The Idea Man

He ran weathered fingers through receding hairline, subconsciously taking note of how far back it had retreated the last few years. Once known for his gleaming waves, he was now more gleaming forehead. No matter. Immersed in wandering thoughts, he had no care for the trivialities of life, receding hairlines being among them.

There was once a running joke in his family that if he had learned something useful, like math, he could have been an Einstein. Or if he had dedicated more of his time to a craft, perhaps a Picasso. But he never seemed to do much with his thoughts other than jot them down on scraps of yellow paper which he pinned to his walls or folded and tucked into crevices or stacked in piles throughout his house.

For this, they called him the Idea Man.

The Idea Man sat on his porch, beads of sweat forming on his bare head as the late afternoon sun made itself known. He secretly liked to be called the Idea Man, even though it was derogatory. His friends and family laughed, but ideas were his greatest treasure. Each idea he jotted down became a souvenir of the long, winding rivers that brought him there. Each yellow scrap of paper like a butterfly resting on his wall, ready to take flight should a stranger’s gaze ever be cast in its direction.

The Idea Man had been engaged in excogitation for so long his eyes barely perceived the sun sinking toward the horizon until it reached the edge in a blaze of color.

The beautiful sunset, his mother once called it.

Memories flooded in, and soon reflections of his mother seated beside him on porch steps arose in a tide of nostalgia. Her sheltering arm around him, they watched.

“Look at the sky,” she would say, “Look at how beautiful it is! You see that cloud? Doesn’t it look like you could swim in it? Look at how the sunbeams are streaming down from beneath that one!”

His mother had a beautiful imagination. Beautiful like the sunset. Full of color and life and beauty. His mother was a star now, floating somewhere high above the beautiful sunset, looking down on it even as he looked up.

Moisture gathered in his eyes. The Idea Man allowed the emotion to wash through him and shifted his now blurry gaze toward darkening sky. Almost imperceptibly, the stars had already begun to appear across the lake of black above him.

Brave stars, he thought.

Stars must be brave to exist in space like that, shining brilliantly despite the darkness and emptiness. The stars seemed to shine with all their might, casting lifelines on anything within reach.

He read somewhere that when a star collapses it becomes a black hole. It seemed to him the star’s final attempt to quell the loneliness—to pull anything and everything into itself, yet resulting only in destruction.

People were both stars and black holes, shining and grasping at various intervals.

He paused. Receding hairline soon bobbed up and down as the Idea Man fished in his pocket for a crumpled scrap of yellow paper.

He wrote.

(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author.

The Walk

I went for a walk with my son.

We were discussing the nature of happiness and the tendency for humans to dwell on the past.

“Look at the trees.” I said to my son. “How old do you think they are?”

“Very old,” my son replied.

“Think about what they’ve seen,” I said.

He was quiet for a moment, looking. Then he said, “They’ve probably seen hurricanes and tornados. Maybe even wars.”

“Yes,” I replied, “And listen to them. What do they say? Do they sit there and say ‘Oh, woe is me, what storms I’ve seen, what hurricanes. I’ve been through so much, poor me, poor me!’”

“No,” my son responded without hesitation, “They don’t. They don’t say anything at all.”

I smiled.

“We should be more like the trees.”

We continued our walk in silence.

(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author.

The Magnolia

The little girl looked up at the branches of the tree sprawling above her head like so many fingers grasping for the wind. Throughout its branches were clustered the loveliest flowers she had ever seen–magnolias, grandma had called them.

They grew thick amidst the branches, as thick as the waxy petals themselves, which she picked up from the ground and pressed between her thumb and forefinger. Each white petal was streaked with the perfect hint of pink and as she dug her nail into the fleshy perianth, she curiously examined the brown halfmoon left behind.

“Barbara, it’s time to go!” her mother called from the shade of the kitchen.

Casting one more glance at the pale bouquets brilliantly illuminated against the bright blue sky, the little girl silently and obediently headed for the car. She knew they would be back next week.

But by the next week something terrible had happened. The little girl gazed up at the tree and then down at the ground surrounding it. The substrate in which the tree dwelled was now carpeted in a thick layer of magnolia petals in various states of decay. The few that still clung to the branches appeared as brave soldiers breathing their last breaths, dutifully awaiting their turn to drop.

The little girl was devastated.

She looked up at the tree again, but this time she spotted one last full blossom at the very top, still radiant and full of life. She was determined to save it.

She hiked up her little pink Sunday dress and paid no heed to the dirt that coated her white stockings as she grasped the lowest branch of the small tree and pulled herself upward. It took only a few moments to reach the blossom, perched precariously on its thin branch.

The little girl stretched out her hand.

She grasped the specimen by its base and applied enough force to break it away from the source, but in doing so she shook every single petal to the ground. She was left holding nothing more than a stem.

The little girl observed the remains in regret. She realized that in trying to preserve the blossom, she had instead expedited its demise.

We are all that little girl. We cling to temporary things, wanting them to last. But everything in life is, in fact, temporary—any amount of clinging is fruitless and leads to sadness and anxiety.

True joy is found in letting even the most beautiful moment go, peacefully making room for the next.

(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author.

The Rope

When I was a kid, my sisters and I played outside with the neighbor boy nearly every day. I remember those long summer nights like they were yesterday–itchy with mosquitoes and freshly cut grass.

We mostly got along, but like all kids we fought from time to time. 

One particular fight I will never forget. We had found a long strand of rope that we used to play tug-of-war with or tie someone to a tree for a mock execution. You know. Normal kid stuff. But for some reason, the neighbor boy didn’t want to share the rope that day. 

It may have started as a legitimate game of tug-of-war, but quickly devolved into an “us against him” battle to retrieve the serpentine object. The neighbor boy had wrapped the entire rope around his arm and was hunched over it like it was a football, kneeling on the ground to keep anyone else from getting to it. 

He was bigger than us, but we were many. And so we pulled on his arms, we kicked him, we tried to poke him with sticks to get him to let go. To no avail. Our struggle continued for what felt like hours but was likely barely twenty minutes. The neighbor boy refused to give up, and so we did. 

The next day, there was a handwritten note on our front door. It was from the neighbor boy. He stated in his note that he was not happy with the way we had treated him the day before. He did not like being pulled on, or kicked or poked with sticks. 

I remember the guilt flooding my chest, as I had been the one to introduce the sticks–though in all fairness, I didn’t poke him hard. More of a jab to the ribs that was meant to trigger his reflexes and catch him off guard. But still, I realized it had hurt him. 

At the same time, I felt his feelings were unfair. He could have let go of the rope at any time. In fact, if I remembered correctly, he had taken the rope from someone else in the first place. He had set the precedent that this was the game we were going to play, and then he apparently didn’t have the hardiness of spirit to see it through. 

For many years, I judged him based on that incident. 

But as I have grown into an adult, I have watched many people endure all kinds of pain and punishment, always blaming those around them, somehow not realizing that all they have to do is let go of the rope.

Sometimes I am even surprised to find a rope in my own hands.

(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author.