Kicking the Bucket List

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The term “bucket list” has been loosely thrown around since 2007, the year that Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in the film of the same name. The term was coined by the film’s screenwriter, Justin Zackham, and it refers to a list of things a person wants to do before they die.

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Coming up with one’s own personal bucket list differs greatly from person to person, depending upon the type of person one happens to be.  Some approach the task with serious thought, adding such things as “see the Pope” or “visit Alaska” to their list.  Others long for the improbable dream, such as “meet Paul McCartney” or “play center field for the Yankees.  While a third group opts for the hedonistic pleasures of life, such as “date a Playboy bunny” or “eat bacon until I pass out.” Each list reflects the innermost desires of the individual, and can be quite revealing – sometimes in disturbing ways.

Agoraphobics have bucket lists, too. Those more seriously-afflicted may opt for goals that might seem simple to everyone else.  They might find ultimate elation in being able to attend their daughter’s wedding, being able to speak in public, or leaving the house without a panicky feeling in the stomach.

The more progress I make in dealing with my agoraphobia, the more I find myself adding things to my bucket list.  My goals expand with my increasing ability to leave my home and to deal with crowds of people. This blog entry is dedicated to my accomplishing something on my bucket list this past summer: taking the boat ride at the foot of Niagara Falls.

I had wanted to do this for some time; but I always kept the secret of this desire to myself.  This past summer, I shared it – and once I did, there was no backing out. I packed my bags and my satchel full of stomach-soothing products, stuffed my passport into my pocket, and headed to Canada with my wife, knowing that, even if she couldn’t soothe my nerves, she would hold my stuff while I upchucked. It was a good plan.

Getting across the border was the first hurdle.  Although I have nothing to hide, for some strange reason I think I will wind up trying force an innocent-looking face upon myself and therefore look like a criminal. I calmed my nerves by telling myself that my wife could hold my stuff while I was being strip-searched.  It was another plan.

Once across the border and settled into Niagara Falls, we walked toward the rushing sounds of the water and the blood-curdling screams of the people drowning in the choppy water at the base of the falls. I began to get nervous.  I prepared my stuff for handing over to my wife.

We located the boat tour service, “Capt. Pepe’s Niagara Falls Tours,” and got in line along with the hundreds of others, who no doubt had similar lists and people to hold their stuff. I gazed at the sign that read “The most scenic tour of the Falls as voted by Daredevil Magazine. Double your money back if you drown.” I began to have doubts.

We paid our money, and a man with a sly smile on his face handed us a flimsy red plastic poncho, no doubt to be used to locate you if you fell overboard. He handed everyone a piece of paper with instructions not to take anything with you that you “cared about” and a disclaimer in case of bodily injury.  Looks like Capt. Pepe was off the hook.

Paying customers were then herded down a steep, slick ramp and shoved onto a boatniagara-1 where we stood elbow to elbow awaiting departure – in one way or another. Then, a voice came over a loudspeaker with further instructions:

“This is Capt. Ed.  I want to welcome you to your official tour of the rapids at Niagara Falls.”

Rapids?  Did he say rapids?” I asked my wife, who shot me a dirty look.

Capt. Ed continued, “I would like to express my sincerest of thanks to all of you aboard, as this is my first trip since the accident.”

I started looking for the exit, but there was none.  A crewman had chained us in.

“Now for the emergency instructions in case we capsize,” said Capt. Ed. “You will find flotation vests in a cabinet marked “DISASTER” in the center of the boat.

“Where?  Where are the vests?” I asked.  Then I noticed that they were in a large chest with people sitting on it.  I closed my eyes and said ten Hail Mary’s.

niagara-4Then, the boat took off – straight for the Falls – and the rocks.

The roar of the water grew louder, and I couldn’t hear a thing. I looked skyward and saw all sorts of swarming gulls and buzzards, looking full and fat, no doubt from frequent meals at the base of the falling water grave site.

I took out the tiny camera from my pocket and began snapping pictures – for evidence. I kept snapping until the water soaked my eyeglasses to the point where I could no longer see.  I tried looking underneath them, and I could see that we had navigated past the American Falls, a long, horizontal waterfall on out left, and were now headed straight for the center of the Horseshoe Falls, and a watery death.

I kept snapping pictures blindly because I knew that if I survived, it would make a niftyniagara-6 blog entry. When we got precariously close to the center, I returned the camera to my pocket, handed the rest of my stuff to my wife, and hung on for dear life as the boat listed from side to side.

From that point on, I could not tell what was happening.  Every part of me that was not under the poncho was soaked.  I didn’t dare try to clean my glasses for fear of dropping them into the water. Soon, the boat stopped rocking and I could sense we were turning around.  The din of the water stopped and my stomach un-clenched.  Finally, when I had enough balance to avoid falling, I wiped off my glasses and enjoyed the view on the way back.

I had done it!  I survived the trip past the Falls!  What a magnificent adventure!  Here are some photos of the fun…

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Reflection Day 2016

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Today is Reflection Day, and as we Americans do (in numbers to embarrassing to list), we take this day to reflect upon the past and make decisions that will impact our future, and the future of generations to come.

img-004It was morning time when I made my decision. I stepped out of my house and a crisp surge of air filled my lungs, snapping me to alertness. The sun shined brightly despite the temperature, sharing its abundance of vitamin D enriched optimism. I decided to drive around town and take in the day before I started my work.  I wanted to linger in a positive feeling that I had done my part to help provide a decent and promised-filled life complete with fairness, equality, and happiness for everyone.

During my drive, my mind wandered to philosophical thoughts, and some old adages (as opposed to new adages) entered the equation that I was forming inside my brain. The first adage was “knowledge is power.”

I smiled, agreeing with this notion.  I gave myself a mental pat on the back, knowing that Iimg-001 tried to use knowledge to make my decision today. It was a good and positive feeling that kept in line with my positive day.  Then, the second adage crept into my head, knocking me off kilter.

“Ignorance is bliss.”

What was I to do?  What did it mean?”  Did the two statements, when put together, harbor a foreboding message? My day began to unravel.

Did the sentences contain a warning for me? Did I have to choose between power and blissfulness? Surely the two could co-exist, couldn’t they? But it’s impossible to be both knowledgeable and ignorant – isn’t it?

Perhaps, not.

img-003I have completed school, and yet I have a burning passion to learn new things every day – and I do. I can get all the information I need to know from books, my computer, and the evening news. And I can close a book, disconnect from the internet, and turn off the evening news when they start telling me about the latest fender-bender in Sri Lanka, or the commercials warn me that I will contract 10 diseases in the next 2 years, so I better ask my doctor for another pill. I can learn whatever else I need to know by LIVING.

Do I want to bury my head in the sand simply to be happy?  No. That would be selfish, unfair to everyone I come across during the course of my life, and a waste of human potential. So what is the answer?

The answer is found in the task that we are all called upon to do: acquire the power of img-005knowledge but use it in a blissful way. Steer clear of the trappings of negativity, as they only provide a false, empty bliss. Use knowledge that is love-focused and bliss shall follow.

This is my thought on this Reflection Day 2016.  May all your knowledge be centered in love, and all your decisions be wise. And now I am off to seek more blissful knowledge.

The Creepy Guy in the Doctor’s Waiting Room

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I don’t usually pay attention to the people around me at the doctor’s office.  It makes me uncomfortable, and has even been known to spawn panic attacks.

I do not look at these people and I try equally hard not to listen to them. I do not want to hear how bad their liver is, how bad their finger is infected, or what organs might pop out of them at any moment. All I want to do is to hide in my cocoon until they call my name.  This is how I cope.

Another thing that helps me is taking something with me to do.  I either take a book to read or a pad and pen with which I can write.  And that is what I was doing when he showed up: the creepy guy in the waiting room.

I was deep in thought, half-way through writing a short story, when he burst through the door. Normally, I would only notice this out of the corner of my eye, except that he stomped his feet, shook the rain of his clothes, and said in a loud tone, “Whoa, it’s raining cats and dogs out there!”

My head rose from my work, turned his way, and then returned to the important business of ignoring people. Then he sat down directly across from me, barely 5 feet away. He settled into his chair with a “whoo, huh-umph,” and slid his legs toward me, his knee high khaki boots dangling in my field of vision.

He was distracting me.

His attention next turned to the television screen, a 40-inch flat panel which dangled precariously over a fake fireplace, designed to make patients feel warmer without actually spending any money on heat. Rachel Ray was busy cooking a mac and cheese dish, and apparently my waiting room buddy hadn’t eaten in weeks.

“Woo-wee! Man, that looks good!” he said loudly. “Mmmmm—mmmmmm. I gotta get me some.”

Again I looked up, glanced at the screen, and hid myself in my work after that. I was beginning to lose focus, and I could feel the butterflies starting to take wing in my stomach, as the guy launched into his routine.

I wasn’t sure if the man suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome or not, because he could not keep quiet, and I think that’s one of the symptoms of the disease. And this lively fellow, instead of saying words, uttered incoherent multisyllabic phrases approximately every 30 seconds.

“Arbledovoo,” he said.

I tried ignoring that.

“Foowowsingalla!” came next one, only louder.

Each elongated vowel sound made it increasingly harder to ignore him – plus, now I was trying to decipher his language as if I was Tom Hanks and his words offered the clues to avoiding Armageddon.

“Ballazallaploo!”

That was it.  My focus was completely shattered.  I stared him up and down, taking a good look at his appearance. My calmness was no more. I noticed him, a skinny man of around 75 years of age with a long Santa Claus beard, hunting cap, and camouflage clothes.

Okay, break over, I told myself.  But it was no use.  I would have to find another way to cope with the distractions, which continued as Rachel switched to making dessert.

Apparently, “Combat Santa” was ADHD, too. He could not sit still for five seconds. He loudly stomped his feet as if at a hoedown and fidgeted in his chair.

I became frightened. What if he started singing – or worse? What if he wanted to talk to me? Panic rose from my stomach and began infecting my brain.  Thoughts of switching my doctor’s appointment entered my brain.  After all, a fever of 104 wasn’t so bad, was it?  I could wait.

Just as I was about to make a bolt for the door, a lucky break came: Combat Santa was called upon by one of the nurses.  I was saved.  I didn’t have to go home after all.  I would live to see another day.

I relaxed back in my chair and loosened the vice grip my fingers had on its arms.  I told myself to calm down, and to try and make the best of the bad situation.  Sure, the guy broke my concentration and affected my relaxation technique.  But on the bright side, I could turn a lemon into lemonade – I could write an awesome blog entry out of this!

Twenty minutes later, I was my old relaxed self again, happy and confident that the day would be productive and that I had survived the ordeal. Then, the nurse swung the door open, called my name and said, “Combat Santa will see you now.”

Some days you just gotta smile – or else.

Green Lakes Monster

green-lakes-monsterI think I may have spotted the elusive Green Lakes Monster during my outing yesterday

The Beauty Above

the-beauty-aboveSometimes we are so focused on what is in front of us that we miss the beauty which is right above our heads.

Lakeshore Flora

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Nature’s Patterns

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Lakeshore

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Shoreline at Green Lakes State Park, New York

Autumn Symmetry

autumn-symmetryGreen Lakes State Park, New York

Autumn Reflection

autumn-reflectionGreen Lakes State Park, New York

I’m All Ears: The Joy of Being a Good Listener

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I’m All Ears: The Joy of Being a Good Listener

I haven’t blogged in a while, and I have been kicking myself about it. Sure, I write it on my to-do list every single week, right there at spot # 47 in big block letters it says “BLOG.” There it sits, in between #46, “go grocery shopping” and #48, “computer maintenance.” But every week, I only manage to get 46 things done at most, so I haven’t been blogging and my computer is a mess. And anything lower down on the list, well just forget about it.

Yes, now you know.  I have been neglecting you. And that’s pretty bad.  But what’s even worse is that I let it bother me, just like it was my responsibility to decipher the puzzle that is today’s world and report back to my loyal fans with tons and tons of tips and advice. I didn’t do that, so I started feeling like a bad person.

Until…

Yesterday it dawned on me that blogging is just like having a conversation, albeit mostly one-sided. I write and you read is our online way of saying I talk and you listen. So, in reality, all that means is that I haven’t talked in a while – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all.

There is an old saying (I believe we have old sayings because a lot of them are true) and it says something like: “If you don’t have anything good (or nice) to say, don’t say anything at all.” And since all my followers are geniuses, I am certain that you can already see where this is going.

Why should I blog if I don’t have anything to say? Why should I talk and talk (or write and write) without meaning or message?  I shouldn’t.

Another old saying tells me that “God gave us 2 ears and only 1 mouth so that we should listen twice as much as we speak.”  Of course I had it all wrong and thought we had 2 ears so we could enjoy music in stereo, then again what do I know?

I know this: a life without listening is a life without learning. It is a life without trying to improve one’s self.  And it is a life without empathy for others.  That is not a life that I want to live.

So, when you ask me why I have not blogged in a while, I can simply tell you that I have been busy listening, and that I am enjoying it very much!

SMILE!!!

Bogged Down in Beauty

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Sterling Nature Center, New York