  Peter pretended to be hurt, and swept one hand across his eyes as though wiping away tears.  “Here today, gone tomorrow–one more spot on Howard’s or Jules’ floor for somebody else, I guess.”

“Boo-hoo!” someone said.

Clare hugged Peter against him.  His mother wiped a tissue at the corners of both eyes and said nothing.  The teasing stopped abruptly.

“So, I guess what it really is,” Peter began, looking at me.  “Is that I really live life here.  And I have amazing friends–some old, some new– and a great family,” his arm waved toward his parents and sister, who sat listening intently.  “And other than that, this is all that I am.”  He patted his heart.  “Other than that, I really have nothing at all.”

“That sounds like everything to me,” I said to Peter.  I glanced toward his parents and sister: they didn’t look happy, but they didn’t look over-wrought, either.

I thanked Peter for his time, and let him know when I would return the following week.  He shook my hand and thanked me, asking me once before I descended the ramp if I was sure I didn’t need something to take with me to eat on the way home.  I declined and thanked him again, then departed.  When I reached the bottom of the ramp, I turned to see Howard following, close behind.

Howard walked me to my car.  He spoke quietly, “Thanks for coming out all this way.”  He opened the driver’s door for me, and I slid into the seat.

“I feel like I should thank all you,” I said.

“Why’s that?” Howard asked.  His eyes squinted into slits that sprayed into wrinkles at the outer corners.  “All we gave you was a plate of food and a few old stories!”

“Good stories,” I said, and started the car.  “The best story ever,” I smiled and took a deep breath, “about the wealthiest man in the world who has absolutely nothing but love.”

Howard nodded and waved as I pulled out of the clearing.  I glanced back in my rear-view mirror.  I could see the warm glow of the sun setting behind the shack in the West, and through the sagging window sheets shone the silhouettes of the many friends of Peter, living life on the second floor of an old tumble-down place in the woods.

© Janet Mitchell, April 2012

Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.  This is a work of fiction.

Choosing Death

12 04 2012
Swallowtail dying

Swallowtail dying (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note:  This story deals with a hotly debated issue, sometimes referred to as Death with Dignity, Physician Assisted Death, or Euthanasia.  The patient depicted is fictional, and character has  been developed to represent a generic patient coming to terms with the choice of living or dying.   Any reference to any actual person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.  The subject matter in this post is graphic.  I have not sugar-coated the information.  If you do not want to feel uncomfortable, if you don’t care to read about uncomfortable truths, please don’t read this article.   Lastly, it’s important to know that each state has its own laws in regard to the subject matter being discussed.  It’s important to check with your state of residence to find out about current laws in effect in your area.  Excellent resources are:, and                                                                                                                     

Johnny had a form of cancer that, despite every known treatment, failed to respond, continued to grow, and finally robbed him of any semblance of quality of life.

Pain was excruciating, which he consistently rated at 12 out of 10.  He said the pain never stopped.  He craved sleep, which was elusive because of the pain.  If Johnny could slip into sleep for forty-five minutes, he thought it was heaven.  Forty-five minutes without pain.  Still, sometimes as he slept, he dreamed of pain.  Medication was useless, “…like taking jelly beans,” he said.  After time, even intravenous pain medications failed to alleviate his pain.  Dosages high enough to help, caused him to sleep.  Johnny objected to that, saying “I don’t want to live that way.  That’s not living.  I may as well be dead.”   His family, all intentions good, chastised him, saying, “Don’t talk that way, Johnny!  At least you’re alive!  You’ve got to fight, Johnny!  Fight, fight, fight!”  His family researched treatment trials, naturopathic remedies, all in a desperate need to keep Johnny alive.

Johnny had long since lost his appetite.  His body was shutting down rapidly, and with that, his sense of hunger and thirst abandoned him.  He sucked on ice chips, only to relieve the discomfort of a dry mouth.  He slathered moisturizers on his lips, to soothe the cracks that splayed them open and caused them to bleed.  A simple smile was painful, and deepened the fissures. 

When his mother insisted he eat, “You’ve got to keep your strength up, Johnny!  I’ve made you my special chicken soup,”  Johnny would turn his head away.  “You’ve got to eat something, Johnny!  Just a bite,” she’d say.  “Here!” as she shoved a spoonful of soup into his mouth, past his broken lips.  Just a bite.  Followed by vomiting.  His body could no longer process oral nutrition.  Even the feeding tube, placed when he could no longer take food by mouth, was no longer being used.  His bowel had gone to sleep.  Every three days, Johnny had a laxative suppository inserted rectally, to help him void the metabolic waste that continued to collect, despite the lack of food.  Soon, Johnny became incontinent of bowel and bladder, and he wore adult diapers, too weak and painful to even tolerate being transferred by caregivers to a bedside commode.  He had no dignity left.

Johnny was bedbound.  The skin on his buttocks, heels, calves, shoulder blades and elbows opened up into weeping bedsores.  His lack of hydration and nutrition made healing of those deepening sores impossible.  Bone and muscle shone through some of the sores.  He required turning by caregivers at least every two hours, because he was too weak to turn himself.  Pillows, propped and tucked behind his back, kept him turned to his right, then to his left, then they were removed so he could lie on his back for a while.  An air mattress, which alternated pressure automatically, was required to ease the pain of lying on a regular mattress, and to help prevent more bedsores from forming.  Bedsores are painful, but just as serious as the pain, bedsores can become infected. 

One day, clear-eyed and clear-minded, Johnny woke and announced to his family, “I don’t want to do this anymore.  I want to die.  I’m already dead, except I’m still breathing.  I am done.”

His family was horrified.  They objected, telling him he had to “just keep fighting!”

“For what?” he asked.  “And for whom?”

Privately, family and friends shared their thoughts and judgments with everyone except Johnny.

“It’s a sin,” said one.

“He’s lost his mind.  Why else would he want to die?” questioned another.

“That’s suicide,” decided someone.

“God never lets us suffer more than we can bear,” announced a family member.  “Johnny should just buck-up and hang in there.  He needs to try harder.”

“Yes!” agreed someone else.  “No one knows the appointed hour of our death.  Something like that.  But Johnny’s playing God, and that’s not right!”

“I don’t know.”  Johnny’s mother spoke in a whisper.  “It’s not our decision to make, really.”

There was a collective gasp that spread across the room, as people stared, mouths hanging open in horror, at Johnny’s mother’s statement.

“You mean, you’d just sit there and let your son die?!” Johnny’s aunt retorted, her disgust in full display.  “A loving mother will do anything to save her son-anything!!”

Silence hung like a pall over the room for a long while, interrupted only by an occasional, uncomfortable clearing of a throat, or a cough.  A few feet shuffled in place, and someone grabbed a washcloth and ran it across an already clean countertop.  Finally, Johnny’s mother spoke.  “A loving mother wouldn’t let her son lie in a bed, knowing he’s suffering with every breath he takes.  A loving mother wouldn’t take away her child’s chance to have peace.”  Not one person spoke a work.  And no one looked Johnny’s mother in the eye.  “If Johnny chooses to end his life, I’ll miss him forever.  The ache inside of me will never go away.  But at least I’ll know he’s no longer in pain.  I love him so much that I’d rather live with my own pain, that terrible grief of losing him, than to live with the pain of knowing that his pain never stops, and I didn’t do a thing to help him stop it.”

Everyone had an opinion about what was best for Johnny.  But the one, most important thing had been overlooked: Johnny had an opinion, too.  And Johnny was in charge.  This was about Johnny’s wishes, and Johnny’s wishes alone.

A sister, living across state, heard of Johnny’s plight, through the family grapevine.  She drove across a mountain range to be at his bedside to support him.  When she arrived and entered Johnny’s room, he smiled more broadly than he had for weeks, despite the pain in his lips that it caused.  His only advocate had arrived.  Now, he thought, I have a choice. 

Johnny had discussed his last wishes, openly, with his sister.  He had discussed his last wishes with his consulting and attending physician, months before.  His POLST form (Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) had been filled out by Johnny, after a lengthy discussion of his terminal status, and his physician had signed it:  Do Not Resuscitate.  Johnny’s sister had helped him follow each of the required steps in order to use his state’s Death with Dignity provision.  It was a process, laden with safe-guards and redundancy, a process that intentionally took time to complete to prevent a patient from making a hasty decision.  It was a process that required agreement by a consulting and an attending physician that Johnny’s disease was terminal, that he had no reasonable hope for future quality of life due to symptom-control failure, that he suffered a total loss of human dignity, and that he was not suffering from depression or any mental health issue that would prevent him from making a rational decision. And, it was a process that required not just one, but two written requests for a lethal prescription, to be completed and signed by the patient, witnessed by two individuals, and submitted to the attending physician, with the second request being submitted no less than fifteen days after the initial request. A final, important safeguard was that Johnny must be capable of self-administering this medication.  Only then could a lethal prescription be written for that patient’s use in ending his or her life. (This process applicable to the state in which Johnny resided.)

A long discussion ensued, following the arrival of Johnny’s sister.  All involved family members were included.  It was important to Johnny that his family have the opportunity to ask questions and, hopefully, understand and support the choices he’d made.  He knew that not everyone would agree.  But, as he pointed out to the dissenting members of his family, “It’s my life to take, ‘ya know.  At least I hope you’ll respect my choice, if not agree.”  He quieted, with closed eyes, then looked around the room at each person.  “I just want you to ask yourselves, ‘Who is it you want me to live for?  Me or you?’”

Johnny decided when to take the lethal dose of medication.  He told his family, “If you can’t respect this, or if you don’t choose to be here when I go, then I will understand.  If that’s the case, then I ask you, please, to leave the room.” 

His sister, his mother and a few other family members remained at his bedside.  The other family members gave Johnny teary hugs and kisses, told him they loved him, then departed his room to await his passing.  As Johnny lifted to his lips the medication that would end his life, and drank it down with a single swallow of water, the lines on his face faded.  His expression was solemn, even reverent, and sober.  It was the first time in months that Johnny had experienced the hope of relief.

“Thanks for not letting me be alone right now,” he said to those at his deathbed.  “Thanks for loving me enough to let me go.  It’s been quite a ride.”

Johnny drifted off into unconsciousness 20 minutes later.  His heart and breathing stopped within 45 minutes.  

And, with that, his suffering ended forever.

© Janet Mitchell, April 2012.  Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.  This is a work of fiction.

Mystery Man

11 04 2012

Detail of a barbed wire fence

I’m looking for the Mystery Man, who saved my life in 1977.

It was a hot, humid day in Webster, Texas, when I jumped into my beloved, red, Volkswagen bug, heading down a two-lane road that meandered through farm country.   Houses were few, separated by miles.  Aside the rural road were six-foot “bar ditches”, used for water run-off.  All seemed to be well with the world, aside from the fact that I had no air-conditioning in my little bug, and it was hot, hot, hot. 

I cruised along at 60 MPH.  Nothing seemed amiss.  For the moment.

Suddenly, my little bug swerved.  I tried to maintain my position in the lane, but something was wrong, very wrong.  I could not control my car, which seemed to have taken on a will of its own. 

 My last thought was, “Oh, my God, I’m out of control.”  At that point the world went black.

I awoke the next day, bandaged and hurting in places, which prior to that moment, I didn’t even know existed.  I lay in a hospital bed.  I recall reaching with my hands to touch my legs, to assure myself they were still there.  A hazy relief swept over me, as I discovered that all body parts were present.  Fearful, and not knowing if my body still worked, I cautiously went from head to toe, carefully testing each part of my body, and was relieved to find that everything seemed to respond, as it should.  I couldn’t figure out, through my muted brain function, why I was where I was.  I had no recollection of what had happened.

I was to find out, later, that the right rear wheel had folded under the axle of my car.  This sent my beloved bug swerving out of my control.  Somehow, my hurling body bent the gear-shift to an almost 45-degree angle.  An unsheathed axe which had been lying on the backseat floorboard had missed me, as my car whirled around and flung itself into the bottom of the roadside ditch.  My head had hit the closed passenger window, dead-center, and popped it out, somehow without breaking my neck.  My body flew through the now-vacant space which had once been occupied by the passenger window.  I met with a very unfriendly barbed-wire fence, then bounced into the bottom of the six-foot bar-ditch, where I skidded on my shoulder into an equally unfriendly, hard object, ripping away skin and muscle, somehow missing the vital, carotid artery in my neck by just millimeters.  My little, bent and broken red bug, landed just feet away from my body.

I suffered a concussion, bruises, abrasions and major lacerations that required skin grafts, but no broken bones.  Miraculous.  I remember nothing.  Shock is a blessing.

I’m not sure when, but I think it was a couple of days later, when a man appeared at the door of my hospital room. 

He hesitated, I suppose waiting for a flicker of recognition on my face.  He seemed somewhat familiar, but I just couldn’t place him. 

“Do you know who I am?”  he asked.  “Do you remember me?”

I struggled hard to recall how I knew him, but my mind drew a foggy blank.

“I’m sorry.  You seem familiar, but I don’t know why.”  I felt embarrassed.  Something inside of me told me that I should remember him. 

He smiled.  “I was behind you in my pick-up truck, before your accident.  It looked like something happened to the rear-end of your car, because it went completely out of control.”

I guess he could tell from my Pacific Northwest accent that I wasn’t from around there, so he went on to explain.  “After your accident, I called for the EMTs on the CB emergency channel. I gave you first aid ’til they got there.  I really didn’t know if you’d make it.”

I didn’t know what to say, except, “Thank you.” 

He continued, “I was on my way home from work.  My wife and I were planning to leave for a vacation that night.”  He paused.   “But I couldn’t leave until I was sure you were okay.”

I was astonished.  I was a stranger to him.  How many people would postpone their vacation, just to make sure a stranger, who’d met with misfortune, had survived?

“My wife works upstairs.  She’s sorta kept me updated on how you’ve been doing.”  He pointed toward the ceiling, as he spoke.  “I can see you’re okay, so I can go now.”  He  smiled again, then turned without another word, and walked away.  He gave no name.

I’ve always wanted to thank this man for saving my life, for if he’d not come along, I may not have been discovered for hours.  I would surely have bled out and died.  I’ve never found him.  And, as I discovered later, there was no upstairs where his wife could have worked.  My hospital room was on the top floor.

Who was this Mystery Man, if indeed, he was a man? 

I often wonder. . .

 ©Janet Mitchell, April 2012

Parallel World

9 04 2012
rail icon: parallel lines crossing right to left

rail icon: parallel lines crossing right to left (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

rail icon: parallel lines crossing left to right

Something woke me,

if, indeed, I slept.

It’s late,

the darkness deep.

I listen for a sound

that might creep

across the floor.

A footfall

or a soft and careful creak

on the stair

or through the crack of the door.

The stillness around me,


no movement, no stir of air,

then warm comfort

as a shadow passes near,

gone, long before

it becomes clear.

A blur, where there is no bed

where I lie,

as a parallel world merges

with another,

upon and beside,

in and around mine.

Vision of this world,

mostly memory,

catches something beyond:

a world that co-exists,


brief and real and profound.

The shadow,

whispering I’ve only glimpsed,

though through clouded lens,

a sacred other gift.

Soft and tender:

it is love.

Soundlessness returns.

Again in my bed,

I sleep,

but I wait for its return,

and I never forget.

©Janet Mitchell, April 2012



17 03 2012

Eagle Eyes

Hypnotic glances,



almost imperceptibly

around the room,


nearly invisible,

then stop,

take their target


undetected for a



then drink up their prey,

those eyes.


Satiated hunger,

quenching their thirst,

but only for a moment,

pausing only to note:

They need more.


move on to another,

never leaving


Take what is needed,

then leave it alone,

almost without a mark,

then again,

whisper to the right,


blink softly,

lap up the goodness,

then leave the kiss,

such tenderness.

Roam around the room,


sated again,

crawl back behind

lidded eyes.

 © Janet Mitchell, March 18, 2012

Wounded People . . .

24 07 2012

Wounded people, if not nurtured and given the chance to heal, wound other people.

Image of Wound Man taken from The Method of Cu...

Image of Wounded Man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At what point do the wounded ones become the ones who wound?

At what point do we stop asking ourselves how we can help the wounded, and start thinking we must punish them for the wounds that they inflict?

At what point do we decide it’s time to stop helping to heal the wounded? 

At what point do we stop asking ourselves what role we had to play in the wounding?

At what point do we decide we are no longer accountable, in any way?

At what point do we give up?

At what point do we ex-communicate?

At what point do we decide the wounded one has become a throw-away?

©Janet Mitchell, July 2012

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