Christmas Magic

Christmas 2006 © Stephen Bruno

Yesterday I took a break from packing and then visited a nearby restaurant for the first time.  A waitress in her 30’s came and took my meal order to go and kindly offered to bring me something to drink while I waited.

After a while, she returned and began a friendly conversation. I learned that she was from Tennessee, which explained her accent. She added that her husband and children were still there while she was staying with her father in Colorado who was ill and challenged with cancer.

I could tell that she deeply missed her family in Tennessee.

“I’m glad I’m sharing the holidays with my father, and that he is not alone now. We are very close.”

We talked more about her father’s health issues and how she flies back home for a quick visit whenever she can.

“I could never leave my father alone for long while he goes through his illness. My father does not have family or friends or anyone in Colorado to take care of him, and even if I could afford to pay someone, I would never do that. He is family, and I need to do what is right by being here no matter how long.”

She became busy with other customers and then returned with my meal telling me that she added an extra amount of salad for me.

I looked deeply in her eyes with compassion and connecting with her essence, and I asked her a question.

“Do you believe in Christmas magic?”

“I do believe in Christmas magic,” she said without hesitation.

“I believe you have some Christmas magic coming to you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, you have earned it.”

“What’s your name?”

“Stephen.”

“I’m Kate. It is nice to meet you.”

With a parting glance over my shoulder, we smiled with our connection and nodded in spiritual understanding.

Given what I know about sharing Christmas magic, I knew that this was one Christmas she would remember for many years.

Compassion & Perspective Makes a Difference

‘Window Dressing’ 2007 © Stephen Bruno

Many years ago, the city where I lived considered me a suicidologist and I was interviewed on television networks by reporters after someone killed themselves, especially if the individual was a teenager or younger.

The same major television network reporter frequently interviewed me and, we struck up a working friendship in spite of the traumatic circumstances. She was always very professional and directed her questions about what people can do to prevent suicides and how to help loved ones when a suicide occurred.

She was one of those reporters you probably have seen with her hair coiffed, perfect attire, attractive in the classic TV personality way, and always expressing a professional attitude. She had the ‘window dressing’ composure and style.

Uncharacteristically after one interview on camera, she pulled me aside away from the television crew.

“I don’t understand how someone can become so distressed and depressed that they want to kill themselves. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

I shared my thoughts behind the reasons that people can become so despondent that they view suicide as their only acceptible alternative.

“I don’t think I will ever understand how someone would throw away their life when there are always alternatives and possibilities with support to help them move forward in their life.”

I offered her my professional experiences working with people who had reached their mental and emotional limits and viewed suicide as their last resort. I could tell that she was unable to relate to their desperation and she was interpreting their behavior from a more intellectual perspective.

A few months later I was again interviewed by the same reporter after someone in the city committed suicide. She was as usual very professional and objective in her television interview questions, but I sensed something was different.

The interview took place in my backyard near where our horses lived, and she asked if we could walk around the paddock and away from the camera crew. I was curious about what she wanted to talk about, and I waited patiently as we silently walked together.

“I get it now. I understand how someone can reach such a level of despair that a person does not feel it’s possible to ever get past the feelings of desperation and helplessness.”

She then haltingly described a recent family situation that shook her to the core resulting in her feeling for the first time in her life suicidal. It was an amazing transformation of this always professional person who prided herself on perfection and control, now privately exhibiting her vulnerability in all of her honesty and sensitivity.

I supported her with compassion on moving beyond her traumatic reactions and finding ways to embrace the changes necessary so that she could move forward in the natural, grounded way.

The next time she came to interview me about a young person who had killed himself, I noticed that her interview approach was different. There was a depth of compassion and understanding that had not been there before. Her questions were more meaningful and her responses, while still professional, were more personal and thoughtful.

We never spoke about how she was different, and we didn’t need to have that discussion. It was a life transformed by trauma, compassion, and perspective. Every interview from that day on was embraced with the sparkle in her eye emerging from her soul and the partial smile that said it all.

 

 

Not Exactly My Finer Moments.

Mallard Duck, 2016 © Stephen Bruno

Many years ago, I was the Publisher and Editor of the Arizona Literary Review, a monthly literary, art, and photography magazine. Today I was sorting through some of my papers for better organization when I found a copy of the June 1992 issue of the magazine. It was a bit of nostalgia to look through Arizona Literary Review.

While looking at this June issue this morning, I valued high-quality literary, art, and photography that people submitted. When I created the magazine, I imagined that it would eventually reach across the country. I had no idea that people as far away as Paris, France would subscribe and send their submissions, including well-established authors.  As a writer, artist, and photographer It was a pleasure providing opportunities for contributors to be published, some for the first time. Decades later, I happened to meet a neighbor who reminded me that I published his photography in the first issue of the Arizona Literary Review. This visibility started his professional career, and he became a renown photographer.

I read an article in the issue that I wrote in my column, From the Publisher & Editor titled, I Fell in Love with Marie Antoinette, about imagination, creativity, and sometimes not taking ourselves too seriously. I would like to share this with you in my blog post as I believe there is still some relevance.

When we fall in love, I believe that the latent characters who normally reside passively within our psyche suddenly emerge. Our emotions intensify creating illusions of reality. Romantic songs play “just for us,” and the world revolves around our immediate needs and desires. You know the sense when the flowers are brighter, the air is crisper, and the birds sing sweeter.

With creativity, passion is also aroused and inhibited, equally often without satisfactory resolution. The quality of this relationship to creativity determines how we share our passion. Sometimes it is expressed by writing, photography, painting, dance, or music.

There are moments when I can recall a furtive glance by an inquisitive squirrel; the whooshing sound of wind embracing the tall pines; the distinctive aroma of summer blossoms, and cherished memories for a high school sweetheart. The haunting words and melodic rhythm of the 60s song, We got to get out of this place, revive the indelible melancholy and mania for my 14-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Then these memories vaporize just as suddenly.

My passion is to understand how this lingering tenderness in such sensorial experiences manifests itself in unrestricted drawing, painting, writing, and photography. I feel drawn into and captivated by this intimate involvement with my raw emotions in an undefined desire for creativity.

The arduous process of establishing an authentic relationship with creativity is an intimate, passionate process. Having our work published is a collective external experience. Poetry, fiction, photography, music, dance, and drama caress the heart soul and spirit. As an artist, writer, and photographer I appreciate the creative depth from others who also enjoy these mediums.

Relationships real or imagined are a wealth of resources for story, character, and plot development. Several years ago, I indifferently requested a book on Marie Antoinette through a popular book club. To my astonishment, I identified with her struggles, dreams, losses, adventures, letters, and trauma dramas.

I began writing a historical novel reflecting on the essence of Marie Antoinette.  The positive elements of her life and personality that are less known. Sometime during that year, I fell in love with Marie Antoinette and rediscovered my creative passion soon after I published the Arizona Literary Review. Many years earlier as Editor-Chief of my college newspaper I produced the weekly publications with great enthusiasm, but without as much passion.

I believe that we stimulate our inspiration when we experience the unusual in the familiar. In my thirties, at an airline terminal, I sketched on an imaginary drawing pad the divergence of passengers waiting to board a flight. I observed their mannerisms, conversations, and facial features which I committed to memory for later retrieval in one of my novels.

Startled out of my reverie of character sketching, I heard the last few words of my flight’s departure announcement in the loudspeaker. Reaching for my portable art bin, I remembered that the drawings and art supplies were imaginary.

Feeling chagrined, I hurried past all the passengers to the front of the line along the tarmac towards the America West Airlines aircraft so that I could get the window seat that I preferred. At that time no one had assigned seating. Unlike at many airports today, everyone walked along the tarmac and climbed the mobile stairs to board the aircraft.

Consumed with my recent creative energy and overly stimulated imagination, I climbed the portable stairs leading to the aircraft’s forward cabin ahead of the other passengers. On the aircraft at the top of the stairs, a uniformed Flight Attendant politely greeted me and asked to see my airline ticket. With a curious appraisal of me, she suggested that this was not the correct aircraft that I wanted. Trying to nurture me through my confused gaze, she said that the flight I wanted was on the other side of the aircraft.

With a slight half smile, she pointed to the last of the passengers on my flight who were on the tarmac walking to the other side of the aircraft. I couldn’t help myself I and asked if she was sure that this aircraft was not my flight. Once again, with a measure of infinite patience and smile, she said that she could assure me with absolute confidence that I was not going anywhere on this aircraft.

The Flight Attendant then gently handed me back my ticket and wished me a good flight. In addition to the previous concentration on my character sketching I had a couple of intense things in my life that needed some resolution, and I figured that being a bit distracted is understandable resulting in my attempting to board the wrong aircraft. I casually turned and noticed that the line of passengers was no longer on the tarmac.

I walked carefully down the steps trying to make sense of this unfamiliar experience until I reached the bottom of the stairs. Perhaps an intuition, I turned around and looked up at the top of the stairs. I noticed that the Flight Attendant was still standing by the door, and now with several other uniformed personnel who were all staring down at me.

With a Mona Lisa smile and the slight movement of her eyes looking to the left and down I finally realized why they all were so amused. With the sun gleaming off the aircraft I looked up and saw that the wing was empty where the engine should be. With a gleam in her eye, a nod, and a warm smile, the Flight Attendant placed her hand over her heart as if to say she understood and wished me well.

I was the last passenger to board the correct aircraft and ignoring all the passenger smiles and subdued laughter who had watched me climb up the stairs to an aircraft with no engine; I found an empty aisle seat. Yes, I was embarrassed by this careless attention to familiar detail but found the humor, nonetheless and I still do. I have since embraced the subtle and powerful influence of the familiar on writing, art, photography, and everyday life and the value of being able to laugh at ourselves.

Suspending judgment removes the shackles that inhibit who we truly are. A healthy sense of humor offers insight, humility, and tickles our judgments into a relaxed state in which curiosity offers a resolution.

When the plane landed, I was determined to make up for my faux pas by asking out a Flight Attendant who had been particularly warm and friendly to me during the flight. I was the last one off the aircraft, and as I walked along the hall toward the baggage claim, she met up with me and walked right alongside so close that we occasional brushed against each other.

Normally not too inhibited socially, I knew that before we reached the end of the hall where I needed to turn right, that I must ask her if she would be interested in sharing some time together, perhaps lunch. As we walked along, I looked at her, and she responded with a beautiful smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

I then without any apparent cognitive thinking asked if she knew what time it was. With a squint of her eye, she looked at my watch and told me the time.  We walked further in silence. What are you thinking, Bruno, I thought to myself? Soon we were going to reach the end of the hall, and I needed to turn right toward the baggage claim area, and she probably will go the opposite direction, and I only had a few moments to do better.

You can do this Bruno, I said to myself with confidence. I smiled, and she still smiled warmly back. Then, with a temporary mental fugue condition, I experienced an inexplicable state of altered consciousness and I asked her if she comes here often. I couldn’t believe it came out of my mouth any more than she could. She just nodded in unconcealed disbelief and disappointment at just the moment when we reached the end of the hall and without another word she turned to the left, and I walked to the right to the baggage claim area.

Not exactly my finer moments. It does, however, demonstrate how deeply we can be connected in creative ways using our imagination so that we lose perspective of the present.

The next day I decided to visit one of the lakes in the forest to focus primarily on creativity, my love of nature and wildlife and to get grounded. That Sunday afternoon, I was sketching on my outdoor easel the variety of people and families who were fishing, hiking, boating, and enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.

Five beautiful Mallard Ducks swam across the placid lake purposefully to the shore in front of me.  In unison, they began a powerful song as they marched single file up the steep hill and gathered beside my easel looking at the sketch thoughtfully.

Now, this is what nature is all about I mused. I wanted to capture this moment of communion and remember it. I positioned my charcoal pencil on a new page of the drawing tablet to sketch the largest Mallard Duck who was posing quietly beside me as he watched me sketch him.

I could hear rippling of the water, children laughing, and the flutter of songbirds. With the warmth of the sun and a light breeze, it was a great day to be creative and enjoy nature, and have wildlife come right up to me to share this special time.

The largest Mallard Duck remained standing next to be me looking intently at my sketch of his portrait. I knelt on the ground, faced him, and looked directly into his eyes.  I verbally shared the idea of unconditional compassion, love, and harmony with nature and assured him that I subscribed to these philosophies and that I valued his participation with me. I told him that he and his family are welcome to visit with me any time I’m at the lake.

I mentioned that I was a wildlife photographer and how I loved to capture the essence of wildlife in my photographs. This monologue drew his deep attention and he cocked his head frequently occasionally looking up at me and then back to the sketch. Glancing briefly at his impassive companions who stood several feet away, he then fixed his eyes back on mine.

I accepted this gaze as his sensibility and mutual understanding, and I felt that lightheaded rush of compassion and enlightenment in my connection with one of nature’s own. It was one of those rare moments and insight into the wonders of the universe and the reverence for life.

And then he bit me.