Friday, July 1, 2011

Phil Paddock on a Soul's Road

Ah Summer. Having declined to teach summer school, I looked forward to nothing but relaxation. Not! Do you recall Gatsby’s little diary that listed his “self-improvement” schedule? He probably had chin ups, and elocution on there. Well that’s the kind of the thing I do all the time. Old school with the pen and paper. The handwriting has to look decent too. There’s a certain feel I have to have in my hand and fingers as the ink marks the page. Otherwise I crumple it and start over making my calendars, my lists of long term and short term gotta do’s. I’m telling you, that’s what I do. It’s hard to admit. Released into the great open space of a teacher’s vacation and I start making up lists of what I have to accomplish. It’s a little strange, because I don’t remember where or when I picked up the habit. Looking for an answer, I glanced back over my shoulder, down the road my soul has travelled. I saw my 20 year old self. Nope, definitely wasn’t making those lists at age 20. Oh to be 20. So here’s the thing; as summer began I could hardly sleep with so many plans that needed to be written down in perfect form with a pen upon a piece of paper. One of the items on the list was to improve my cardiovascular condition, primarily by running. You know, establish a routine. Yes, yes, so many plans. Within days, my wife and I traveled to New York, my first visit ever to the Empire State. In New York, the running was hit or miss. But when we got out to the far shores of Long Island, the running part of the plan became more promising. It was our good fortune to stay near a seemingly endless stretch of sand between Montauk and South Hampton. While staying there I researched my family’s genealogical history. My father’s side traces back not to the Port of New York, where so many entered from Europe, but to the Plymouth settlement in the 1600’s. From there, many of them worked the sea along Cape Cod. On our final morning before flying home to California, my wife and I took a final walk along the shore. We talked and stooped down to examine mermaid’s purses, scallop shells and horseshoe crab casks. All of a sudden I noticed how much time had passed. If I didn’t take off running back to our rendezvous point, we’d cause our gracious hostess to wait for us and possibly complicate our journey home. So I took off and soon, propelled by a fear of missing the driver and the opportunity to accomplish my Gatsby task, I entered into a runner’s trance. I, renowned among my peers for an excellent sense of time and place, ran right past the intended beach access. And then some. Unknowingly a half mile past, I sought directions and received bad information that took me even farther East. Running on, I couldn’t believe that I should continue in that direction. I turned back, then doubted myself and reversed again. Sand and dunes and seemingly the same houses. What the hell. I’d been running for over an hour in soft sand. My hamstring had begun to cramp. The sun was high, hot and as relentless as the wristwatch on my arm that ticked away the minutes. On the verge of panic, I stopped to let something wash over me. Something of the Atlantic, something of my ancestral past conspiring to keep me there along the far Eastern shore on the very first time I’d stepped upon it, like an old fisherman’s net tangling my legs. Those old whaler souls sounding off in every shore break, laughing that they’d fixed me such a puzzle. I chuckled too as I took my last look over the sea, then turned and found someone with a cell phone to make a call. Holding it to my cheek, it was as though I no longer spoke the same language.

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