Sardines in an artichoke and baby portabella-laden red sauce, simmering upon the stove turned into a dinner of rich worth with greetings from the depths and counterpoints. The gradations of reds that twisted in and out of the dappled oil bits of artichoke mushroom roasted red pepper layered over slices of golden polenta all sank into my mouth and over my tongue in a daring dance of making-my-eyes-roll-into-the-back-of-my-head yumminess. That was a beginning.
Sometime around 11pm the next day, after love, laughter, light, and dark, I went to bed.
Upon the altar, a wood shelf of relatively classic lines sticking out from the wall about five or six inches and not more than two feet wide, above my desk, this wide oak drafting table from which I look upon my world and see, mostly, when I look up, a wall not three feet from my face with this altar, is a large amethyst chunk, given to me by a dear friend. It sparkles in purple mathematical crystalline reflection. The friend who gave it to me, as a birthday gift I think, tends to traverse the same purple wavelengths that one might imagine the amethyst travels and when I think of her, it’s not hard to imagine amethyst. Around the half inch thick piece of calcite the amethyst sits upon, are a handful of double terminated quartz crystals, given to me at the wedding of two other friends. To either side of these are two small figures.
On the left is the Buddha. This Buddha, carved from some dark wood, is the Thai Theravada-style buddha with long narrow arms and a thin face in calm repose, watching the breath, symbolizes the calm and graceful unfolding slowly from within doing the same dance he has always done. This buddha was given to me by another dear friend. This person lives in the land from whence this buddha came, exploring just what it means to be truly happy. True happiness is not an easy thing to come by and, at the same time, is the easiest thing in the world. This friend, he seems to be doing a fine job of it.
To the other side of the amethyst, almost equidistance as the Buddha, is Sparkles Brown, a small figure made from sparkly fimo. He is about three and a half inches high, has creamy white sparkly pants, gold sparkly shoes that match his gold sparkly hat in the shape of a small morning glory perched delicately upon his head and, upon his brown shirt, a gold star. His two gold dots of eyes and one thin golden smile look at me with the kind of simple happiness and love that is devoid all the stories as to why we love. He too was given to me by a dear friend. This dear friend made him for me just before she left to visit a friend of her own with whom she shares a deep connection. This friend who gave me Sparkles Brown also happens to be my wife.
Moving out to either side of the altar: crystals, gifts of stones from the universe and friends, a scorpion suspended in acrylic, a half geode found on the shore of a lake in Kentucky while canoeing, three thin golden snail shells in descending size from pet aquarium snails, shells with noteworthy lines found on a sea shore, other bits of sacred detritus, and, finally, two small framed photos, flanking the altar.
On the one side, the right side where Sparkles Brown keeps watch, is a small easel, a very small easel, upon which is a little glass frame and in the little glass frame is a picture of me at, maybe, age 2. I am a chubby little boy sitting on a swing set and the picture has that yellowed slightly faded look of the mid 1970’s. I am sitting there in my diaper, laughing and squinting, eyes half-closed in the daytime sun: half closed because my smile is so large. The smile would come and go and come again, as smiles do, but I’ve never quite stopped squinting.
On the left side of the altar is another picture – this one framed vertically and there I am again, squinting, holding my wife from behind her with my hands wrapped onto her belly, smiling and bright eyed and the two of us tan and in sleeveless white satins and silks, bejeweled, on our wedding day, happy, blissed, exhausted.
All of these things represent bits and pieces of who I am, and of some of the gems of friends who come and go through my life.
In the center of the altar, resting on the double terminated quartzes, is a small skull of perhaps a mouse. It was found in some encrusted owl poop on the land of another beautiful friend. It was carefully cleaned and painted and placed here. We could all be snatched up, devoured, and pooped out at any given moment. The entire universe is consuming itself all the time, continuously dying and being reborn and growing and changing and dying again. How many of those lifetimes of moments do we relive the same pattern? How many do we shift direction all of a sudden, consciously choosing a new path?
Directly below the altar there are two more small pictures. On the left, underneath the wedding picture is a small, neatly cropped photo of my grandparents on my mothers side. I was always very close to them. They are very happy in the picture, retired and on a vacation in Spain, the same place Violet and I took our honeymoon. My grandfather, a jovially loving Italian who would have loved my wife, has passed away since then. My grandmother, 84, is as chipper and fastidious as she has ever been. This is a bit of where I have come from. They too are smiling wide. Their eyes squint in the Mediterranean sun.
On the right side is another picture, this one of my Dad and I. It is our birthday – his birthday is a day before my own, on Aug. 25. My birthday is the 26th. We are smiling as well. I think I was turning seventeen in that picture. In the picture I have a goatee, a baseball cap. I am wearing a white t-shirt with a small design I made of a person standing on the edge of a building, about to step off, his back to the viewer, maybe he’ll fall, maybe he’ll fly, who knows, and below it a caption reads “This time I was standing on the edge of the world”. It was always regarded as a bit of artsy daydreaming, never a consideration that I might consider jumping. My dad – his smile makes his eyes squint shut. Look, I come from a long line of squinters. Me, I am looking off to the left and, from where I sit right now, my eyes look a tad bloodshot but I wouldn’t be surprised – I had a lifestyle then of perpetual blanketing my mental landscape – always throwing another mattress upon the pea that was making me feel uncomfortable. And, at the same time, I was just doing my best to make sense of the unfolding life around me, chilling, living, teetering on the edge, waiting for my chance to take a leap and stretch my wings and soar with the occasional heart-wrenching plummet.
In between these two photos, taped in the middle, laminated, is a Chinese fortune from a cookie eaten who knows when.
It reads: “Among the lucky, you are the chosen one.”
Coupled with the grace, a dash of skill maybe, and fair bit of false starts, there has always been that “luck”, if that is what one wants to call it. When I look at this chain of a life that is laid out here – from my grandparents to the chunk of amethyst – I love it.
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