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Author of this essay:

Abbot John
(July 20, 2009)

False Hope and Other Lies of Spring
by Abbot John

When she wrote, "Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul..." Emily Dickinson had in mind a bird that sweetly sings and protects its little hatchlings. I am more and more convinced that the bird that nestled in my soul is a capon. Nothing I hope for seems ever to hatch into anything and the only sound it makes is an occasional squawk.

It took forever for winter to loosen its grip on the northeast U.S.A. this year. It wasn't a harsh winter; it was just a lingering misery that was filled with false promises, or worse. It was like getting a toothache the day after Halloween's "trick or treat" bags were filled. We'd wake up on a Friday morning to a brilliant sun and warmth that mocked our wardrobe. Our minds would grip our jiggers and niblicks and we'd hear ourselves shouting "Fore!" the next morning. And Saturday would come skidding in on ice.

There were never two consecutive days of sunshine let alone a weekend we could plan on. Besides the weather's dreariness we had to watch the bull of Wall Street transmogrify into a Bear. The world was being filmed in black and white again. Even my wife's usually magnificent garden started and stopped so many times that it just quit. "The bulbs were water-logged," she said. I felt the same way.

Still, the Rites of Spring are scheduled by the calendar and not the temperature. They must be performed on time. Regardless of the rhythmic doses of slush that fell preformed from the skies we had an assigned opening date at our golf club. Duty called. We responded.

It was like something out of a George Romero film. Slowly we came, stiff legged and with eyes that didn't blink. Pale old geezers in bright ski caps and fur-lined gloves teed off while the cold air clouded the breath so much the ball was barely visible. For an hour I hung around the tee box with friends I hadn't seen in months. We didn't talk much. We were like reptiles waiting for the sun; but the sun did not come.

My reptilian brain began to focus on the things in life that really mattered, a warm rock. What would I give for a warm rock? I began to speculate about my pre-Chicxulub ancestors. Had they also taken the time to reflect upon the things that really mattered? A velociraptor with that baseball-bat tail could be a very lethal weapon. A ball on a tee and a raptor with a tail he could swing like Phil Mickelson swings a driver. Yessss.....would be all you could hear from the reptilian galleries with long lingering ‘ssssssssss’.

Cold does things like this to a person's mind.

Then my rapture on raptors faded as a flurry of snow lowered visibility to a distance less than my normal tee shot. It was a wet cold snow, like taking a shower in frozen milk. We had to stop play. Like zombies we picked up our bags and headed back to the parking lot. Grumpy, cursing, old fools trying to find our way back to our cars. One of the oddities of aging (in men) is that we tend to lose our internal GPS portals. Even the short distance to the parking lot will have men wandering this way and that, unwilling to ask for directions because they know that the important thing is not to know where they are going, but rather to figure out why they are going there. My answer didn't come until I actually arrived. As I got into my car an old knee injury sent me the final message. The meaning was so explicit that I called my orthopedic specialist on the spot and made an appointment.

As it happens, when I was a kid I had a hole punched in my knee cap during a baseball game when a bat slipped out of a batter's hands and hit me in the on-deck circle. It made a fairly precise hole in the patella. What they did back then in the orthopedic stone age was grind out a bit more bone and install a stainless steel plate about the size of a quarter into my kneecap and let the bone re-grow around it. As far as surgeries go this one has to be considered a major success since it has been in place for 45 to 50 years (it's hard to be precise these days). Yet, there are times when it "barks" as we say in the hinterlands, with a screeching voice that cannot be ignored.

The routine is always the same. My knee is x-rayed and the orthopedist whistles in admiration of the ancient treatment; and then he tells me that considering all the decades that have passed, that I have any meniscus left at all is a triumph of some kind. He writes me a prescription to reduce the inflammation and tells me to do nothing more strenuous than a slow walk for the next few weeks. I interpreted this part of the treatment as a command to play golf in Florida. I made reservations.

The next day I also kept an overdue appointment with my internist. He always frowns when he sees me as if he's disappointed that I'm still alive since he long ago pronounced me as a suicidal Type II diabetic. He says I'll die by my own hand which will be holding a spoon of high quality vanilla ice cream. I told him I was preparing to go on a Zen Retreat and he smiled a little too wickedly as if he knew that this was Zen-speak for Golf in Florida. He prescribed a new medication for me. "Stay out of the sun while you're on this." I assured him I would; but the whole time I was thinking that he was just trying to mess with my mind.

Florida instantly defrosted me, and my reptilian brain sprang to life. I craved the sun. I shot in the eighties for the first 8 rounds. What could account for this sudden proficiency? I thought it over and decided that maybe that winter’s absence of play had improved my game by not playing it. I figured I might use the same technique in my spiritual practice this year.

That first day was the last time when I actually resembled a human being; for, as my golf evolved my physical features devolved. More than metaphor, I actually began to mutate into something resembling a reptile. I walked upright, like a primate, but my skin developed odd colored bumps like an iguana. Within a day or two I was sure my ears would completely fall off and add even more to the iguana effect - a not entirely contrary effect for a person of my temperament. In an unexpected way I found that I enjoyed the extra space people gave me in the airport. If it were not for the incredible itching that accompanied the lizardly appearance, I would definitely have liked it. The white painted effect of thickly applied hydrocortisone cream added nicely to the weirdness.

When I got home the unforeseen occurred. The dogs came racing across the kitchen floor to see me; and when they realized I was a changed man, they hit the breaks with all four feet skidding to a semi-controlled crash into me like you see those Olympic ski-jumpers do after an unfortunate landing. I landed with my trick knee twisted under me and a new alignment to my spine. The agony was only slightly mitigated by my dogs refusing to lick my face.

Back at the orthopedic specialist I was told that under no circumstances could I pick up anything heavier than a wine glass, preferably an empty one. I knew that if I wanted to play golf, I would need a new caddie. Vic was gone. He was sitting in a Zen monastery somewhere, banishing all worldly thoughts. How could I hope to replace him?

That thing with feathers that nestled in my soul flapped its wings and cackled. It wanted me to think it was going to lay an egg. I knew better.

Humming Bird