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I Changed My Name

The old man sat on a low wall at the edge of a pine forest, staring into the trees, apparently searching.

“Don’t worry about me, my young friend. Tell your story, I’m listening.”

The younger man didn’t look so sure. Such was the look of concentration on his old friends’ face. Still, he joined him on the wall and told his story.

“Pre-teens, I thought my childhood was no different to my peers. But it was, and I didn’t realize until my teenage years; why would I? Yes, a few things showed during our childhood but nothing of great note, at least nothing I understood. All that changed as I matured. My parents were not so careful with their words and I saw things myself. It’s a pity that the version of events around me originated on supposition, hearsay and even the church people followed. My inherited world view was not right, and I set about fixing it with limited tools.

My best childhood friend and his siblings lived in the dark, to thrive or not. Mum gave them no attention I ever saw, only orders to leave the house, “go out and play.” Dad was never there, he worked at British Aerospace. a respectable and well-paid place of employment. They split up and mum moved away with the children. My best friend disappeared from my life. It hurt.

I saw him again ten years later. Stood at a bar drinking alone. I didn’t recognize him at first. When I did, he had little to say except, “I’m a bin man, I collect the garbage.” I think that was true in more ways than his employment situation. He had an older sister by exactly one year. They shared the same birthday on the last day of October. Estranged from his younger brother who I remembered as the kid who always yearned for kindness. He put his arm in a wasp nest to get our attention one day. A few years later he took his life.

Where was my friend? He was the one with joy and hope in his heart. Not there at that bar with a beer in his hand. That was somebody else.

A few years earlier and a rare occasion, he invited me to dinner. We had sausages and chips. I think I was seven or eight. That meal was the best, and I was excited to tell my family all about it when I got home. Mum and nana were not impressed. I was a catholic and had eaten meat on a Friday. I sinned and would have to go to confession the next day. I didn’t understand why my friend, a protestant could eat meat and I couldn’t. That’s just the way it was.

Filled with dread at attending confession, and petrified of priests and nuns. They could sentence me to hell if they chose. “Thou shalt not, thou shalt not,” still echoes through my mind when I think about them.

Christmas day was a time of great joy. Home was like a toy store. At least until we turned thirteen when toys became new clothes. The time for play stopped, and the focus turned to the future. “What will you be when you grow up? British Aerospace pays well, and it’s a great place to work. You should aim for that. It won’t be difficult to get a mortgage on the wages they pay.”

I didn’t much like the sound of that, but I did what they said and got the dream job. I didn’t like it and after five years, I quit to go travelling. I planned to leave on the first of September and found myself homeless and living in a spare room at a friend of a friend’s house two months before the planned start of my new life. Nobody at home would speak; they said I had let them down. That was a tough pill to swallow.

A few short years before I bought the plane ticket to my freedom, late in my final year at school, I watched as a man, dead from a heart attack was carried off the train I waited to board. I can’t explain why I experienced such a wonderful explosion of light and joy as I watched. Then there was a switch. Listening to other people gossiping about how sad the situation was, I heard somebody say the mans’ name was Stephen. He was fifty years old and had worked at British Aerospace.

Following that, I insisted people called me Steve and vowed that my fate would not follow Stephen’s. No disrespect intended.

I became a volunteer youth worker. OK, I was only sixteen so, I worked with pre-teens. I loved that work and knew it would play a huge part in my future. Excited about this, I took the idea I should go to college to my parents. To prepare for a university degree. They said, “no.” I had a job at Aerospace and I would take it.

The trade union rescued me a year after I started when I became the youngest ever representative. Responsible for looking after protecting the rights of my colleagues. That didn’t go so well with the management. I was ‘advised’ to quit voluntary youth work and the union if I wanted to realise a bright future with the company.

I left to travel after my twenty-first birthday and couldn’t believe the well wishes, gifts and tears given openly by my colleagues. It still brings a lump to my throat when I think about it. What happened during my travels is another story and you know my friend that I went to university. I became a qualified community and youth worker and the first in my family to get a university degree. Even though it was not supposed to be for the likes of us.”

The old man pulled his attention away from the forest and a beautiful bright smile beamed.

“You challenged many familial models of reality that had passed through the generations and paved the way for others to follow similar paths. Look at you now, you did what people thought impossible. You have grown beyond recognition and all because you had the courage and conviction to follow your heart.

Don’t be complacent though. You never know when one of those outdated models of reality will come back into your life. Be vigilant my young friend and always follow your intuition. It knows where you need to go.

Father’s Footsteps

The young man followed the same trail between two mountains for the greater part of the day. He seemed none closer to the goal on the distant mountain.

“Where are you when I need you my old friend? This is an impossible journey, I would value your opinion right now.”

Halting, he cocked his head to the left and listened. Apart from the gentle shush of the wind blowing through dry grasses, over shale and between antediluvian rocks, there was nothing to hear. The young man resumed the journey trodden by familial generations of men.

“You are tired my young friend, rest on this rock.”

Looking for the voice, the young man miscalculated a step and fell headlong toward the seat. Not a seat but impeccably carved by the ever-transmuting direction of the winds into something that looked comfortable. He brushed himself down, sucking snow and grit from a graze on his palm.

“That hurt! You surprised me. Where were you when I called?”

The timbre of the old man’s voice was wondrous to hear. Opulent and full of expression, overflowing with love.

“I worried when you didn’t answer.”

“Why? You know who I am and that I will never leave.”

The younger man paused, taking deep breaths, slowing thoughts, easing worries.

“This is an arduous path my friend. What brought you here?”

“Oh, generations of forebears have followed this path. It is expected that I do the same.”

“You don’t sound thrilled with this quest young man.”

“Thrilled or not, It’s the path I must follow.”

“Then why call me? Decision made, the path clear. There is nothing I can offer.”

“The goal at the end of this path seems farther away. I’ve been walking constantly and making no headway.”

“Are you certain this path is yours to follow?”

“I know the route by heart. My father taught it as soon as I understood his words.”

“This is his path and his ancestors. If they followed their true paths.”

“If I don’t do this, the business will fail. Years of hard work, lost.”

“So, find a buyer. There is an alternative route to the mountain over there just beneath this ridge to the left. You won’t be walking in your father’s footsteps but close enough to consider his experience.”

The wind changed, the young man stood. With the new wind following, he smiled at his father and felt the exhilaration of the emerging route turn in his stomach.

Is This Love?

“Do you know what love is?”

“Yes, I believe I do.” The young man sounded confident when he answered his old friend. They sat near the summit of a desert mountain.

“Very well; give me your definition of love.”

“It is an intense feeling of affection toward other human beings. True love is about accepting their individuality.”

“But what about you my young friend? What’s in it for you?”

“Loving is payment enough; if any payment is necessary.”

“But if you love somebody, should they not return the love?”

“I love many people in different ways. Some are unaware that I love them. Therefore, they cannot return my love, nor would I expect it.”

“Where do you think this begins?”

“Love is preinstalled. None arrive on this planet without it. It’s said the universe vibrates to the frequency of love.”

“So why do humans fight my friend?”

“Our birth families follow religious practices and ascribe to particular beliefs. Some follow none. We mimic their ways and the world outside. To be better, do better. We become part of a great race and forget the one truth. You have taught me these things my old friend.”

“I tell you only what is. What about those who harm others because of the beliefs they love?”

“You cannot love a belief, only another living creature. But sometimes, people love others because their lives have led them to identify with harmful beliefs.”

“Yes my  young friend, the mind is like a glass of water. Mix in the beliefs of society, agitate and it becomes difficult to see. Leave it to settle and all becomes clear.”

“That’s why this desert solitude is so special. Here I connect with the truth, nothing here reminds me of those things that bring pain and hate to the world.”

“You love this place?”

“Because it reminds me of love.”

Angry Mountain

“What are you doing my young friend?”

“Is it not obvious?”

“You are spending considerable energy striking the ground with that shovel. You remind me of an angry mountain about to erupt. Come, sit with me, the garden looks stunning; many varieties of flower sharing one space.”

Slowly, the thuds of the shovel ceased. The young man looked exhausted.

What took you to the point of venting anger on the beloved earth?

“A neighbor.”

“Once again, earthly troubles placed at a neighbors’ door. What did she do?

“She doesn’t get involved except to calm his anger. He is unreasonable, his anger boils when things don’t go his way.”

“Tell me about him.”

“There’s not much to say. He occasionally lives in the house next door. I have no problem with that but wonder if that’s where his lies. He told me about things he’s had; property he owns and how wealthy he is.

When they visit, he expects life to stop accommodate his. It’s like the lord of the manor has arrived.”

The old man laughed to himself and stepped into the flowers.

“See how they move when I walk among them. Nothing I do halts their progress unless I step on one or pull it from the ground. All they need are minerals from the earth, water, air and sunlight. Humans are similar; each have basic needs but perceived unmet, they reach out and search.

Some have more than they need and want more. They don’t wish to see somebody better-off so, they collect and hoard. Do you remember our talk about competition?”

“Where does the anger of one man connect to that?”

“Something in his past has brought about insecurity. He needs to eclipse everybody’s sun because he’s jealous of their daylight. He compares himself to others and sees them as his competition.

Possibly developed from one instance in his life but allowed to go unchecked, it has grown out of proportion. “

“I understand and relate although I don’t identify with anger. I once found myself in a loveless relationship and didn’t realise I substituted it with ‘things.’  Nice cars, holidays, clothes . . . “

“You still do that my friend. Did anybody ever say, ‘be better, do better . . . ‘“?

The young man laughed without humor. “It is a mantra echoing around my mind since my early years.”

“The man next door brings challenges to your ego which reminds you of the mantra. Push it aside my friend and forget about the neighbor. Friendship is not an option so, blow him away with a tender heart like you would a dandelion clock.

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