A man sits alone in the woods with his favorite book: a masterful collection of poems that speak eloquently of divinity and love.
He sits idly in a wooden rocker, the red leather-bound book in his hands opened to his favorite passage.
The sounds of the forest surround him. Crickets chirp and a light autumn breeze dances across his nostrils with wafts of fallen leaves and brush. Nature’s rhythms spark memories of his childhood; of his tender mother and friends long gone.
And as he reads his favorite passage, he remembers something more: he feels a presence deeper than himself surge forth.
Like a swamp monster surfacing when no one is looking, contentment rises from his soul and floods his veins with peace.
His often desperate breath, shallow and light, slowly deepens. He feels a peaceful rhythm like the seasons that change before him: from heat to cool, from expansion to regression, from surging forth to calm and collected.
The man feels God in this moment. He feels himself.
An essence truer than any head-bound identity has found him.
Perhaps all that was required was for his mind to surrender. For his memory to forget. And, if only for the duration of that one poem scrawled across that one page, now he can simply be.
But then the poem finishes.
The page ends.
And the man, all alone with himself upon his quiet rocker, feels a twinge and pull upon his cheek.
It is a pond bug.
Gentle and near unnoticed, this little menace crept upon that light autumn breeze. It flew over the fallen leaves and brush, seeking him out. And while the man sat there with his nostalgic nonchalance and pondered delicately his memories of old, the bug sat upon his cheek to draw his blood, his very life, from him.
I am that man.
That bug is a foul menace that gnaws at my body, my blood, my mind at every instance in which I let down my guard to take in a poem from Rumi, or look upon a beautiful new face who I’d like to get to know, or at the very instant that one piece that I’m writing, one poem, one essay or idea suddenly begins to feel perfect.
I am that man who wishes for little more to sit in a box in the woods as Thoreau. What joy I feel in my heart when I think of the humble life.
Perhaps I could take out a modest loan and place a shop in town, or erect a school where students of some discipline could learn and converse, build and share their own gifts with the world beyond the walls of that building.
I am that man who could groom his own loving children to, just maybe, become strong and do the work of their callings in their own loving ways.
It’s always been like this, friend.
As far back as I can remember, this has been the push and pull of my own wants and wills: not conscious and chosen but a soul-bound destiny that sickens me one day and invigorates me the next. I tell myself, I could be content with so little: my errant dreams I could choose to quiet, and with all my heart and passion and intentions and the little worldly talent that I could muster, I could shut out the entire world and all its people save for a select few.
I could fall into a love that’s not perfect, but tell myself it was.
Then I could start a family with her.
I could swallow my pride to take up a conventional career. Perhaps I could muster the ability to make ends meet. To live a life that’s quiet and content, and sit upon a silent rocker that overlooks a humble pond.
Perhaps I could ask my imagination to not think so boldly. For my thoughts and dreams to be less boisterous.
Maybe I could fall to my knees more often than I already do and to pray to a Christian God or a Muslim God or a Buddhist God or a Hindu God or any God that might have me and condemn aloud my own uncontrollable desire for purpose and passion and well-oiled living.
Maybe I could call those errant wishes the Devil’s play.
Maybe I could allow the bug to bite upon my cheek and suck the very life from my own skin and say that it’s karmic justice exacting revenge upon my soul for transgressions and sinful deeds and other wrongdoings my spirit has committed in a past life.
Maybe if I told those things to myself, the endless chatter would quiet.
Maybe I wouldn’t want to write books that last a millennium.
Maybe then I could be happy with all the perfection and comfort around me.
Maybe then I could just sit and read my favorite book and feel God and be okay with that.
Maybe then I could stop myself from stressing each sentence as it might be read by an unborn generation; I could forget pondering the historical implications and cultural reinterpretations of what I’m now saying upon lives yet lived.
Maybe then I could let go. Say “fuck it” some more, just like my grandma Ida used to say, and just make do with what I’ve got around me.
Maybe then I could just breathe.
Maybe then I wouldn’t have waited upon the last girl to’ve said goodbye until I told her that I loved her.
Maybe then I wouldn’t look for queues in the stars to approve of what I’m saying.
And maybe I could watch young wrinkles turn old in the mirror. Another autumn come after a long, humid summer and smell the smells of falling leaves and an entire earth exhaling. Maybe I could stack books three stories high and just read them. In a quiet wooden rocker. With sounds of the forest surrounding, singing.
But then the bug comes back.
And I think to just how badly I wish that *I* could read an entire collection of thoughts and memories, stories and lessons from my grandma Ida throughout her life. I think to how badly I wish could know the ancestors of mine who I never knew; if I could see myself in their words, worries and determination to just be and breathe.
Maybe they wrote, maybe they dreamed, maybe they thought as I do.
But I’ll never know. And if I don’t, will those who come after me wonder the same?
I just can’t believe that that bug only exists to draw the life out of me.
I just refuse to believe that I exist in this single, one-chance existence to serve as a feeding tube to a predatory leach–a pest that chides and derides an entire species capable of so much.
Is a bug just a bug upon the face of some man sitting in the woods with a red leather-bound book in his lap? Is it really a cosmic punishment for some wrong that’s already done and gone? Is it really a mathematical equation balanced and counterbalanced by some universal accountant who calculates, subtracts and divides to maintain some bland, boring, predictable equilibrium?
Or does a bug fly to the face of a man meant for more, and sit upon his cheek when he’s not looking for it, just to bite down and suck the blood from his face to give him a swollen reminder of what he’s really here for?
Is a silent bug any more or less likely to be a messenger of God than me?
Is that biting bug a representation of an inclination that I cannot see but can suddenly feel–an irresistible urge, an uncontrollable burn that makes me scratch the very skin off of my face so that I might shed this complacent identity that sits on a rocker in the woods and tells himself, yes, that the sounds of a pond can help him hear God?
That’s what, for so long, I felt like no one could understand about me.
What I couldn’t share with a friend over a beer or three on a weekend night in New York City.
What I was once so terrified to tell to a girl who I loved because she might not love back “this me” that she never got to truly see.
For so long, the rhythms in my head used to scare me. What my heart pulled at me to believe once made me feel crazy–I feared they might lock me up and throw away the key when they read this, and cite it as indisputable evidence in a courtroom testimony.
Until I realized,
We are all just curious bees hovering around a visage of God, so desperate but worried to get closer to it.
God’s not the one swinging and thrashing at us when we approach it. That’s just what we fear.
We fear that something bigger and scarier and more uncertain than what we know will violently burst out and swing at us, us menacing little bugs.
We exist to be messengers for one another–as each of us strive to find our own way. We swoop across the faces of our complacent counterparts with a biting queue, just to wake them up from time to time. Others do it for us, too. Stranger’s eyes meet, and love ensues. Paths cross and entwine. Friendships. Family. Books upon books, consumed and shared a billion times over.
Each instance is it’s own biting mosquito: a nuisance of a reminder that you are you–that you’re here, and that that is enough.
So I’ll keep writing these words wondering what my great, great, great grandson will say. I’ll think if how I behave today might color and shade the reaction of a pretty, red-haired girl who sits upon a park bench in some green corner of the world when she hears that, today, the writer named Ursillo has passed away.
And all so she might think to herself, “I cannot even imagine that old man once young, sitting alone in a box in the woods on a lonesome afternoon–a bug at his face, a beer in his mug, and tears in his eyes, with only his own listless worries by his side, saying: `I wonder what she might say of me.`”
But I do.
Here I am.
I’m not worried that I’ll die and be forgotten. Or that she might misinterpret what I’ve written.
What I want is for her to sit by herself on that park bench, that she might think to herself that she’s, “Glad he didn’t settle for being bitten, or think that living in the woods was truly living, or sit back and accept what lot he’s been given.”
And maybe as she sits there thinking on the memory of a dead old man who’s pen has fallen for one last time, her thoughts wondering and her memories running on, that a sneaky bug will silently settle upon her cheek.
And maybe, just maybe, instead of feeling content with the smell of the pine needles and shrubs around that bench–instead of feeling totally content with the scent of autumn dancing in those memorably scents–that she’ll take up her hand and swat the fucker to death.
And with that hand, that she’ll take up her own pen.
Because I did.
And because merely reading my poem in the red leather-bound book in her lap will never feel enough.
Because that silent bug will this time be me.
I’ll let her swinging hand crush me.
It’s why I’m here, after all.
I’m a messenger. A conduit. A channel through which messages flow.
And just when you think you’ve “made it” in life or work or love and when you’re content enough to place your rump on a rocker and sit back and say, “This is enough,” I’ll come along and I’ll bite you.
To wake you. To shake you. And you can smash the hell out of me in anger.
I won’t blame you.
I’m a messenger. A pest. A writer-inflamer.
Biting you is what I’m here to do.