A Dying Bee, My Brother, a Chance at Good Karma.

The dying bee landed on my chest.

It fell seemingly from nowhere.

At first I didn’t know that it was a bee. Nor did know that it was dying – yet.

A cloud of flies and mosquitoes skimmed and buzzed about me as I lay on our outdoor patio sofa as if I was an Imperial Cruiser under attack from Rebellion fighters. They didn’t really bother me. I didn’t really feel anything. I was numb and drowsy from the day, from pipe tobacco smoke, from dragon smoke. My mind wandered far afield.

About two weeks ago, during a lull between the constant rain showers that came with the hurricane storm systems from the Texas Gulf, I took advantage of the semi-fair weather and brought out the sofa cushions to laze about on my Saturday afternoon.

The mosquitoes and flies had the same idea, apparently.

I did feel the small but substantial thump on my chest.

I did see the small insect bounce off my chest and arc down onto the patio concrete.

My senses weren’t so completely numb to make me believe that it was a huge fly.

It took me a second to register that what I had saw and felt was a bee.

I looked down from the sofa. The bee crawled around the cracked concrete of the patio. Something was wrong with it. One of it’s wings was opening and closing slowly, out of sync with the other.

You know that cliché about staggering drunkenly? That’s exactly what the bee was doing, in circles, and leaning to one side. I reached down and as gingerly as I could try to help right itself with my index finger. It didn’t help.

You see, I had held bees before.

Many bees had entered my classroom, and being a teacher of children, their reaction, after shrieking in fright or delight, is always to swat it or crush it. But I don’t want to encourage that in my students. I want to encourage them to have a healthy respect for all living things. So I would just quickly but calmly reach for it, and let it land on my hand, let roam about. I would explain to them that bees only sting when they feel threatened, which they do anytime anyone projects their fear and shrieks.

I would show them how harmless they could be if they were treated gently and with respect, then I would open my classroom door and then open the door that led outside ( I’ve been lucky to have a classroom right by the hallway exit) and release it.

I don’t like killing living creatures – even insects. If they look dangerous, and are in my house, then I do, because I don’t want to risk my mother being bitten by something poisonous. Call it guilt-ridden anxiety. But bees are fine.

Except this particular bee was obviously not, however.

The bee flipped upside down. My own buzz was just making it worse. I tried to calm myself and focus – I didn’t want to damage it’s wings. After a few more attempts I sat up and reached down with both hands. I was finally able to get the bee onto my hand.

I studied it, sadly. It was dying. The thumping landing on my chest made sense now.

A thought occurred to me then.

My older brother had had a really bad weekend a week prior to this. He and his partner had moved back down to Laredo from San Antonio three years ago to help care for my father who had been diagnosed with terminal gall bladder and liver cancer, and they have stayed ever since. But like any couple moving from their own home in which they lived alone for years back into the home of a parent, their space has become limited.

I’d been in that situation before – my ex-wife and I had to share living spaces with her mother and their family many times over the eighteen-year period we were married. Those times were at best, manageable. So the cabin-fever brought on by days of rain culminated that weekend prior.

Then there was the squirrel.

Later that week my brother had told me that the tipping point for that weekend was a squirrel. He had found a dead squirrel out in the front of our house. He had found something to wrap it in and placed it in our trash bin outside.

Later the thought had occurred to me why he hadn’t buried it – I would’ve gladly helped – but in retrospect the idea of burying the poor creature would have been too much for him. After dad, the aspects and realities of death and dying affected all of our family in varying and unexpected ways.

I laid the bee gently down on the blue seat cushion, where my ashtray, pipe, and pipe tobacco rested, making sure it was placed so that it would not fall off again. I thought of my brother and his weekend from Hell before. I hesitated a moment. Then I texted him to come outside quickly.

This felt right.

He came outside to the backyard. I held the bee out towards him in my hand, showing him, and I told him. It’s dying, help me place it somewhere safe so it will die in peace, without fear of being eaten.

Where, he asked.

I looked about our backyard – and I saw one of the bushes growing lush with bright yellow bell blossoms, the wells inside of which would keep it well-hidden from predators or from falling back onto the unforgiving lawn.

I handed him the bee. Place it in there, I told him. With both hands out, he took it. We walked over to the bush, found an upright bell with a sturdy stem. My brother placed it gently inside. There you go, he said softly. The bee slid gently into the well.

There, I said, a fine place for a bee to rest. Then I hugged my brother. Karma, I told him, a little light to drive away the dark. A little positive energy to counter the negative.

The moment passed. We stepped apart to let the space of the world back in. I told him that I was still going to hang out here and smoke for awhile longer. He said okay. He went back inside.

I love my older brother.

We clash, of course. We wouldn’t be brothers otherwise. But he’s been both father and mother to me countless times, when my parents couldn’t. He’s been my sounding board ever since he moved back and I had to admit to him my weaknesses that my Major Depression and ADHD brought about – even when medicated. He’s been the voice of reason in my head the few times I stood too close to the edge, and brought me back.

We’re ten years apart. He’s now fifty-three while I’m forty-three – the oldest and the youngest in our family.

He still looks out after me.

The least I can do help his spirit when it sinks.

The least I can do is remind him that there is still some magic in this world, faded though it is.

The least I can do is look after him for all the times he’s looked out after me.

I do.

I always will.

He’s my brother.

I have a brother
When I’m a brother in need
I spend my whole time running
He spends his running after me

When I feel myself going down I just call and he comes around …”

– U2, For the First Time.

What I’m listening to:
Human Qualities by Explosions in the Sky.

This Christmas, the Greatest Gift I Gave Myself Was the Gift of Solitude and Rest.

I’m lying here in the den of The Last Homely House. 

I am alone.

My brothers have taken my mom to spend Christmas Day with her sister and my cousins in San Antonio. 

There are no lights on.

Only the darkening whitewashed water color grayblue of the fading light of the setting sun penetrates what windows it can and serves as the only major light source. 

Aside from that, the Christmas tree lights are on, as well as the lights around the Nativity, the scene of the Christ-child in a manger, sleeping in swaddling cloth upon a bed of straw, with his mother Mary, Joseph, the step-dad to be shepherds, sheep of the flocks they keep, the Three Wise Men, and various livestock that would live in said manger. There is also the soft glow of the candles I’ve lit.

The light is warm, cozy.

I feel safe, calm, at peace.

The TV is off. The music I had been listening to on my headphones is off. Right now, there is only the constant whishing whisper duet of the central heater unit and the overhead fan as they work together in keeping the temperature in here a nice balance of warm and slightly chilly.

My head is free of thoughts.

I’m only focusing on the sound of the AC, the fan, and the gently wavering glow of the candlelit Nativity as it flickers softly.

The family plan was to drive up to San Antonio today, stay tomorrow, and leave Wednesday further north up I35 to Pflugerville, to visit my Brother and his family at Moore Manor – what we call the Pfluggervillian post of the Moore clan –  His daughter – my baby niece – has a birthday coming up, and they were going to celebrate it Wednesday. I think by then I’ll be rested up enough to drive, spend the evening there, and then head back early Thursday morning. 

I was also less inclined to leave due to the fact that I was up late last night from going to the Catholic midnight mass at La Catedral de San Agustín downtown. I haven’t gone since I was a child. It was beautiful. And worth it, but because I normally don’t stay up so late, it really took a toll on me this morning/afternoon. My mom woke me a little after noon, and I said my goodbyes. 

Now it may sound bleak and depressing to you, maybe it sounds like a punishment even, but my depression doesn’t work that way.

To me, this is bliss.

Even though I am and can be a very social creature, who loves spending time talking and being in the company of others, it can also be exhausting – a characteristic common to both introverts and people with depression.

You see, I’m very empathic, I can sense the moods and tensions of those around me, and it physically affects me. I act like a human emotional sponge – I’ll soak up some of what you’re feeling and I’ll feel it too. It can be helpful sometimes, but others, it can be too much, so I have to pull in my sensory feelers and put up a barrier. And maintaining that requires an exhausting amount of energy. So, an empty house means a free me – no additional emotional energy to absorb or block. My shields are down. My guard is down. My sensory feelers can be fully extended and feel nothing.

All I’m feeling right now is a sleepy, relaxed state of bliss.

This is how I recover from my mental stressors: silence, calm, music, resting.

This is how I recharge, restore balance in myself.

But I’m not altogether about living the life of a monk. I began last Christmas building up my talismans, my weapons, my rituals for self-care: my skin care products, my soaps, my beard balms. I invested in that as well as my writing desk and my shelf to create my study. 

Over the summer I did a lot more decorating to my room, and now, finally, I end this year with treating myself to the last of the items I wanted off of my list that I would enjoy. I bought a great pair of wireless Sennheiser over the ear headphones. They’re an excellent brand for audiophiles and I find the gentle pressure of over the ear headphones calming. I got a great deal on a 32″ Samsung Smart Hub TV. It’s HD only – not state of the art QLEV or anything like that, but it does have all my subscriptions: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

I also bought myself a wireless sound bar plus a subwoofer, along with a Chrome book, but those haven’t arrived yet – also Samsung – also great deals since they were mid-range items and not top of the line. 

And I didn’t even spend a thousand on all that. I love quality, but I’m no snob and I’m not stupid. I research and find the best quality I can get for the lowest possible price. With that, I can finally, fully enjoy my time at home, when I’m not reading, writing, painting, or playing the drums.

This is self-care. This is how I take care of myself. These are not substitutions for happiness nor are they status symbols signifying that I have “arrived” at some vague and unimportant level of “success,” showing that I’ve “made it.” No. These are merely the tools I choose to use as entertainments, as diversions.

These are the tools I choose to use to keep me even.

Tools that I was lucky enough to have some money for and that were just the right price for me to afford.

Now I’m forty-two. I’m single. I have no children, and I’ve been blessed to have a pretty decent paying career for almost fourteen years now. I can afford this.

But I have friends who are starting out, in college, or just finishing college, or just beginning their lives. Just like I have friends my age who are married and have kids or who are single parents who have kids, and you’re thinking, “I don’t have that kind of money.”

That’s not the point. The point is what feels good to you: 

What recharges You? 

Your spirit? 

Your soul? 

Exercise? Quilting? Crossword puzzles? 

My point is, it could be anything – as long as it does the trick.

Take care of yourself.

 Put yourself first. 

Now that doesn’t mean you get a green light to become totally self-absorbed and narcissistic, no. That just means that you must make time for you, so that your mind, body, and soul are refreshed and sharp, so that you may be able to properly take care of others. And even if you don’t have the terrible privilege of caring for somebody, still, don’t forget to make yourself a priority.

You deserve it.

These items that I’ve been blessed to treat myself to, they are all great gifts. But the greatest gift I’ve given myself this holiday season – as someone battling Major Depression, as a teacher to twenty-three sharp and intelligent students, as the past caregiver to my father, and as the future caregiver for my mother when the inevitable eventually happens – the one truly greatest gift, and the one I’ll get the most out of, the one I will remember the most, is an opportunity for silence, for rest, and for solitude. 

You Are Not Alone: Death Rebirth Rest Change Nature Cycles Depression and the Christ child – or A Nativity Story for Non-Natives. 

“And the sleepiness kicks back in, this time more from sadness, the lethargy from my exhaustion from work is there, too. This very paragraph is where I’ve started writing, because I wanted to try and accurately describe how it feels, what I’m going through right now.

I simultaneously want to cry and fall asleep.

My eyes are closing while tears collect around the corners of my eyes.

And the feeling of falling away into the deep blue state of oblivion comes back strong.

This sucks

I have to put my phone down now eyes can’t stay open.”

I wrote this yesterday, when I was grieving after receiving the news that another dear, sweet, older coworker had passed away from a heart attack. 

Yes, another. 

About two weeks ago this evening I attended the memorial service that was held for a coworker, s kind, sweet, positive older woman, who finally succumbed to her six-year battle with cancer, leaving her husband – another coworker at our elementary school – and three children here on this plane of existence. 

It was hard going to the service. 

You see, lately I’ve been having a problem with funerals or memorial services for the deceased since my father lost his battle to liver and gall-bladder cancer. 

I’m getting drowsy again. I wonder, is this my depression, wanting me to shut down and go to sleep because it’s too much to process – especially when my body is already recovering from the physical exhaustion of working too many hours at my campus? Is it just the physical exhaustion? Or is it a combination of both?

Depression is funny that way. Even medicated, it’s hard to tell where the depression ends and you begin.

Can’t keep my eyes open anymore.

Time to sleep.

My mom woke me. 

I think ten-fifteen minutes have passed.

Right now I’m in the study/Music room in The Last Homely House, listening to a mix of modern throwback Christmas music by Pearl Jam, Sufjan Stevens, Dave Matthews and other Alternative, Indie, and singer-songwriter, along with some Beth Orton.

The study is filled with the clean gleam of gentle, natural sunlight, a sharp contrast to the midnight blue dark of my bedroom yesterday.

The grief has left for the most part, the lethargy has departed as well. Now it’s mostly a cozy church mouse sleepiness I’ve been feeling.

I got up at seven and did my Christmas shopping. I was done by 9:30 a.m. 

So, slowly but surely, my forced bed rest is helping my energy to come back. 

I live my life by the schedule of my sleep now.

Ever since I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and I discovered that lack of sleep really does cause a lot of damage for anyone with a mental illness – especially an untreated mental illness – I get as much sleep as I possibly can. And somehow, I knew this. As I grew older, it became harder and harder for me to be fully functional on five hours or less of sleep. My ex-girlfriend saw this firsthand. I became very emotional, very negative. I would joke that being in that state would make me suicidal – but that wasn’t far from the truth. I just wanted to drop everything and go to bed. I was a person who needed eight hours – seven minimum. 

Now I’m a teacher. I have to be on campus by 7:30. My daily commute is thirty minutes. But I like getting to work early, even knocking out a kettlebell workout real quick. And I also like to make time to eat a good sit down breakfast, and watch a little CNN. So in order to do all that, I need to be up by 4. I try to be in bed by eight pm.

Regular weekend nights out no longer exist for me, even just staying up late reading, or watching TV – those are pleasures I can simply no longer indulge in.

But sleep, glorious, languid descents into the deepest, darkest caverns of Oblivion – a darkness so complete, I rarely remember my dreams – that is a pleasure I now long for daily. 

It’s funny, but I had to change the person I was to save the person I could be, the person I’m supposed to be. And there’s still more changing I need to do.

But the sedentary, junk-food-eating, unfocused night-owl is dead.

Because all that I did and was doing to myself was making me miserable physically and mentally. I was like a smoker with lung cancer, a diabetic who kept eating sugary sweets. I was doing everything that would exacerbate my depression and ADHD.

So that part of me – which seemed like such an integral part of me, like it was tied to my identity – had to die.

I had to do two things which terrified the fuck out of me:

Die and Change.

Death and Change.

I see that now, those two phases are essential to the cycle of life, to the cycle of your evolution as a human.

And it requires rest and recovery. That’s what I’m doing – that’s what I’ve been doing ever since my father and my old life died. That’s why I barely go out. That’s why I sleep. That’s why I spoil myself. A part of me knows another change, another phase of my life is about to begin, and this one involves me finally doing continuous exercise and ends with me quitting the regular drinking, until I don’t drink at all. So instinctively my body is resting. I’m like a field in the winter, laying fallow. 

We have to change, we have to die, we have to let go of all the things we make ourselves feel we need that help define our identity but are toxic to us.

We die either way at the end.

The question is how do you want to go?

As your true, whole, happy self?

Or as a sickly, angry, used shadow of yourself?

These recent deaths are terrible. They are terrible in different ways. One family saw it coming, so there was time to prepare despite hope, but a sixty-year-year-old man has lost his life partner for good, and he will have to raise his teenage girls and older son on his own. The other family lost their matriarch suddenly, quickly – and cruelly – right before Christmas. Things will never be the same.

They won’t. And it’s terrible. But there is always hope that families can get past that void.

Five years ago, my mother, myself, and my siblings could not imagine a world without our father. But living here, in the same house – even after I practically moved in with my ex-girlfriend, I knew something was going to happen. I knew something was wrong. So I set my mind to abandoning the life I had built with my ex, moving back in with my parents, and waiting for the time when he would get so sick, he’d need constant tending to. I set my mind so hard to it, I became fatalistic – And that triggered the worst depressive episode I’d gone through.

Bad judgement, lack of communication, lack of compromise – that’s what killed my relationship. Then her discovering an emotional relationship I had begun with a very unprofessional ex-assistant principal is what cut us off for good.

Our relationship died. Who we were died, but it took me killing it to see that I had mental health issues that needed diagnosing and treating.

My life has been a constant shedding of skins that I never expected to shed and that I truly thought were me.

My mother, my whole family has. We’ve had to adjust to the changes. And we move on, our lives now tinged with the memory of my father’s death. 

Death and Change. 

Nothing is permanent. 

The only thing that can be permanent is your understanding and acceptance of that one truth: nothing is permanent.

Who you are.

What you have.

The material and immaterial things that you think define you – they can, and probably will, change in an instant. We just don’t know when.

Life is change.

Life is impermanence. 

Life is a work in progress that you truly never get to complete. 

To some reading this, the news might terrify the hell out of you, but that’s not my intention. That’s not my takeaway.

The takeaway is: know this, so you can live the life you want, your way, for yourself, without having to answer to anyone. 

Life is precious.

And it’s yours, to do with what you will.

And for those who may be depressed during this season, please understand, it’s all about perspective. 

This day is not supposed to be about gifts, how many and how much.

This is day is not supposed to be about family – even when it’s good – because most of us know that’s a lie, that family are the first, and sadly sometimes, the only ones who truly hurt, abandon, and betray us.

Today, well, this evening, marks the occasion where a working-class man decided to have the back of a Woman he loved who had a child who was not his own. This couple was on the run and the only shelter they could find for themselves and this child was a poorly manger, a shelter for animals. Shepards, some Wise Men, an angel. A strange collection all, strangers all, who were all probably laughed at, but who stopped, and made their way to see a child, to see life, despite it’s cruel miseries.

The story of this occasion does not exemplify an ideal of being satisfied living in a world of material excess. Far from it – the materially rich in this story were represented by an insecure, jealous king who decided to murder all the male babies he could find in fear of the rise of this one particular child.

No. This is a story of looking down at your feet, at looking up over your head, at looking into the mirror, and seeing an imperfect survivor living an imperfect life on the run the best way you can manage – and saying, “I’m alive. This is now and I’m alive.”

So, yeah, there’s death, there’s change, but there’s also rest, and recovery. The tree drops it leaves and grays, then splays out in a thousand shades of undulating emerald a season later.

It’s about rest and seasons and time, and simply being. 

Amidst all the sexy, shiny, glossy screens telling you, showing you:

YOU NEED THIS.

YOU MUST HAVE THIS.

YOU MUST BE LIKE THIS,

You have fulfilled their purpose in this manufactured illusion of “gotta have gotta buy!” and perverted inversion of an ancient tale that taught an important lesson and you have forgotten THE most important thing:

YOU are the gift.