“Glioblastoma? It always comes back,” Doctor Doom says as he leans way to far into my space.
“Three months if you do nothing,” says the neurosurgeon from another planet. “Eighteen months if you have a craniotomy, radiation, and chemo.”
Why is it these docs love to measure the threads of our lives?
I do what I’m told, fully realizing that their calibration in between the lines is “don’t expect much more.”
I’m at thirteen months and counting.
Like a fisher I cast my line into the dark swift current. the further I can recalibrate my life and the length of it. The further my fly drifts downstream into the future, Only instead of reeling the fish back to me, the fish reels me forward into the future.
The California prisoner realizes that if he takes a three-credit college course, he will get time knocked off his sentence. Calibrations flip in the trampoline of his mind. He could be home by Thanksgiving if he rushed through this stupid English course. It couldn’t be harder than doing time, right?
Only he runs into a professor who actually wants him to learn, read, and write. She wants him to swim in the deep currents, not wade in the shallows. Work is sent back marked up in blue ink — sloppy, incomplete, not following instructions, plagiarism. He doesn’t want to recalibrate. He doesn’t want to measure up. Damnit to hell. What does the bitch want from me? I just wanna go home.
We lock down. We open up. We lock down again as Covid forces us to recalibrate its powerful hold on us, recalibrate our resilience and fortitude, recalibrate our patience, recalibrate our ability to take the long view, the eagle’s view from which all our frustration, anger, drama, and posturing are reduced to warring anthills.
But many refuse to see the big picture. They refuse to recalibrate. They resist change, even though the energy required to resist is the same amount of energy required to change. They insist on partying; opening up schools; conducting business as usual, even if it means drilling in (and ruining) wildlife refuges; denying climate change even as ice caps melt, oceans overheat and storms unleash their fury. Most of all they insist on their American right to not wear a mask, as if triggered by some primal fear of being smothered.
Those in the highest towers of power calibrate for endless growth; never mind that it is cancerous. They hold civil discussions about acceptable losses among the vulnerable and elderly, students and teachers, and certainly the most disposable of all: prisoners. They grit their perfect teeth and declare with false gravitas that the cold hard truth is that some suckers are going to die.
Profit before people, profit before the planet: this is their unspeakably callous calibration. But what’s unspoken is the assumption that they are immune. The fates wouldn’t dare snip their threads. It won’t happen to them.
A young coyote walks by the studio but doesn’t see me as I stand polishing the marble seashell. The sun is too bright, the shadows too dappled. I am as still and quiet as the stone. The coyote doesn’t sense me until it is about ten feet away and still doesn’t really spot me, but something sends its nerve endings ablaze with calibrations of danger. It darts into the corral and through the barb wire fence and then races off into the chamisa before wheeling around and staring back at me.
In that moment of staring at the young coyote, a hummingbird buzzes my face, probing my neck and chest, looking for the nectar that must be emanating from my dusty and faded red work shirt. Its tiny heart beats on overdrive. The color is right but this is no gigantic jackpot flower. Recalibrating, it whirs away.
How do we recalibrate our lives when every standard of measuring civility and decency is called into question? When our elders die alone? When brown children are held in cages? When the worth of certain lives falls short of the mark? When our sons are shot seven times in the back and when a 17-year-old armed boy struts unchallenged? When politicians on both sides of the aisle are fountains of lies and corruption, when Native Americans are still expected to be grateful for crumbs, when protesters are seen as un-American even though protest runs deep in our collective soul, the ground we stand on.
When I have the blues, I cannot recalibrate. I can hardly lift my feet, let alone spread my wings. I need the 30,000 foot view to appreciate the scale of life, to see/feel the curve of our Earth, the celestial events of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset and all the planets, stars and galaxies as they spin in their glory relative to our little home planet. My recalibration envisions a global awakening in which we base all present and future calibrations on the fact that we are all in this together— fish, eagles, ants, coyotes, hummingbirds, and humans of every hue living on a blue/green/brown, pulsing sentient jewel of a planet: one of the few that is actually habitable… at least for now.