Thirty-five years ago, my sister was born on the living-room floor. Thus did the Age of Aquarius give way to an epoch of granola and other homemade life lessons. Food now appeared in ancient glass jars with “Mason” blazed across the front. Warming up in the winter suddenly had nothing to do with the thermostat and everything to do with straw-sized wood shavings hacked from a petrified piece of old growth forest stored in the back shed. Dad called it kindling – as in “hey boy, get on out there in that minus thirty-four degree, zero-visibility blizzard and whip us up some kindling.” Today, they just call it crimes against humanity. I was ten.
The spring my youngest sibling arrived was also disco‘s breakout year. Maybe that’s why the girl came ass-first. “It’s going to be breech,” Dr. Tim said, looking up at my father. “I’ll need a couple of hot, wet towels.” My eight-year-old sister and I, sitting in our strategic spot six feet behind Mom, looked at each other. Breech? We had no clue. What we did recognize though, as weekly worshippers at the alter of Quincy, M.E., was the dramatic furrow in the good doctor’s forehead. This was the part where the music always got louder before they cut away to a commercial.
I got up an hour earlier every day this week, to write. I wanted to catch a wave of inspiration before the cell doors opened and muddied the water. Outside the concrete bars, a single-parent family of swallows screamed their off-key ode to daylight. In the courtyard, a lone shrub – too arthritic for one so young – shivered in the morning breeze. Its sun-mottled leaves writhed on their bones.
Fall is a perplexing time. How can something so muddled and unruly be so beautiful? My wife, Mercedes, says it has something to do with what South Asians call vata – one of the three characteristics of Ayurveda. Me, I just think that water seeks its own level. Of all the seasons, the one most like us is the season of dying.
Everywhere you look, the universe is a hot mess. Or so say we. Compared to the Soviet-style architecture of a cellblock, my sister’s entrance into the world was a structural chaos of goo. Next to the measured seating of a courtroom, star nebulas look phlegm from the gods. And if CSI (the new Quincy) has taught us anything scientific, it’s that life’s end is just as mushy and borderless as its beginning – no matter how organized a double helix is. Doesn’t it make you wonder how, in such a squishy cosmos, we ever imagined the idea of an efficient and ordered justice system?
It’s not hard to tell that the world we live in has been overrun by accountants. Accountants hate a mess. That’s why morality – forever the messy model – has been a swap out for economy, with its jackboot columns of zero’s and ones. In Canada, for those who don’t get in line, there is a whole new Bible full of minimum-mandatory prison sentences. Six pot plants? Six months in jail mister – no matter their size or how they ended up in your garden. My poor mother. My grade nine science class experiment (germination) would have put her in the clink for sure. Especially after I planted the results in her front yard flower garden. Then again, with two teenagers and a five-year-old Madonna-wanna-be stealing her sanity at home, a state-sponsored sabbatical may have been the sort of sweepstakes win she wouldn’t have griped about. The biggest guarantee of failure for the world we have created – political, economic, social, and otherwise – is that it isn’t real. Humans fart. That’s real. And when they do, sometimes it smells bad. Bottling it, labeling it and lining them up on a shelf for the whole world to count won’t change that. Opening a window might. Just don’t be surprised if it’s raining when you do. Life’s like that.