this one if for my brother. about my brother. possibly in honor, to honor, my brother.
the brother who is older, bigger, taller, a whole lot more wild than i am. the brother who lived crazy for a long time while i watched, horrified mostly- sometimes amused, and just prayed that he'd live long enough for a child to call him uncle.
the brother who taught me to roller skate on the sidewalk of west one-seventy street, to fight mean and sneaky when you are out-sized (note: he didn't directly teach me this, as he did with roller skating, rather this was a skill i developed to combat his girth and slight tendency to be entertained by annoying me in his bear-like affectionate manner), and who also demonstrated a slew of slightly less useful, more destructive behaviors that i, for the most part, chose to steer clear of as i grew older and was supervised less often.
the brother who tells me stories that pop back up in my mind just as i need them. like this one.
on a recent morning, after not getting enough sleep, i walked into the backyard to release the chickens. despite their charm- i was not moved from my place of grump. i topped the porch stairs and took a moment to smell morning and take stock. i had no real reason to be in a sour mood. no doctor diagnosis, no pending repossession, no phone calls i was avoiding. the small bits of irritation that chaffed under my skin were just that small- and yet- lack of sleep makes my skin thin and sensitive to unwashed dishes and cats that want to sleep on my head.
the view from the back porch is peaceful. the neighbors old fence dips down gradually with lush land and in that green shallow a few horses often graze. the sun sparks up the sky, the wind blows clouds ever northward and the small mountains hug the horizon with their solid arms of rock, trees, deep roots.
here i stand- talking myself down, or up, and just waiting for grace. i do this often. i get to this place in my mind- always in my mind- where i simply realize that i need some grace, a blessing, a sign, a anchor, a kite string, a token, an open door that leads me back to where i really am- which is not in my mind. slowly the elements worked away on my crust, i could feel the wind blowing a bit deeper through me. a whispering to my soul that i didn't even need to strain to hear.
the chickens began to look charming again.
and then, here comes the squirrel. we used to have several squirrels about us- but since the hazelnut tree was dug up and mulched up, the furry rodents have found other nuts to steal, other car hoods to hide under, other kids to charm. this squirrel was simply passing through, nose to ground she scampered south- no doubt heading to the mecca garden of our neighbors. her black eyes glance up at the assorted hens pecking away at various plants and bugs, and the squirrel pauses.
whenever i see a squirrel i think of my brother. he is nothing like a squirrel in his physical stature. he is all bear. even his mannerism are not squirrelly. my association comes from this dream he had and shared with me.
no, i normally wouldn't share a dream- but this is a good lesson for us all. and my brother is a firm believer in The Teacher.
in the dream, a squirrel was running all of over his body and he couldn't quite catch it, couldn't quite get it off him. on arms, legs, head, torso- seemingly everywhere at once. you've seen squirrels circle around on a tree- their small velcro claws, their twitchy tails- speedy lil bastards. and imagine if one was determined to be on you. not attacking you- just wanted to be on you. no matter where you twisted or how fast you grabbed- and even if you managed to fling it off- there it was right back on your back.
no doubt he didn't sleep well that night- and later mentioned his dream to a co-worker who gave the sage advice: "some believe everything, everyone we dream about is a manifestation of ourselves." this got my brother to thinking about what this spastic little squirrel represented to him. after some thought- he settled on the part of his personality that is very impulsive. the part that sparks him to say mildly offensive comments, drive really fast without the use of a either the right or the left indicator, and jump into various pots of hot water. that part of him that at times really irritated him, the part he wanted to cast off.
now, if it was only the dream this wouldn't necessarily be anything worth remembering. it would just be another strange animal dream, another brief glimpse into the psyche. time to move on, time to watch some tv.
which is what he did later that evening. i can see my brother on his couch- sprawled out, his eyes slightly unfocused, brow a bit heavy from working all day. flipping through channels- rather quickly perhaps- and stopping on the news. local stuff. small pieces of lives snipped down into thirty second segments: storms, reunions, money found, fires raging.
a brief clip of a news report of a fire- a building ablaze. i can imagine him watching this a bit detached until attention was brought to the roof. the place where so many wind up during a fire- trying to escape the heat, the smoke, the flame. yet, once you get there you don't have so many options. the lone inhabitant of the roof was facing that reality. there was a squirrel, trapped on the roof a burning building. if my brother has glanced to his left, he would have seen The Teacher next to him.
my brother sat up at this sight- as if the football was steps away from touchdown in a tied game with seconds left on the clock.
as i remember the telling, the squirrel was frantically searching for escape from it's inferno in the sky- but there was only one solution: jump. maybe he knew he could make it or maybe he thought he wouldn't. maybe the risk was small or great- most likely he didn't calculate it at all. he acted on impulse- or maybe it should be called INpulse as in something in our blood that screams "GO!" when we need it to most. the squirrel ran across the building stretching his body long with each stride, gaining speed and launched himself into the sky like a bullet aimed on the closest target- and landed safely on the roof of the adjoining building.
i can see my brother's eyes go wide with awe and hear him saying "no way!" in astonishment. i can hear the "click" of his dream snapping into place, like the sound of a door clicking shut behind The Teacher leaving, confident that you got it this time. i can see him gaining respect for his own "inner squirrel" and the many, many it has saved his ass through the years. then i hear him laughing- with his eyes all squinting; his chest erupting with bursts of pure joy.
and each time he told that story, to our dad, co-workers, folks at a meeting, i wish i had been there to hear it. to capture that moment when that fortune cookie cliche "everything happens as it should" rings loud and true.
i stood out on my back porch and thought of all of this as i watched my own squirrel. i noticed that a squirrel is like water in that she sees no obstacles, just alters her course. this squirrel, deciding not risk chicken confrontation, left the grass behind and went up the play structure instead. from the cedar beams she jumped onto the red maple branch- and from there to shed roof, fence, and gone from threat of chicken- back to grass, thistle, dandelion jungle.
i recognize this trait in my brother. the things he has accomplished- it's like he sees no obstacles. or rather- he does see them- and manages to find an alternative course. it hasn't always been easy for him, i know. sometimes maybe he even imagined some obstacles or maybe the course he took ended up far more difficult. but the point is, the point was- is that he kept going. he listened to "GO!" and we share some of that dna.
i turned around and walked back into the house of Things-To-Do. in that few minutes of respite the only thing that changed was my perspective- now a bit lighter, a bit more risky, a bit more interested in overcoming the challenge of an obstacle rather than sitting there starting at it and bitching.
a bit more squirrelly all the way around- another lesson from my brother. come to think of it- squirrels and bear do kind of look alike. especially around the ears.