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Andrew D. Hughes Blog

Catbird Song

It was just before four o’clock in the morning when the catbird started singing.

It was still dark.

And I wished that I had that courage,

that dignity,

that standing,

that wisdom,

to burst into song,

at the mere anticipation of something beautiful.

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Sidewalk

The night is as dark as the cracks in the sidewalk beneath my torn sneakers. I am going somewhere.  Somehow, even a busy turnpike can find the courage to be silent on a night like this. Maybe it’s the modest hum of my heart’s string section, or the electric murmur of the power lines above that lull me into this blissful state of consciousness: equal parts rainy funeral and first day of summer.

Behind me, the city’s lights bleed through fog, asking me questions I never want to answer. So I continue walking, step over sure-footed step, until an elderly black woman crosses my path. Fate locks our eyes and throws away the key. Only hindsight will offer me a glimpse of the raggedy blankets that twist around her body. But in the present moment, I can only see her eyes shooting through the night: walls of wet paint encased in a stern glare of milky suspicion and oily sorrow. I have never seen this woman, but she knows me from the inside out, and has walked enough silent turnpikes to distrust a stranger so inherently depraved.

Her unrelenting suspicion pushes me off the concrete; my shoes sink into a thin gloss of mud. I know better than to share her sidewalk. It’s the only thing she owns.

An hour passes, and I’m lying on a hotel bed, looking at the empty, white ceiling stained from cigarette smoke. I’m both warm and safe, and she’s neither. And I can’t help but feel a little guilty, watching the world from within my nest of human technology. Not everyone was given the chance I was given.

No, she’s probably still out there walking, step over hesitant step, living perpetually in her footprints. She is going nowhere. It begins to rain, a drop at a time, and I wonder what the city lights speak to her. And if they have anything to say at all, I wonder if she even remembers how to listen.

Whale Sharks and Life

All of a sudden, it was there.
I never saw it coming.
Perhaps it was the hammerheads and sawfish that had averted my gaze toward the far side of the 6-million gallon Georgia aquarium tank in which I swam. Either way, I was not prepared for either the proximity or the emotional power of the encounter.
I found myself abruptly on the back of Rhincodon typus, its mosaic blue and silver skin pattern shimmering in the light. The animal’s head and then dorsal fins brushed against my stomach. I stretched my arms out flat and floated still, breathing deeply through my regulator as the enormous creature cruised beneath me.
I was awestruck.
And either beads of salt water had leaked through my goggles, or I was weeping.
Any shade of nervousness I had carried into the tank had dissolved in the water, completely replaced by the hypnotic enchantment a man knows when he is touched by something bigger than himself.
The huge, sweeping tail fin caught my flipper and gently pushed my leg out of its way. I remained motionless as the animal turned and floated out of sight.
Maybe you’re unimpressed by the thought of swimming with the world’s biggest fish.
But it’s moments like this that shoot the electric force of the universe through my veins. Think I’m exaggerating? Swim with a whale shark.
The gentle giant circled back and passed by again. I got a glimpse of its eye: a tiny, ancient-looking disk that, just for a moment, begged me to question whether or not I was truly awake or even alive.
And I realized how beautiful life is. I wondered why people ever become busy, or just sit at home, when things like this not only exist but can actually be seen and enjoyed.
I wondered why boredom exists and why people are so unhappy with life when life itself seems so happy with them.
But as life unfolds, I realize that choosing to be anything less than hopeful and satisfied is a most short-sighted parameter.
So let’s instead seek the beautiful things in life. Dare to dream and believe that there is something, somewhere, ready and waiting to lift our weary hearts from the monotony of our daily lives.
And all of a sudden, it will be there.
You’ll never see it coming.

The Deer

The mountain fog engulfed the quiet stands of beech and oak, revealing only hints of their gnarled and twisted outlines. The air was dead and silent, and icy flakes of cloud particles clung to our faces. The smell of frozen earth beckoned us to continue the winding ascent. Time lost its meaning, distance its power. The peak, we assumed, was only a brief walk ahead, but at this elevation, slightly lower oxygen levels added strain to every step.
We paused, listening. Our gasping breaths were the only sound on earth. I turned toward Daniel; his gentle brown eyes matched the woodland’s every hue. We dared not speak; the silence seemed for a moment to hold the universe in place.
Finally, a white-tailed doe came bounding toward us from the depths of the fog. She barreled through the air–up, down, up, down–ascending with grace and descending with power. Her tar-black hooves stabbed the soil and splashed dirt across the trail. She strode gallantly past us–almost oblivious–from one wall of fog into another, until she dissolved, dreamlike, into the ether of cloud on the far side of the trail. The sound of her footsteps lingered for a moment more, either in the distance or an echo or merely in the magic of our memories, and then she was gone.

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