Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Leaving the Light On

As I pull into the long driveway that winds between a stand of spruce trees and the Bungalow, I see Abby T. Lab's head through the sheer curtains, up on the couch, looking down on the driveway as the main floor sits several feet atop the windows of the walkout basement. The windows in this house are old, 50 years?  A hundred?  It's hard to tell.  They're not the best for holding in heat but they do keep out the sound.

I ran a quick calculation and I've spent 13 solid years sleeping in a hotel room (or tent, vehicle or the back of a transport plane).  The last few years, I was able to be home a lot more, as I did less field work and more "manage the technology and people that do the field work". Now I'm I guess what you would call "The Director" if my life was NCIS.  I'm OK with that.  I'm to the point now, that as much as intellectually I miss full-time fieldwork, I'd rather sleep in my own bed at night, even if for two years, before I could get a promotion to take me closer to my husband, I had two homes, in completely different time zones and a three hundred mile drive to and from work on Monday and Friday's.
We've all had our stories of Motel Hell and some that were just fun.  My favorite was a 5-star hotel in the Nation's Capital some 16 years ago where I got $17 macaroni and cheese from the children's menu that was the best I'd ever had, then got to go in the bathroom and talk on the phone and watch TV, while in the bathroom.  No, I'm not cranked by technology, but I was like a little kid playing grown up, calling my Dad "Dad I'm calling you from a phone by the toilet!"  which totally made him laugh.

Then, there was the time I locked myself out of my hotel room in my underwear while grabbing the newspaper.  I had no phone.  I stole a towel off an abandoned housekeeping cart, draped it over my head (they can stare at my butt all day long, but no one will recognize me) and sauntered down to the front desk  "extra key for Dr. J. please".  The clerk is still probably traumatized.
Then there's jet lag. The jet lag is more than a myth, it's a sledgehammer of weariness that hits you as soon as the aircraft door opens up, no matter what time it is. You're lucky if you get a long layover, where you have a day to wander ancient streets in the quiet dawn, strolling among the mazes of alleyways and churchyards and cemeteries of a small village, breathing in air laden with woodsmoke that smells of history. You're lucky if you have time to finally fall asleep in the long hot afternoons, a white sheet wrapped around you like a shroud, pretending to sleep as if it's your own bed and there's more on the wall than a dusty picture of people dead hundreds of years.

There is night after night of sameness. The bed looks like any bed in any hotel.  Dinner is Ramen Noodles cooked in the coffee pot, not because there is no room service or restaurant but because you've had all the interaction with the world you can stand for the day, and you just want something hot to eat all alone.  The mini bar beckons, but you don't go there either, not for the tiny little mortgage you pay with each clink of the little bottle that will only briefly relax your sapless limbs.  The room is quiet, but in your head are the words of hundreds that cannot be stilled, the voices that called you here, to this city, this week, where what little sleep you get will only be when the sodden match that is your brain, has nothing left with which it can spark.

There are the mornings you wake, not knowing what time it is, or what country you are in, and for a moment you pause in your hotel room, breathing heavy with fear as you orient yourself to your surroundings. You look outside, not really knowing what you will see, having arrived in total darkness. A lovely village full of sight and sound, and cobbled steps, or the war-ravaged industrial town, a visage of smoke and ash, gaunt staring rubble rising out from sand, dirt, and weeds with an air of profound desolation that needs no further words. On such mornings I don't need caffiene, just the terror of waking in total darkness in an unfamiliar place will jolt me into my day.
It's a life of constant motion and travel, phone calls, and emails home or abroad from loved ones living the same kind of life,  including one in which you are told "I can't do this anymore", as you sit helpless and shaking 2000 miles away. You don't argue, your only response as the proverbial dial tone growls in your ear is the flinging of a shoe that strikes the wall with a single, shattering blow. The remaining nights you simply sit, as if listening to something very far away or so close as to be contained within you. The phone lays silent, but you do not. You call someone you trust, who also lives on the road, to let it out, and then go on living. Certain types of lives demand sacrifices, but you can no more change that than you can change what is essential to you. You continue with your duty, for it, and order is the only constant that you know.

It's simply part of who we are, traveling where our skills are needed, not because your friends and family mean any less, but because responsibility carries with its own honor. It's a life of many hotels, and meals probably best eaten in low light. It's memories, transparent and weightless, that scatter around you like leaves, blown without destination by winds that forever change.
But tonight, the sounds of my own house are all around, the wind in the eaves, the soft thump of freshly washed towels dancing in the dryer downstairs, the tap of a branch against the porch railing. From the basement early this morning comes the season's first rumble of heat, the house sighs, as do I. From the futon a grey-muzzled rescue dog snores in the contentment which is finding a loving home after years of only being a puppy factory, sent to a high kill shelter when she got sick.  I look at her, her paws gently twitching as she chases silent rabbits on invisible grass, giving out a soft "woof" in her sleep and can't help but smile.

There is comfort in those sounds.  It's like listening to a monk chanting in a language which you do not need to even understand to know. So many sounds, the creaks, the murmurs, whispers of earth and sky and people, quiet tears in a hotel room, laughter and the clink of glasses, sounds evocative of life and death and struggle, things we've been aware of all our lives but never really understood until now. Sounds and words like faded letters on a road sign, not pointing us to where we need to be, but letting us know we were on the right path.
There is no room service, there is no big TV - there are journals and books and more books, tools left about mid function as a mind takes yet another bend in solving the puzzle of the day.  There is dog hair and dust and an ancient refrigerator that operates on sheer will  And there is a stained glass window, as old as I, that replaced what was once a mundane view of a yard,  a window alive with colors that glow when all color everywhere has failed the sky.

For no matter how dark things have been, there will always be that light that awaits you, biting into shadow. It is home, a small dwelling guarded by a sleeping dog and the one that never abandoned me, no many how many nights we were apart.  As for that person I trusted who also lived on the road whom I called on that fateful night so long ago, he is now my husband of five years. He waits for me inside with the light on. There is nowhere I'd rather be.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Morning Smile

Uh, I'll have the BSOD, a side of hash browns and a caramel cappuccino, please.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Smith and Wesson 66 - a Range Report

I have more "old" weapons than new. Some of it is simply the comfort of those things that have been proven reliable. Then there is simply the sheer love I have for that which is history, of the acts of courage that defined a persons freedom, of the mechanical workings of objects which support self-sufficiency and strength. Planes, trains, steam engines, old tools, and yes, the gun. There's an attraction to old tools and old machines, the human values they represent. Nothing that withstands history gets built without the brilliance of design, a laboring effort and the dreams of man. Some say a gun is a killing instrument. Man is a killing instrument. A gun is only a tool, from which we have the pure mechanical force which can keep one alive or take a life. As a tool, it is as weak or as strong as he or she who holds it, as good or as bad as the collective soul that keeps it in working order. The guns I own are defenders of good, soldier's weapons, officer's weapons, my weapons.

The Smith and Wesson 66 was born in 1970 as a stainless, and therefore more corrosion-resistant, version of the already-popular Model 19 Combat Magnum. That particular firearm was produced from 1957 (first model number stampings) to November 1999

The Model 19 was produced in blued carbon steel or nickel-plated steel with wood or rubber combat grips, an adjustable rear sight, semi-target hammer (wide hammer spur with good checkering), serrated combat-type trigger, and was available in 2.5" (3" particular to the Model 66 being rarer), 4", or 6-inch barrel lengths. The weights are 30.5 ounces, 36 ounces, and 39 ounces, respectively. The 2.5- and 3-inch barrel versions had a round butt, while the others had square butts. I'm not a big fan of the Spongebob Squarepants gun butt from a "feel" standpoint, but they've got a nice crisp look to them.

The Model 19 was produced on Smith and Wesson K-frame platform (S and W refer to their frame sizes by letter) and was chambered for .357 Magnum. The K-frame is somewhat smaller and lighter than the original N-frame .357, usually known as the S&W Model 27. The Smith and Wesson no longer make the K-Frame, replacing them with the heavier L-Frame models, which include models 619, 620 and the model 686. The L Frames are a bit heavier, and for me, don't point as naturally as does the 66.

Stainless steel offers many advantages in a gun, outside of just "SHINY", including the fact that you can polish out minor imperfections without removing bluing. Additionally, minor rub wear doesn't affect the gun's finish appreciably as it would do to a blued finish.

The Model 66 is a double-action, six-shot revolver, retaining most of the characteristics of the 19. The one I have fired the most, like the 19, had a target trigger (featuring vertical grooves), target hammer (wide hammer spur with good checkering), fixed point sight and adjustable rear sight.

If you are on the lookout for one of your own, the first issued ones are easily identifiable with the stainless steel rear sight, pin barrel, serrated stainless trigger, recessed cylinder and the “mod 66” stamped on the frame. If you think you see one there just waiting to be purchased somewhere, it should have stamped on the left side of the gun the words "SMITH & WESSON" along the barrel, with the trademark S&W logo on the frame below the cylinder latch. If you have a S&W you would like to know more about you can send a picture and a form from the S&W Website to the Historian, Mr. Roy G. Jinks.

The gun remained virtually unchanged until 1977 when the 66-1 model came out which changed the gas ring from the yoke to the cylinder. The later 66-3 designation indicates design tweaks to delay development of cylinder end-shake as well as the elimination of the recessed cylinder. Future changes through the 70's and 80's slightly lengthened the cylinder and installed a new yoke retention system/radius stud package/hammer nose bushing/floating hand.

In 1994, with the 66-4 model, the rear sight leaf and drill, extractor and tape frame were slightly changed and Hogue grips were introduced. In 1998 there was a change in frame design and in 2002, with model 66-6, it introduced the internal lock. I believe the last one was manufactured in 2004 or 2005.

This firearm was a favorite of many law enforcement agencies in the mid to late 70's, some even carrying it into the late 90's (or later than that, if the rumors are true). The demise of the K-Frame (and with it, the 66) came as owners started to get a hankering for the lighter and faster 125gr .357 Magnum load as an alternative to the 158gr lead projectile that was the bulk of the ammo available in the early production years. The forcing cone on the model 19 is not as thick at the very bottom. The lighter bullets at very high velocity using very hot burning powders, apparently subjected the forcing cone to what I guess, in layman's terms, you could call metal fatigue, with resultant cracking of the forcing cone. Smith and Wesson have made the recommendation to not use the 125gr loads though I've not heard of any cone cracking issues with the 66 Model. Some 66 owners recommend alternating .38 with the .357 in the 66, others have shot nothing but 158gr for thousands of rounds and still have a nice, tight weapon.

The .357 Magnum is a story in and of itself, being probably the oldest handgun "magnum" cartridge. Its collaborative development started in the 30's, in direct response to Colt's .38 Super Automatic. At the time, the .38 Super was the only American pistol cartridge capable of defeating automobile cover and the early ballistic vests that were just beginning to emerge in the post-World War I "Gangster Era". ("Gangster" not to be confused with "Gangsta" as the future felons of the 1930's had the common sense not to wear their pants so low the waist is about knee level. It would have been hard to be a successful bootlegger in pants a clown wouldn't wear because they were too undignified.

Tests at the time revealed that those early ballistic vests defeated any handgun cartridge traveling at less than about 1000 ft/s. Colt's .38 Super Automatic just edged over that velocity and was able to penetrate car doors and vests that bootleggers and gangsters were employing as cover. Smith and Wesson's Dan Wesson agreed to produce a new revolver that would handle "high intensity" .38 Special loads, but only if Winchester would develop a new cartridge.

Though .38 and .357 would seem to be different-diameter chamberings, they are in fact dimensionally identical. 0.357 inch is the true bullet diameter of the .38 Special cartridge. The .38 Special nomenclature relates to the previous use of heeled bullets (such as the .38 Long Colt), which were the same diameter as the case. Thus, the only external difference in the two cartridges is a slight difference in length (the .357 having a .125 inch longer case). Those first revolvers referred to as the Magnum Models were completed by Smith and Wesson in April of 1935.

Retired Assistant Chief Patrol Inspector of the U.S. Border Patrol, and noted firearms and shooting skills writer, Bill Jordan consulted with Smith and Wesson on the design and characteristics of the Model 19. His idea? The Peace Officers perfect dream. A sidearm with a heavy barreled four inch K frame .357 Magnum with a shrouded barrel like the big N frame .357 and adjustable sights. After months and months of experimenting with improved strength steels and the latest in special heat treat processes, the result was the .357 "Combat Magnum" firearm (later designated as the Model 19). The first, serial-number K260,000 was presented to Jordan on November 15, 1955, and a legend was born.

So how does this "old legend" shoot? Flawlessly. With the weight of the K frame and the barrel, it points more naturally then a German Short Haired Pointer. Never having shot the weapon before, I still got a nice tight group, even with the bigger round, once I learned where it shoots with the sight picture. I can see why it was so popular with law enforcement.

The trigger was one of the smoothest I've tried, no stacking. Double tap didn't require me to do the "Dance of the Seven Veils" trying to get my hand back in position from recoil. Single hand holding with double actions pulls was not hard at all with this piece. It was accurate, it was tight, it felt really good in my hand (no ow!!! factor with multiple rounds and tender skin) and even better, it made a nice big HOLE right where I wanted it to go.

Now for the ammo question. Generally speaking, any .357 Magnum revolver will safely handle any factory 38 Special ammo (but do NOT attempt to load or fire .357 in your .38 special - BAD dog. . BAD!). The Model 66 should safely shoot both 357 Magnum and 38 Special ammo, including extra-hot 38 ammunition known as "plus-p" (+P) and "plus-p-plus" (+P+). Of course, check with your manufacturer if any doubt as to what rounds are the best to put in your newly acquired firearm. I've not fired it enough to recommend any particular type, so will leave it up to my readers to pass that information along.

The double action (DA) was not as quick as smooth as the Colt Python, but that's like saying Vanilla Hagan Daz ice cream is not quite as rich and tasty as the Coffee flavored. The feel was consistent throughout the pull, even more so than the Python, which to me has a noticeable change in the pull weight partway through the DA trigger travel.

You may have to hunt around to find one. But there are not a ton of good condition, clean ones available. If you have to chance to buy or borrow one, you probably won't regret it. The first one I shot, and one of those pictured here, belongs to a partner in squirrellville. It's what he carries when off duty and it's a beautiful piece.

The leverage is excellent for the size of the handgun. I've got really long fingers and a good sized hand. However, I think the hands of most women and men who are not built like Grizzly bears, would find a good grip with this. The trigger finger reaches the trigger with a minimum of effort, and the front sight stays on target if the target isn't a Bobble Head.

Cleaning is a snap. Remove the cylinder and clean with a little Break-Free. There's no side plate removal or detail stripping that's required on other types of guns you're used to cleaning. Even if you dunk the thing in salt water, it's just a field strip, clean with Break-Free CLP, rinse in hot water, spray with more CLP, wipe down and air dry.

Why salt water you ask? Seal Team Six used the Model M66 until the M686 came along, as did other Teams. The reasoning was that if lubricants washed off the weapon during the swim to the. . uh. . . objective, a revolver was more likely to function than a semi-auto. Blued finishes don't hold up to such exposure. Parkerized, anodized and stainless finishes do quite well. There was no special ammunition used, as the Winchester Silver Tips of the time were considered reasonably waterproof.

It's a wee bit big to be totally indiscernible, but with the right holster, it will make a good concealed piece for someone that's not hobbit sized. Dennis at Dragon Leatherworks has made several beautiful ones of the FlatJack type for the Model 19 (K Frame, just like the Model 66) and a J Frame (Chief's Special) including a couple that blogger Jay G. owns.

I was sold the first time I got my hands on it. It's light for what it packs and comes on target easily with a high hit probability. It's a legend, a true sculpture in stainless. Like my partner, I'd trust my life with it, and that says a lot.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Ask not -

I got a new front door mat. It's a little small so I laid it on top of the bigger mat which is in good condition, I just couldn't resist getting this.

 It made my mailman laugh out loud.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Eye on the Prize

Barkley lies on my dresser so I can say goodbye to him as I leave for work in the morning.  I put his all-time favorite toy on top of the box.  Mr. Squeeky was an infuriatingly loud toy but Barkley carried it everywhere. His doggie day camp had a purple one and they had a cam in the yard so we could see the dogs at play on their website and he ALWAYS had that toy so I found him one after searching about 87 different pet stores in Indiana.

So when I found this photo of him, I just had to place it here so he can keep an eye on Mr. Squeeky.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Compass Course

Here is chapter two of my 5th book - I'm not going to post each chapter as otherwise there is no incentive to buy a copy but just to give you a sense of what it is about, Chapter Two of "Compass Course" out in early Spring of 2019.
When I was growing up in the 60's Dad got me this toy that was a toy aircraft that could be flown from inside the car with a closed window.  With your control stick, you could make it climb and dive and shoot it's "machine guns".  The little control panel in front of you had airspeed, turn and bank, oil, and fuel information.  To me, it was the closest thing to flying I'd experienced except for one flight on Pan Am when I was six to go to my aunt and uncle's while Mom and Dad when to Hawaii for their 25th anniversary.

We did a long road trip every year to my and uncle's ranch in California (they raised almonds) to visit my two cousins and them. On that long, often hot, two-day drive, that toy was my freedom from "Mom, he's on MY side of the seat" as my older brother tried to pester me.  I'd get my hand on that little control stick and I felt relieved at once of a perceptible weight, well, as much weight as a 7-year-old could bear.

For my mother had cancer, she was diagnosed with it when I was only four and she was still fighting it, the first remission come and gone.  As a child, she and my Dad did their best to protect us from it, but she couldn't hide the ravages of chemo in a small house with one full bathroom.  We simply learned to cope.

In some ways, it was like something I learned later in life.  War.  It's something, whether you are living in the middle of it, or simply have someone you love away fighting in it, you learn to live with it.  Actually, you don't live WITH it, you live underneath it, as if it is a dark sky from which the air is so dark and thick it's hard to draw breath.  It's a tornado siren, it's a tsunami warning, it's imminent death from which there is no shelter, no safe place, and even if you survive it, it will touch you with cold fingers, discharging perhaps the physical fear, but marking you forever as one who had fought and paid a high price for the battle.

So Mom did what she could and even with a limited budget, there was money for a toy for my brother and this wonderous airplane.

I'd swoop and dive and bank it for what seemed like hours, no sound in the vehicle but my Mom's quiet breath and the soft rustle of the scarf that covered her head. The silence in the vehicle, merged with the silence of the sky, becoming one infinite boundlessness control by two small hands.

I found a similar freedom on my bicycle.  I grew up in those years where no one wore helmets, hills were not off limits, and we would take our bikes out as high and far as our legs would carry us.  It was usually up to the top of the hill high above a mint farm where you could get some serious speed going downhill.  A wipeout was going to mean a broken arm, but that didn't stop us, we'd sail down that slope in formation flight, the scenery a blur of green and blue.  One summer I broke my arm twice.  It's no wonder when I came home from high school and said "I want to be a pilot," Dad just put his head down into his hands.

I took a second job on the weekends in addition to the one I had after school, and I started lessons when I was 17.  I soloed in the bright surf of a September sky, stamping the runway like a rubber stamp with my little Cessna 150 on my third and final landing.

I have to admit I was pretty nervous, doing the world's longest engine check, hesitant to release my feet from the brakes.  Then the sky in my windshield as I stared at it coalesced into not just vision, but scent, the smell of the open air, filling that tiny hot cockpit with a whisper that I could only describe as freedom. I announced my intentions on Unicom and took the runway.

Only minutes later, I couldn't get the grin off of my face as sunspots kissed my face as if a radar blip from the heavens as I cleared the runway for the day. From the taxiway, my instructor, a father of 7 boys that had nerves of steel, watched silently. There will be more stories of that time, but in thinking of that toy airplane today, I couldn't help but think of that little Cessna that was the same color as the toy one and just as much fun to play with.

Such simple things, such simple pleasures. Just simply to fly, to be aloft in the air, the very substance by which I live and with its absence, I would cease to breathe.  Years later,  when Mom was long gone, I would sit in the cockpit of a jet at altitude, and just the feel of the yoke in my hand would take me back to those road trips with my little aircraft, wondering what happened to that little toy plane.

But then, of course, something brings me now back to today, a cockpit sound, the movement of a gauge, for an airplane at altitude has a way of bringing the irrational into every emotion, every fear.  I looked down, seeing what airports were near if indeed an engine ever quit, even if I'd flown years without having that experience. It's not being paranoid, it's those long moments of quiet, especially at night or over vast bodies of water where your imagination takes you to places you don't want to be.  The engines know this and will make those weird noises only in such places and times, a bluff, a lie, planned by the gods of maintenance and foiled by the steadfastness of the crew

Power and fuel adjusted, I took the plane off of autopilot, and put my hands on the yoke, a child again, trusting in my craft, and savoring the freedom that it brought.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A First Responders View of Disaster Recovery

With everything happening with Hurrican Florence a post about being a post-disaster first responder from my third book, Gold winner of the Readers Favorite International Book Award for Fiction - Religious Theme.

A Chapter From Small Town Roads - Published by Xulon Press

We don’t have to speak for our intentions to be read.

Speech seems like a simple thing, a coordination of muscle and bone, nerves and tongue, something within us, just as the ability to control and guide both weapon and machine lay slumbering within the wrists and hands. We can stay silent, but the words are still there.

Man experiences things of great magnitude and cannot speak of them at all. An artist or craftsman creates something that was part of them, honed into art or machine. On completion, they say no words, they call no one, and they simply put down their tool, their brush, and stare at their vision, incarnate.

Veterans come home from battle empty of all words, bound together by only that identical experience which they can never forget and dare not speak of, lest by speaking of darkness, they are wrapped in its chains. First responders and law enforcement officers often relate as they too see so much death that never again, as long as they breathe, will they ever truly go to sleep alone.

Man experiences the mundane, the meaningless, tweeting and texting of it feverishly. It is as if, by doing so, inconsequential acts become more than the passing of time by the imminently bored. The words can uplift but they can also sting like so many insects, their incessant noise, finally dimming to a hum.

We speak in different languages, and even when speaking the same language, we often don’t communicate, and when we do, we often don’t truly mean what we say. Promises can be nothing more than words and oaths empty air, especially when election times near, wherein contests of fierce and empty oratory are somehow, retroactively, supposed to make us believe, any more than they can make us forget.

We speak in the language of the past, chants unchanged in generations hanging in the air as God is placed into a golden cup, there underneath the eyes of angels. We speak in the language of silent prayer, calling upon God and our reserves, saying prayers without words, as we draw near our weapon as we enter what could be hell on earth.

Words can support, they can heal, with gentle utterance after a nightmare in the still of the night, the soothing voice that smoothes the frayed edges of a day with nothing more than the touch of supple prose. Words can injure, cutting like a knife, discharging like a spark of electricity, those words, from someone we love, marking us always with their wounding.

Words, a movement of lips and tongue that can cause laughter or pain; that can divide or conquer. Even in a nation where English is the official language, in parts of our country, there are whole neighborhoods where you won’t hear it spoken.

Sometimes one doesn’t need to speak at all.

On any given day, tragedy and the earth collide, flood, tornado, the plunging of a mighty machine into a peaceful neighborhood. The details differ, but the response is always the same. When disaster strikes, the land itself turns mute and those that remain, stand simply as silent instruments unable to make a sound.

I didn’t fully understand that until the tornado came through our town last night, leveling several homes a mile or so north, leaving others, like mine and most of my neighbors, miraculously standing.  We were lucky, in that there were no deaths, the majority of the homes having basements and a good tornado warning system. But as we came up from our basement, our house untouched but for a tree that took out the front porch, it was as if what I viewed was a completely different town.

Harry, my elderly friend from across the street, was on the sidewalk, Evelyn holding on to him, shaken but unhurt. Ezekiel and Miriam waved from down the block, his shop roof damaged but the structure intact. But just down from Harry’s home, Betty, the widow that lives there stood in front of what remained of her house of 60 years. It was one set further back from the road than the others, the back portion of the house completely missing its roof and some walls, not even a photo of her failed dreams, left where the wind rushed through those rooms. She cried silently, in the faded robe she fled in, as one of the neighbors came over and put her arms around her. Behind all of the homes across the street from us, there were so many trees downed, limbs flung through windows, shattering them as if they were thrown like a lance.

A young woman, her face growing older by the minute, stumbled from the walkout basement of the home that had sold when I moved in, a solitary figure, clutching only a stuffed animal, making a path towards what is known. Her brother, off in military service, was letting her live there to care for the place while she attended a community college in a town not too far east of us. We beckoned her to come over to us, and though I am probably only ten years older than she, like Evelyn does with me, I hold her in a mother’s protective embrace.

The older couple from the corner of the block lost a brand new outbuilding they had painstakingly constructed behind their house. They now could only look at the work of their sweat and tears strewn about for miles by the force of nature, the wind thick and warm, like blood spilled, pooling around what little remains. A lone tree stood among so many that were downed, torn out by the roots, its nervous branches bent down as if hoping not to be noticed.

The first responders arrived, standing for just a moment, still and mute, hands unmoving beneath the invisible stain of what was, always, needless blood. For just a moment they stopped, as if by whispered breath or the movement of disturbed air, what little remains, would crumble.

They gathered, moving in and around, the firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement officers, wearing blue and black and yellow. Such garments, solemnly worn, exchanged for lives that used to be ordinary, worn as they shape something from chaos, coercing that terrible blood wind to give up a sound, the forlorn echo of someone who might have survived underneath the carnage. I waved at an officer I worked with, seeing the relief in his eyes that I was unhurt, feeling like I should be doing something more to help. I realized that I was still in shock as I held my neighbor to me to comfort as beneath my bathrobe my precious child lay safe.

It’s surprising how much noise there was in the silence, of hope, of grief, of disbelief. It was a sound which one could almost, but not quite, capture, receding like dwindling song until there were only the shadows and the quiet. And then a small voice, “Can anyone help me?” low and faint as the Vespers of sleep. It came from a home that didn’t have a walkout basement, and a tree had gone through the sunroom. I had been there, and that would have blocked the basement stairs. Hopefully, the person is fine and can get out once the tree was moved.

Survivors and saviors, moved without sound, sending a message as loudly to the heavens as if they were one voice. People were helped from the rubble, the injured accessed, the grief-stricken comforted as best as one could, if only by a touch that resonated straight to the heart, bypassing a brain that could not accept its fate. There were no Teleprompters, there were no cue cards, and there were no words for boundless grief and regret. There was no language for this, no word, no sound; it’s defiant and imminent life, holding on.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Day Framed in History

In the frame, taken from a box in the closet, was a small photo.  It's a  group of men, two women, all eyes are up front, shirts pressed. I'd pulled it out of a box today, thinking back how long it had been. The men were all in ties, myself, wearing an outfit that, for me, was as comfortable as plywood and about as flattering. Smile! Cheese!

We were graduating from training, we look like we are intent on saving the world. But we are not even close to being who we expected to be seventeen years from then.

Expectations. That of a teen mother, who has read too many ladies magazines and envisioned a picture perfect world of happy baby, a responsible man, and sleep, when in reality all she wants to do is eat potato chips and cry, alone again while her child slumbers peacefully.

A young girl in her twenties at a grave, holding a carefully folded flag. While others were around she maintained her composure, til now, alone, holding all that was left, she wept, a meaningful and sustained sound no woman of 20 years should utter. The sound falls from the sky, like the cry of a solitary goose in the wild darkness of a September afternoon, and then is gone.

A couple in their early thirties, the young woman with a  deliberate smile and a hairdo that hasn't changed since college.  She'll hold that smile on her face for 10 years before she has the strength to walk out the door,  bruises hidden under her sleeves.

A man and a woman, leaving a nice restaurant in a big city after dark, as tall shadows appear behind them in the isolated parking lot.  Anyone else, certainly the police,  are far away.  He has nothing to defend against the utter fear in her eyes because the law in this city doesn't honor the rights he has everywhere else.

Expectations. Of what life owes us, or what life promises. Perhaps it's the age of TV where there is almost always a happy ending, the bad guy gets his due, the good guy gets the girl. Life isn't like that always, though there are moments in there that would put any movie to shame.

And so, from experience, my expectations are someone weathered, as we can't always control what happens around us. Evil does not operate according to logic, and ignoring won't make it go away. But we can exercise our right and duty for free will and decision, in the hard intractable world we find ourselves in. We are not trapped by those fears, hopes, and expectations that man calls his heart, but fixed by them, to endure. To stand guard and protect.

I look at the picture from graduation. I look at the TV, shattered buildings and memorials, flags and first responders, those walking symbols of American courage and indomitable commitment. I look at that old picture again, how young I look, and yet I look little different. One thing has not changed, we have a duty, a duty to be alive, to the terrible hurts, the red bitter blood that flows, to the honor we bear in the world's contempt. We endure so others can as well.

Seventeen Years. 2997 innocent victims.

I was wet behind the ears, living back East, not even unpacked from getting home from training on that sunny day in September. As we grabbed our things and planned "what's next", I could not get the picture out of my mind, that of the Pentagon in flames. For you see, my brother worked there more often than not. I thought about excusing myself from the team. I had no way to know if he was safe, I was beside myself with worry, but I did not. I geared up and headed out to do what was expected of me, what I was trained to do, what I'd taken an oath to do.

My first days "on the job" were not what I had expected. It's been seventeen years, but sometimes when I wake in the night, sweat on my skin, the ghost of smoke in my hair, time hasn't moved forward at all.

Seventeen years.

I look at the photos, so many photos, so many years. Years for reckless adventures, for daring launches into the blue, for growing old, yet never truly growing up. Time for finding yourself, finding the wild and ephemeral blush of love, that knows no age, innocent, fumbling and breathless. All too soon to be reduced to small, worn squares of color held in a shoebox, of fading faces and edgeless shapes that will someday inhabit the memory and not the flesh.

But still, though, a life lived. Something the victims of 9-11 were denied. A chance to live life fully, to laugh, cry, and leave their mark. The opportunity to die on their own terms, with dignity and surrounded by those they loved.

When my Mom died, I was filled with anger for her leaving us so quickly, but I was also filled with respect. Respect for her ability to chose her final days; to unplug the plugs and unhook the machines and even though in pain, to be with her family, cohesive, intact.

I put the graduation picture back in the box with some papers. Some were no more than scraps of history. Some had more personal memories, that seared into my soul, to return on late introspective nights. There are memories there and many photos. Of dust and disintegration, shattered lives intertwined with broken wreckage, of unseen footprints in the debris of the living, stepping from the ash on their way home, and the seen footprints of those that respond, tending those taken from us.

I'd not be honest if I said it doesn't sometimes follow me, as I knock on a door, tiptoe into a hospital room to ask questions I wish could be left unsaid; seeking answers, seeking closure. Because of it, I know what we once were, and where we all will be. Because of death, I know what I can be, what each moment that is the immortality of all that the flesh could desire and the mind is capable of, truly is. Every breath a gift, each moment, mine with God's grace, but MINE, to live as I choose, and as fully as possible, as only a wild heart can.

As a nation, we moved on, but many of us continue to remember.  Will Durant argued that "civilization is not imperishable. It must be relearned by every generation.' For that is the bleakest truth of all, the one truth we must never forget." That is the truth that sustains us. The truth that plays out in an image of a flame-haired woman holding her head in her hands, trying to keep it together amidst the images of tangled wreckage of metal and lives, an image of a flag, of an empty spot of ground where once stood thousands of dreams. Quiet truth that brings it back so that we never forget.

Seventeen years.

Today there will be only a moment of respect for those souls that were lost.  A moment in which I will look skyward, wishing them peace, as the light vanishes with a soft sigh, driving down for only a moment upon the musty smell of slain flowers, there in a vase. Flowers taken from gardens for so many reasons, for love, for loss, for the dead, now dying themselves.

As I look to an uncaring sky, I grieve for the way they left us, as much as the why.

We graduated that day, in the last days of summer 2001. It was not a life I would have expected but it was the only life I could live. On that day we charged out into the world, passionate, excited and only days later, damned forever of all peace. In what seemed to us like minutes, we stood with regret and anguish, the despair out of which the quietly mourning, enduring bones stand up that can bear anything.

Almost anything.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12, NASB)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sunday, September 2, 2018


col·lat·er·al Pronunciation: \kə-ˈla-t(ə-)rəl\
1 a : accompanying as secondary or subordinateb : serving to support or reinforce
Have any of you seen the movie Collateral? If you haven't DO. It's been out about well over 10years but some streaming services likely still have it, and you can currently rent it on Amazon Prime.

I am NOT a Tom Cruise Fan but his performance in this piece is not only unusual for him, and extremely good. The plot in a nutshell? A cab driver finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer: Cruise as "Vincent" as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in LA. I almost didn't recognize Cruise at first. He was perfect as a stone-cold killer, donning a sub-zero amoral nihilism as well as a suit with threads the color of the coyotes that roamed the LA streets that night. He throws out half rendered references to the I Ching and Darwin that reminded me a bit of Jules in Pulp Fiction. Jamie Fox, also in a role that surprised me with his depth, plays the cab driver forced to drive Vincent to his five hits, the body of the first mark ending up hitting the roof of his cab, giving his fare's profession away.

The interplay between two interesting characters is awesome, enough to make you overlook the plot holes that got a little larger as the film goes on, until finally the screenwriters just threw up their hands and started the action. By then I was not going to hit pause for anything. Cruise handled his guns like he had one in his hand his whole life, and the scene in which the two thugs steals his briefcase is one you won't forget. The speed reloads and Mozambique Drills are icing on the cake.

The main point I took from the film was not the action, and not the plot. It was a film that followed how people connect and react until the most adverse of circumstances. There's something in even the meek that comes out when someone threatens what they value.

I bet in the future, the cab driver in the film will carry a back up piece. I certainly do.

- Brigid