Two Trees

2 trees

A man and woman have four children–two boys and two girls.  The same seed…the same egg.

One boy grows up, attends college and eventually becomes a doctor and later joins Doctors Without Borders.  His brother sits in a small cell at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY.  He did something unspeakable to an eleven year old girl.  He has tats that identify him as a member of a gang based in Albany.  Many of his friends sit in similar cells–in similar jails–in three different states.

One of girls grows up and after sampling life in an New England college decides to join a cloistered convent and eventually will take a vow of silence and chastity.  Her sister walks the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Anyone can buy her love and affection for $50.  She has several dozen needle marks on her arms and thighs.

The same seed…the same egg.

Two trees started life in a forgotten corner of the Adirondack forest.  They are rooted only nine inches apart.  Perhaps both from the same white pine that dropped its seed-laden cone seven years ago.

Now, one tree has added three inches of new growth to its needles in the Spring of 2016.  The other tree, a brother?…a sister? has turned completely brown.  It will not be utilizing photosynthesis again, ever.  It is the only dead tree in this small part of the forest.

Why does one living entity flourish and the other, linked by a genetic code, lose the spark of life?

Didn’t the alluring Cinderella have several despicable sisters?  Jeffery Dahmer had a sibling.  Cain and Abel were brothers.

Nature or Nurture?

Or, is it just an inexplicable aspect of life in general?  A question that has no answer–a riddle that has no solution–a prayer that has gone unheard…

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[Source: Google search]

 

The Existential Questions Of A Cactus

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One afternoon in a desert full of Joshua trees…

A vulture makes lazy circles in the warm air, riding the thermals and keeping an eye on the slow-moving Bighorn sheep, hoping in his vulture heart that the animal was sick and would soon die in the maze of weathered rocks far below

A rattlesnake moved slowly between the shade of a split rock, keeping a close eye on a desert rat.  One quick strike was all he needed and a meal would be secure.

And, about twenty feet from a trail, a California Red Barrel cactus had an original  thought for the very first time…

I want to be touched, caressed…maybe even given a little water…maybe a little attention.  But, I know that can never be.  I’m aware of how I look.  I know I can hurt anything that comes too close.  I’ve seen others like me on the far hillside.  They’re never touched either.  No one dares come close because I have defenses that will severely injure anything trying to eat me.

Thorn

I have thorns that can measure seven inches.  My thorns are as unforgiving as the July heat or the lack of water on any given day.  I could probably kill anyone who approaches.  But, I can’t strike out and inject venom like a viper.  I can’t bite an artery to end the life of a mountain goat.  I am destined to stay where I sent down roots.  I am immobile.  I can only grow my slow way toward the blue sky.  I can’t do anything else.  My tender core of green flesh is protected by a nest of these thorns as sharp as anything can be.  The tip of my spike ends at nothing…it just ends, waiting to puncture a finger, a lip, a paw or a thin slice of flesh.

red barrel cactus

[Source: Wikipedia]

Which makes me wonder why I am here at all?  What is my role in life?  When I bloom in early summer, a few buds of my flowers may feed a small animal.  Beyond that, I am food for no living thing.  I simply take a little bit of moisture and a few minerals from the sand…and I just exist.  My purpose in existing is to protect myself.  I can’t do anything to attract a mate for reproduction.  The most I can contribute is to allow a desert rat to nibble on a tiny flower bud and pass my seed with its feces.  My seed will be deposited somewhere and my children will take root…never knowing their ancestors.

I see humans walk past me on the nearby trail.  Sometimes they are holding hands and then they stop and put their mouths together.  Sometimes, they walk well away from the trail and lay together.

Sometimes a human walks past me…alone.  I know what alone means.  I wonder if their aloneness is by choice or are they wondering what happened to the one they once loved and thought they were loved in return?

I wonder if I can ever be loved?  Why would any living thing love me…I who have put up so many defenses?

What’s there to love?  Can I be loved for just being?  Just existing?  Just being a part of a beautiful landscape?

For all my spines, sometimes I am the only color to be seen in a land of brown rocks.  Wait!  I can’t forget the intense blue sky above me.  And, I can’t forget the billions of stars at night.

I can’t forget the bright moon or the dust of the rock crystals I am rooted in.

I can’t forget the rare raindrops that land on me and are pierced through by my spines.

Maybe the drop of rain loves me and that’s how I get touched by something?

 

Holiday Time In Fort Myers/Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?*

“I don’t know Doc, I just seem a little disoriented lately.  Maybe it’s the time of year?  Maybe I should stay away from the egg nog…”

–Notation in the files of Dr. Hugh Roebottom, Psychiatrist, on the recent session with Patrick Egan.

wreath

It’s a pretty Christmas wreath.  I’m looking a one of the prettiest plastic Christmas wreaths I’ve ever seen.  I snap a photo of it to include in my “How I Spent The Winter” slideshow on my website.  There is an iced coffee in my free hand.  The condensation from the plastic cup of iced coffee has covered my iPhone with drops of water.  It’s not easy taking pictures with an iPhone and a dripping plastic cup at the same time.

I turn around and snap another photo.

mall lot

The PA system at the Outlet Mall is playing “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.  I’m supposed to be seeing snow on the ground and happy shoppers with bundled children walking through the falling flakes.  Where are bundled children, the red scarves, the woolen caps and the bright blue mittens?  Where do the children make “snow angels”?

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It’s not happening.

Then I remember.  I’m not in my hometown of Owego, NY, or shopping in Binghamton in a snow storm.  I even remember that I’m not a child anymore.  I’m a senior citizen.  Here, I’m surrounded by senior citizens, and golf carts and adult tricycles.  No, I’m in Fort Myers, FL trying to escape the cold and snow.  Thanksgiving is next week.  Soon it will be December.  Soon, it will be Christmastime.

I go up the steps to the boardwalk at the Outlet Mall to think things over.  This is a little surreal to me–being here this time of year.  Even just being in Florida, for me, is a bit out-of-character.  I have Celtic blood in my veins.  It’s thick and doesn’t do well in sub-tropical climates.

Sipping on my iced coffee gives me a chance to digest the last seventeen days since we parked and unhooked our r-Pod. In the shopping centers I’ve seen Salvation Army Santas in teal colored shorts and Hawaiian shirts ringing the little hand-bell.  At least they have a red fleece Santa cap on their heads.  (They must be sweating under that cap.)

This place called Florida, this place where the Bush/Gore drama played out years ago, this place where Disney and Spanish culture collide like a bad I-95 accident, is a study in contrasts.  There is profound beauty in the Mangrove swamps and mind-bending varieties of shells on Sanibel Island.  The mosquitoes bite and the sunsets amaze.  The ants crawl on the cement and the storks take wing alongside the herons and egrets.

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At the same time, the RV resorts and hotels and private marinas have taken the rawness out of the landscape.  I did a Google search on local beaches–I found a list under the link of au natural.  Thinking this was a place where I could walk naked, without shame, along the shore, communing with nature like Adam.  I checked one particular beach on Sanibel.

“Are you joking?” said the guy who was tying up the trash from a can in the parking lot.

I found that au natural basically meant that attendants didn’t pick up the litter and the driftwood stayed where the falling tide left it.

Yes, it’s a different world here for a small town Yank like me.  I’m going to miss the bleak grey skies of Thanksgiving and the snow of Christmas.  Most of my friends from high school are retired now and many have moved to the Carolina’s or here, to Florida.  I can’t speak for them, but I suspect that leaving behind the snows of yesterday with all the attendant activities, was a little hard.  Maybe not.

I remember being in New York City years ago.  They had just finished filming a scene from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on 5th Ave. and 59th street.  The set was made to look like Christmas in New York, and the Hollywood magic worked.  When I saw the film later, I was totally convinced Macaulay Culkin was indeed in the city in the heart of winter.  In truth, the scene was filmed in July or August.  An entire corner of Central Park and the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel was covered in fake snow.

On my drive back from the Outlet Mall to our RV resort, I turn on the clearest FM station I can find.  I expect something, some song, that speaks to me in mid-November.  Instead, I hear the song: “Have You Left The One You Left Me For?”, it was quickly followed by “I’m Old Enough To Know Better But Young Enough Not To Care.”

They were kind of catchy.

There will be no family gathering for dinner next Thursday.  There will be no Christmas parties for us.  We are going to exchange presents, but there will be no tree to decorate.  It’s hard to hang lights on a palm tree.

New Year’s Eve?  No noise makers or funny hats or those things you blow into and they unravel.  (I never knew what they were called).  We’ll be going to bed early with everything packed and road-ready for our departure from Siesta Bay Resort on New Year’s Day.

On Christmas Eve, when I wrap the gift I already bought for Mariam, I will be singing a song inside my head–to myself–to the memories of my childhood.  I’ll probably have a CD in our player of Bing Crosby holiday music, but it’s the music in my head that I’ll be listening to.

I don’t know about the PA system at the Outlet Mall, but I’ll be quietly singing: I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

palm sunset

Happy Thanksgiving!

[* “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passports 8: Losing My Way Near Shaftsbury

All of you know Shaftesbury, in Dorset.  In the town center, just off High Street is Gold Hill.  This is arguably one of the most photographed views in England.  It’s on all the England calendars, Beautiful Britain books and travel brochures.  It was featured in the movie “Far From the Madding Crowd”, when Terrance Stamp (young and dashing in his red officers tunic) rode down Gold Hill, passing a drop-dead beautiful Julie Christie (but galloping full speed into her heart.)  I don’t know whether she was more stunning in “Madding Crowd” or as Lara, in “Dr. Zhivago”.  I mean, those locks of hair the color of chestnuts (a dark blonde) that cascaded over her shoulders.  Her lips? Forget about it.  Full and sensual with a hint of a pout.

But I digress.

My wife and I decided to do our first longish walk near Shaftesbury.  I paid 3 pounds 60 pence for a thin guide to local walks.  The maps were hand drawn and the directions had passages like “the minor road near Ludwell”.  Minor road?  The booklet also said that they, the authors, thought it would be impossible to get lost with this guide.

Wait till they hear from my lawyer.

We drove out toward Ludwell but couldn’t find the “minor road” so I stopped at a pub to ask directions.  (Yes, I, a man, stopped for directions).  The bartender looked, from the back, like a guy dressed in a bizarre wig for Halloween.  She turned around and I saw that it was her real hair, dyed the color of…of a mix of purple, pink, red, orange and toxic neon maroon.  But, she gave me perfect directions to the parking area where we would start our walk. This is in contrast with the bartender/server, back in Shaftesbury where we had lunch.  She was a sweet and heartbreakingly beautiful blonde.  The only problem was that bartender didn’t know the name of the street that her pub was on…or how to get to the A30, which was only yards away.

So, we start our hike into a place called Ashcombe Park.  Ashcombe House, was once the home of Madonna when she was married to Guy Ritchie (he still lives there).  The countryside was beautiful and fragrant.  I stopped to touch a Queen Anne’s Lace flower and I brushed against a small thorn.  It pricked my thumb which began to throb and itch.  Some small amount of toxic substance was telling me: Don’t Touch The Flowers.  When I looked at the tiny thorn, I recalled Early Madonna and the perfectly conical, and razor tipped “bra” that she wore.  I got the message big time.  You can look but you can’t touch.

Part way along the walk, I walked past a tree that had been sawed.  I backed up to get a look at the tree rings.  I love counting tree rings and I do so whenever I can.  I made a rough estimate that the tree was about 150 years old.  I tried to put a little green leaf on the rings that would mark the time of WWII.  How many young men, field hands and farmers’ sons and husbands and lovers walked past that tree?  The tree was a mere sapling in the year 1860 +/- , which was about 25 years after Queen Victoria ascended the throne.

History was staring at me from the flat surface of a sawn tree.  Like the dates on a tombstone, each ring marked an event in the life of the people who walked that little vale in Ashcombe Park.

The guidebook mentioned going through several “kissing gates” but they were nowhere to be found.  I noticed new fencing along the pastures.  Again, the guidebook failed us.  We took the wrong turn, sort of, and began a long slog to the top of the hill where the car park was located.  The walk was said to be 4.5 miles, but I calculated that we did over 5 miles by the time we saw the adorable little Fiat sitting near a pasture and near a small but growing herd of cows.  I hoped they didn’t think I was there to milk them.  But they looked at me with those big, vacant bovine eyes.  I recalled my grandmother’s cow and the name she gave it.  I said: “Not now, Nellie.”

I would bet my last quid that phrase wasn’t heard too often in the fields and copses, when brave young soldiers walked home through the fields.  Or when a farmer’s son, finished his chores and skipped along the hedgerow to meet his girl.

His girl, Nellie.

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The valley of Ashcombe Park, Dorset.

 

 

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The wavy grey line to the left of center marks the 1940’s.  The center, the 1860’s.

 

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Shaftsbury in the distance.

 

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Gold Hill, Shaftsbury.

Passports 7: Last Thoughts on Listening to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Pere La Chaise Cemetery

I find Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to be a sad song of life, mistakes, loss and death.  Freddie Mercury was a beautiful man who died too young.  His vocals are pure and haunting:

Is this the real life?

Is this just fantasy?

When you wander Paris and take time to look, really look around, you find yourself caught in a blizzard of classical art.  Every street, every side street and plaza is architecturally unique.  The statuary on countless buildings depict beauty in all forms.  I found myself feeling melancholy as I stared into the marble eyes of a statue of a woman who was so beautiful it hurt my eyes…like looking into the face of the sun.  You want to look away, but you can’t.

Beauty.  It touches your very soul.  Your arms ache to embrace the woman of stone.  You want her to come alive and walk with you through the gardens or along the Seine. You want to tell her what you are feeling…and hear her story that has been held in her crystal brain for 700 years.

Too late, my time has come,

Sent shivers down my spine,

Body’s aching all the time.

Why am I so restless?  I don’t feel like I belong in this skin that has been mine for 67 years.  I yearn for other times and far off places.  I am an actor on one stage of one theater in a continent of tragedies.  I always want another part to play.

What am I waiting for?

The answer appeared before me when I passed under a stone arch and climbed stone steps…to stand at the edge of a stone city of the dead.  This was Pere La Chaise Cemetery.  It is the resting place for thousands of French, notable and unknown.  But the visitors come here to gaze upon the stone and marble slabs of the famous.  Here lies the mortal remains of Chopin, Collette, Jim Morrison, Piaf, Poulenc, Moliere, Victor Noir, Marcel Marceau, Abelard and Heloise, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Yves Montand, Bizet, Dore, Trujillo, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Delacroix and Rossini.  This is just a partial list.  You won’t find many Captains of Industry or the Super Rich who have left no legacy.  No, this cemetery has more than it’s fair share of the artistic souls.

I stood by Piaf’s marble stone and, in my head, sang “Non je ne regrette rein.”

I placed a tiny yellow flower on Proust’s grave.

I read Francois Villon to my wife while looking at the two effigies of Abelard and Heloise.

I stood by Jim Morrison’s grave and felt the waste of a life.

None of these beautiful and artistic people really wanted to die.  I hope they didn’t.  Because as tortured as life is, it’s only a waiting game.

I don’t wanna die

I sometimes wish I was never born at all

Nothing really matters,

Anyone can see,

Nothing really matters,

Nothing really matters, to me.

I walked the avenues of this necropolis and I began to fear death less.  These sensitive souls wait in peace.  If Proust can lay there, if Piaf can rest here…then there’s hope for the likes of me.

Nothing matters…everything matters…to me.

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Tomb of Abelard and Heloise

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Monument for Jim Morrison

Piaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edith Piaf

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Shaded walkway among the crypts

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It’s easy to get lost here.

Grief

Grief…plain and simple

Low Tide at Mont Saint-Michel

There was a time when you needed to watch the rising sea water if you found yourself on the Mount of St. Michael.  The abbey and village were situated on the tidal flats of the second largest bay in the world, off the coast of Brittany.  You would cross to the abbey during low tide, but when the twice daily water level change took place, you were stuck.  I know.  I remember the days when all this was true.  As a teenager, sitting in the library of my high school, I ran across a travel photo of this most beautiful place.  I read about the tides and I thought what a really interesting experience that was…being isolated by the sea on a cone-shaped island.  I knew I had to see this place for myself.  This I did, several decades ago.  And, now, here I stood once again…but the ‘forced exile’ of the tides had been tamed. They had constructed a causeway and now were putting the finishing touches on a new bridge to the Mont.  No longer was the pull of the moon to be a factor in your staying there.  You can leave whenever you’d like.

Oddly, this new construction made me sad.  I liked the idea of being dependent on the forces of nature to determine some of my life.  I don’t want the world made totally ‘person-proofed’.

You don’t have to watch the sea anymore.  You just have to hope a parking spot is available.

You enter the ancient gate of the village.  After crossing over a drawbridge, you find that you are standing at the foot of a long narrow ‘street’ that winds its way to the Abbey.  This is not strictly a street as there are no cars allowed here.  You must walk the winding path, lined with shops, bistros, restaurants, tourist traps and climb the seemingly endless steps.

There is evidence that the Mount was occupied in 708 AD.  During the Hundred Years War, the Abbey was begun by the Benedictines and used as a stronghold.  The fortress has withheld numerous attacks by the English and has become a symbol of the French who held it for so many years.

Today, only twenty people live on the Mont year round.  If you like what the little street of commerce has and you want to open a small hotel, B & B, or shop, you are out of luck.  One must marry into the family of someone who already has the establishment.  The Abbey itself is still in use and houses twelve priests.

But, the shop-lined street merely supports the Abbey which dominates the small mountain.  The tower, the steeple, the statue of St. Michael seem to make up half of the mass of this place.  And, it’s inside the Abbey that I could wander endlessly…from one chapel to another…from one room of columns to the next.  Some of these great rooms are (or were) heated by fireplaces the size of two full-sized cars stacked on their sides.  The entire kitchen of our old Manhattan apartment would easily fit inside the fireplace alcove.  In these rooms, while the massive fires blazed and the Brittany winters, icy winds and bone-chilling rains slammed against the outer walls, monks would sit and copy Bibles…by hand.  Each Bible taking three years to complete. [The Irish monks were doing the same in Dublin, creating the Book of Kells.]

My wife and I had booked this tour (a four-hour drive from Paris) months ago.  Somehow, I thought that we would have adequate free time to wander, think about and photograph the experience.  But, I couldn’t think fast enough to break away from the tour group.  I kept the earphone plugs stuck into my ears while I attempted to keep up with the guide and her commentary.  Finally, I’d had enough.  I took the phones out and let myself fall behind.

Silence.

Only the shuffle of many feet and the low murmurs of other tour groups were audible.  I wanted to explore the nooks and corners of the Abbey on my own.  I wanted to slip into a wool cassock and become one of the monks.  I tried to resurrect (in my head) a man of the cloth, dead for centuries, to walk with me through the dark chambers and up and down the winding stone stairways.  I leaned against a column in the hope that some long-forgotten energy that dwelt within the stone, would flow into me and show me the corners that no other tourist could see.

I saw small flat areas, lit by the sunlight, where I would sit and read Aquinas, Thomas a’Kempis or St. Theresa.  I would think.  I would pray.  I would feel the mystic power of God…for He had to dwell here.  He had to.  Like a “Field of Dreams”, a group of monks, a thousand years ago looked at the rocky crag and said: “If we build it, He will come”.

But, I was not allowed to follow saints, I was following a tour guide and she made it clear the bus was going to be leaving at a chosen hour.  I had to be there.  I had to catch up.  I had to leave my quiet spaces and my ghost-monks behind.

There was no tide to watch for today.  Just the wrath of a tour guide who didn’t want to have the group wait for the grey-haired Yank tourist who kept falling behind.

Fifteen hours after we boarded the coaches in Paris, we were finally back to the plaza near the pyramid of the Louvre.

These photos are those I took while trying to get lost among the holy stones of the Abbey of Mont St. Michel:

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The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michele.

 

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The tidal flats and new causeway.

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Abbey Interior

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Abbey Interior

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Abbey Interior

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Abbey Interior

The Lock Bridges of Paris

Many have called Paris the “City of Lovers”.

The Seine River is like the Aorta of Paris.  It carries the life-blood of the city past and under some of the most important buildings and architecture this sublimely beautiful city possesses.  It’s color is that of some shade of green, not unpleasant, that defies description.  By night, the river is choked with long dinner cruise boats.  There is the occasional working barge filled with sand or gravel.

The flowing water bonds the city in many ways.  I have found that the bridges or ponts are especially fascinating.  In the evenings, couples will pause while crossing the water to hold and kiss beneath a classical sculpture.  The car traffic can be heavy on many of the ponts because they connect the Right Bank with the Left Bank.  The bridges are vital.  The bridges are alive with life.  The bridges are the protectors of the romance that fills the hearts of Parisians and visitors alike.  If you are with someone close to your heart, the green waters of the Seine and the exquisite bridges will help in spinning a web around your two hearts that is both pure and sensual at the same time.

According to Wikipedia, there are thirty-seven bridges that cross the Seine in the city center.  Several of these bridges have become symbolic of love and commitment.  These are the lock bridges.  I’ve been able to discover three such ponts.  They are the Pont de l’Archeveche, the Pont Neuf and the Pont des Arts.

I chose to declare my affection on a section of the Pont Neuf.  This is how it works:

A couple purchases a lock and keys.  They write their names, the date and perhaps a message with an indelible marker.  Then they snap the lock onto a piece of the iron grating.  The final step to seal their commitment is to throw the keys into the Seine.

This practice to place a lock on a bridge is done in a fair number of cities around the world.  The origins are believed to date from the First World War.  The government has tried to stop the practice, but the locks keep getting snapped into place.  The few sections I saw contained thousands of locks…each with something written on the brass or stainless steel casing.

I walked slowly past the tokens of love and began to read the names and dates.  Some were simple: Andre and Marion, Aug. 22, 1990. Love Always.

I read.  I wondered.  I imagined the hearts and souls that were on display in front of me.  I closed my eyes and tried to connect with these people who felt that love had to be locked to a bridge and the key tossed away.  There’s no getting the key back and no way to unlock the declaration that was made.

Some names were both male or both female.  Two gay fellows celebrating their affection.  Two women locking their hearts together.  Ordinary couples were represented all along the railing.  But, what did I not know about the names?  What was I not aware of about these hundreds of bonded hearts?  Were a few placed after the death of a partner?  Were they prayers written, like you often see in churches, that asked God to heal and cure a soul-mate?  Were any locks put there by one person, who tossed the keys into the water, hoping against hope for an end to the unrequited nature of their love?  Were some from children for their parents? Or, parents for their children.  What did the writing not say? I will wait for you until you are free!  Until the divorce or the parole or the execution?  Were any placed there after a particularly steamy night of passion…on a one-night stand?  Were any put there by someone being unfaithful to another?

Or, were some just hopeful wishes…placed by a lonely, broken and unhealed heart…who went home to an empty apartment and an empty life?

For me, it was an intensely emotional feeling being near the locks.  I imagine it is something like running your fingers over a name carved into the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington.  Just to feel the letters of the name is to feel the person.

Merely to touch the locks or even read them is like a prayer for those who had enough faith to place them and enough strength to toss the keys into the green waters of the Seine.

Love by proxy.

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