The Garden of Earthly Deletes

DeleteKey

Her email: I’m sorry about what happened.  Will you forgive me?  Can you forgive me?  Will you let me come back?

My response: No, after what u said before.  If that’s the way u want things to be then don’t come home..stay with u r mom!!

Her email: Please let’s try to work things out.  I love u.

I thought of her and her broken heart…broken so many times by so many guys.

My response: That sounds like total BS to me…but maybe we can meet at the usual place…just to talk. 

My finger wavered over the SEND key.  I hesitated.  My mind was muddy from the back-and-forth emotions of the last few hours.  I moved my hand toward the DELETE key. I thought about her feelings of remorse for a nano-second and then I punched it like I was squashing a malarial Anopheles mosquito.  I was angry at what she had said to me.  A moment passed.  I wasn’t angry anymore.  I wanted to take back the email and reword it into a plea to stay with me.  But I knew it was too late.  Once that rectangular key is pressed, what was, isn’t anymore.  It was like an erasure of a dry marker on a white board.  This momentary spike of anger I felt had vanished.

Like the final email, I had erased her.  I regretted what I had done.  I failed to stem the bleeding from her soul.  I failed her.

I sat and thought about the situation for an hour.  Then I sat down and wrote a message saying I was sorry I told her to go live with her mom.  I pushed SEND this time.  After getting a cold beer from the fridge, I sat back down at the laptop.  I read in disbelief that the email had bounced back to me.  She had closed her account.  She was unavailable.  She was gone.  I had just deleted her from my life.  She always said it would probably end like this…that I would get her out of my life, that I would erase her.  That I would delete her.  She somehow knew this was coming for a year now.  And I played into her vortex of negativity.

That damn DELETE key.  How does that work, anyway?  How can you delete something?  Where does it go?  I know it exists as pulses of digital bits, but somewhere in the server’s main frame, it must still live.

It’s one of the most basic laws of science: one cannot create or destroy matter.  And, the electrons of the digital bits that make up a simple email message, are made of matter.

So, where is that email now?  Right now at this precise second?  Where are the zillions of deleted messages?

I once read that computers can’t really erase them from existence.  What I read is that in deleting, you simply remove the address.  But the information is still out there…somewhere.  A good hacker could get them back, but I didn’t know any hackers, good or bad.

So I did the only thing I could think of doing.  I took a walk.

I wandered all over the sleeping city until the eastern sky turned pink.  It was then that I spotted the long stone wall.  I had never seen this before.  I walked up to the only door, a great wooden entrance like one would find in a castle.  I looked up.  The sky was turning blue above the twenty-foot wall of grey granite rocks.

I pushed on the door and it opened.  I stepped over the threshold.  All around me was the most amazing and beautiful garden I had ever seen.  How did this place exist without me knowing about it?  I walked along the stone-slab path.  A full minute passed before I realized that there were dozens of words hanging from the branches and flower pedals.  No, not a dozen…hundreds, thousands.  Then it all came into focus in the clear morning air.  Every plant in the garden was festooned with strings of words.  They were not on paper or tape.  They were words that formed sentences held together with some kind of invisible force.  I took one and read it:

So, wat r we doin tmrro nite??? 

I read more.  Each one was full of errors and misspoken sentiments.  Some were meaningless.  Some were pornographic.  Some were declarations of undying love.  And, some were rejections of love.  The messages of sadness and hate and anger hung like dead snakes.  They all hung like that, dead black and serpentine.

I’m not a genius by any means, but I knew that these were deleted messages.  This is where they went to spend eternity.

Everything in the garden was broken.  I could see broken engagements, hearts, marriages, affairs, souls, plans, dreams, nightmares and prayers.  Pleas to God for a healing.  But deleted when the loved one dies anyway.

All those deletes.

The little garden had morphed while my back was turned.  When I looked around, the trees and shrubs now stretched beyond the horizon.  The city had disappeared and I found myself standing in the midst of countless plants, like Dorothy’s field of poppies, that covered one rolling hill after another.  They all were festooned with deleted messages.  Uncountable in number, each message was something not sent to someone over the internet.  Most of them bore the sad, lonely and forlorn aura of a mistake made and then regretted.

But, wouldn’t a simple email correct the mistake?,  you may ask.  Well, I was proof that sometimes that does not happen so easily.  In days of old, if you put a letter into a mailbox and let it drop, it was a done deal and irretrievable.  If you then traveled to the home of the person you had sent the regretful mail, you may be confronted with an empty house.  Or, if you tried to dial-up someone to repair a wound you caused, you could be met with: “I’m sorry, that number is no longer in service”.

It all came down to the same problem.  How could one ever stop a bullet once the trigger was pulled?  How could one run to overtake an arrow that was shot, straight and true, before it struck the target?

I wanted her back and the best hope was here in the garden of deletes.  But, the task was impossible and I knew it.

Or was it?

I noticed a section of the garden where it seemed to be raining, raining new deletes. They fell onto the trees like black strips of strange snow.  If my deleted message were anywhere, wouldn’t it be where the incoming was coming in?

I walked over to that part of the garden.  I began reading the messages.  Some were paragraphs and some were chapters and some were even entire books.  I was looking for only a sentence.  But there was no way I could find it here.  I had to find another way to dress her wound.

I turned around to look for the exit.  I took a step.  There it was, hanging right before my eyes.  Without even thinking, I grabbed it and ran for the garden door.  The vast endless fields had shrunken to the little patch of flowers and trees that I had seen when I first entered.  I crumbled the message into a tight ball and threw it over the wall.  It was a mighty throw but the message made it out.  I squinted as I watched as it hit the top of the wall and bounced out.

I had successfully saved my deleted message from this garden of eternal regrets.

As I walked through the doorway, I found myself on my own street.  I lived nearby.  Putting my hands in my pockets, I walked in the direction of home.

I heard the squeal of rubber tires and the bump of a car as it hit the curb near me and came to an abrupt stop.  I turned.  There she was, clawing at the front door of her car.  She flung it open and ran straight into my arms.

“My email was slow today,” she said.  “I got your reply.  So you’ll give me another chance?  You will, won’t you?  I so love you.”

I put my arm over her shoulder and we walked back to my place, our place, as if nothing had happened.

 

 

 

A Brief History of Chains and Chainmaking

Broad_chain_closeup

I am holding a very special letter in my hand right now.

But, first…

Whether we realize it or not, chains play a very important part in our lives.  Indeed, chains have, throughout history, helped to hold the very fabric of our changing civilization together.  For example, I was astounded to learn that the metal chain was first used as early as 225 BCE.  How the archeo-technologists were able to achieve the high temperatures needed for smelting iron and forging the links is a mystery to me.  I know that the use of bellows in these primitive blast-furnaces helped to drive up the temperature to extraordinary degrees, but it remains a puzzle as to how it was all accomplished.  In my daily reading of the Old and New Testament, I cannot recall a single reference to the use of a metal chain.  Ropes, yes, but not a chain as we know it.

The manner in which we use chains is also something that we seem to have completely overlooked.  There are chains in parks, gardens, ships, dog leashes and doors, but these are only about 1 percent of the total usage.  I have included a special list of various chain uses later in this essay.

The first patent taken out for a chain cable was by Phillip White, a blacksmith from Northumbria, England.  The “smithy” was the mainstay of chain making until new technology rendered it obsolete in the 1970’s.  So, here we have an unbroken link of this very useful item from 225 BCE until the latter days of the 20th century.  Chains of course are still manufactured, but giant amorphous machines and furnaces have left the old blacksmith to hand making decorative chains for sale in gift shops and craft fairs.

Another little known aspect of this very interesting industry is the role that women have played.  In the Midlands of England, which was the industrial heart of the country, women were often the forgers of mid-weight chain cables.  One such woman, a legend in her time, was Lucy Woodall.  She apprenticed for the Samuel Woodhouse & Sons of Cradley Heath.  She was 13 years old at the time and would work 12 hour shifts.  After her retirement in the 1970’s, she went on to do “podging” on rugs for charity.  Lucy died in 1979 after suffering years with arthritis. I will present here a partial list of the uses of chains:

Chainsaws, lifting chain-linked Lewis, chain drives, curb chain, door chain, key chain, lavatory chain, leg-iron chains (fetters), chain link fences anchor chains and even as musical percussion instruments heard in such works as Janacek’s From the House of the Dead.

Chains have made their way into our cultural world in other ways.  The First Gulf War had a theme song…it was Unchained Melody.  And, who among us will not feel our heart-break or a tear fall when Janis Joplin sings the blues in Ball and Chain?

Here are a few examples of the intricate and decorative designs found in some chains:

284px-Single-jack-chain      357px-Double_jack_chain     800px-Singapore_chain

 

A single jack chain                   A double jack chain                                   A particularly pretty Singapore chain

One afternoon in 1910, a woman chain maker by the name of Lydia Bare, sat on a bench to take a much-needed break.  Her rest was necessary as she was only 15 years old and had not yet gotten used to the long hours of standing and pounding her hammer.  She looked at the mound of coiled chains that represented her efforts of three days of labor.  Her mind drifted to thoughts of her sister, Molly Reagan, who was living in New York City.  She had not seen her beloved sister in several years…since Molly married Michael Reagan and them emigrated to America.  Lydia and her sister, Molly were not natives of England.  Neither was Michael.  They were all Irish.  The prospect of steady work forced them to leave Ireland and move to England.  She saw the loops of iron, hundreds of them, all linked and seemingly endless and unbroken.  She thought of writing a letter to Molly.

Lydia began to feel very sad about her life without her beloved sister.  She looked around her and saw the grime and dust that was her workplace for 12 hours everyday.  It disgusted her.  She looked at her hands remembering how soft and lovely and white they were when she was a little girl.  Now she was seeing calloused, scarred, burnt, red and puffed hands of a middle-aged woman.  Who will ever marry me?, she wondered.  Who will find me attractive?  What man would want to kiss the roughness of these hands?

Just then, a group of factory managers began to crowd in the doorway of her shop.  They were on their months tour of the various buildings of the vast mill grounds.

Lydia rose and returned to the anvil.

So, what have we here?  One of the men pointed at the coil of chains that Lydia had been producing.

She stared at the pile of iron rings.  A bad taste was filling her mouth.

These are the chains I forged here during my life, she answered.  The men smiled and filed out.  The last man glanced back from the doorway at Lydia and thought: so pretty, I wonder what her ankles look like.

Chain Lady

The only known photograph of Lydia Bare (ca 1900)

A year later, Lydia mailed her sister a long letter.  In it she described her life and her dreams.  Would it be possible, she asked at the end of the five-page letter, to come to New York and stay with her and Michael for a short time until she could find a job and a small flat to live?  Jokingly, she asked Molly if there were many Yanks who would like a nice a nice and obedient Irish lass for a wife?  As she wrote that line, Lydia thought of how much lotion she would have to use to soften her ugly hands.  At least I have an acceptable face, she thought.

Molly wrote a letter back to Lydia after holding the letter close to her heart for nearly a year.  Yes, there are too many Yank menfolk, she said, and too few women of marrying age.  Michael and I will think about this for a bit.

Michael and Molly held onto the letter for another year or so.  They held onto it when Molly took ill.  The letter went with Molly to the hospital on Blackwell’s Island when she was told by the doctors that she had contracted consumption.  Lydia’s letter was kept in a special decorated teak wood box that stayed on a table beside whatever bed she was sleeping in.  The box with the letter was in her hands when she died.

Michael took the box and a small trunk of things that were special to the life he had shared with his much-loved Molly.  He gave the box to a distant cousin for safekeeping and then walked downtown.  Thirty-five minutes later his dead body was found wedged against a pier below the Brooklyn Bridge.

Lydia waited for a reply for years.  She never learned of the fate of her sister.  She gave up hope of ever emigrating to America and finding a strapping Yank husband.  She married an iron worker from the same mill company where she worked.  He had a love for the bottle but not for poor Lydia.  One evening he beat her to death with an iron rod.  The kind of rod that would someday be turned into a chain.

The cousin, Barry, looked through the box and then tied it tightly in leather straps.  He never read the letter from Lydia.

In 1930, Barry’s son, Paul takes possession of the box upon his father’s death.  Paul loved old things and he began to read the letters that Molly had collected.  He came upon Lydia’s letter and thought it was very special in the way it described a long ago life of two girls in Ireland.  He put the letter into a new envelope and, with a note, mailed it to his fiancé, Mary, who lived on a farm in Pennsylvania.  Mary read the letter and decided to stop delaying her marriage.  She and Paul were united in Matrimony in 1936.  They had four boys, the youngest being Colin.  That’s me.

Upon the passing of my father, it was left to me to go through his papers.  In an old teak wood box, still held together with leather straps, I found Lydia’s letter.

I saw it as a kind of chain letter.  It had survived many changes of hands.  No one broke the chain, not really.

That’s the letter I’m holding in my hand at this moment.  Good luck delivered it to me.

The letter reads in part:

Dear Molly, This letter is like a chain, it may have a beginning, that is me, but where it will end is something not known to us.  The links in this letter are like those of a chain, intertwined and forged close by my own hand in the furnace of heat mixed with drops of my very own sweat.  How unladylike a thing to say.  I believe that it would be unlucky if this letter were lost or destroyed.  That would be like having a ship’s anchor chain break.  The unfettered vessel would then drift away, into a storm, and eventually sink.  It is my most dearest wish that anyone who holds or reads this letter to never, never sink…for sinking is death.  Save, hide, recopy and cherish this letter and make sure it moves on through our family…so that all who are a part of the chain will live.  This letter has the weight of iron but the freedom of winged flight.  Hold on to these words of mine and you will fly.

I pondered over who to leave the letter to upon my own death.  I have a grandson, so perhaps my daughter is the one to own it.  But my son will likely be a father someday.

The choices lay coiled, like a long iron chain in a small shop in the Midlands of England.

 

[Sources: Wikipedia and “Chains and Chainmaking” by Charles Fogg.  1981 Shire Publications Ltd.]

The Confessional: A Short Story

MontrealConfessional

An elaborate carved oak confessional sat in a corner of a large and beautiful church. It was the Church of Our Lady of the World in Montreal, the center of Catholic French Canada.

There were several confessionals in this cavernous house of worship.  The congregation, holding onto the older ways of the Roman Church, still frequented the booths to obtain absolution for their sins, perceived or otherwise.  The old French priests sat in the center portion, and on busy sinful days, would lean first one way than another to hear two confessors, one at a time.  He would slide open a small wooden grated screen and lean toward the sinner.

The interaction, perhaps in French, went something like this:

The penitent: “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been (giving a time) since my last confession”.

The Confessor: “Go ahead”.

After the litany of transgressions was spoken, the priest would offer a few words of advice or encouragement.  He would then absolve the sins, in the Name of God the Father, God the Son and The Holy Ghost.  Then came the penance; which was often a few prayers, or, if the sin was great, a deed or command from the priest to go out and make things right.

“Go, and sin no more”, was often the departing words from the priest.

The confessional hours were Wednesday’s from 4:00 until 5:30pm and on Saturday from 2:00 until 5:00pm.  For especially troubled souls, a private appointment could be made with any of the priests available.

Hugh Ballard sat in a corner of a pew, in the apse section of the church.  He was alone save for a few praying and troubled souls that shunned the nave and wished to keep to the more deserted corners of the great church.  This is the place that Hugh liked the most.  He was mostly alone with his thoughts.  He also had a direct view of a certain elaborate carved oak confessional.  From his place at the end of the pew, he would wait until 5:05pm, every Wednesday, when she would walk down the right aisle of the nave and enter the confessional.

Hugh had first seen her several months ago when he was making an attempt to translate the Latin quotes that were written high on the wall above the altar.

Winter had set into Montreal.  The cold blasts of wind from the St. Lawrence River drove people indoors, to the shops along the Rue Sainte-Catherine; the bookstores, the bistros and the churches.  Montreal had more than it’s share of houses of worship.

She caught his eye as she walked down the side aisle toward the confessional.  Her mid-thigh coat was a bitter lime color trimmed with faux rabbit and her black woolen tights fitted nicely into mid-calf boots of fleece-lined leather.  But it was her hair, an enticing blend of auburn and chestnut, moderately curled, that blended with the tassels of her wool nordic style cap that caught his eyes and kept them on her for too many minutes, too many minutes to qualify as a glance…but long enough to be called a stare.  Her overly long scarf hid her chin and neck. Hugh estimated that she stood 5’3″ in her socks.  Hugh was 6’2″.  She would fit nicely under his arms in a passionate hug.

On more that one occasion, their eyes met.  Once, when she left the confessional, he caught her glancing over at him as he sat and read in his chosen pew.

Hugh had very dark brown hair that curled behind his ears.  He often skipped shaving,  giving him a slight air of an artist or graduate student.  His eyes were hazel and, to most women, worth the time for an endless gaze.  But, at 5:04pm on Wednesdays,  his eyes were scanning the front door for her appearance.  At first, he would sit about half-way down the nave pews, and when he sensed her walking down the aisle, he would cross himself and get up to leave.  This move would put him almost face to face with her.  He would use the two or three seconds to look into her eyes, study her cheeks and hear her take a breath.  Being a man of quick thinking, he would time his inhales so that he could smell her…her lack of perfume…just her.  He detected a faint body heat from her walking in her warm coat.  That faint body heat often carried with it her scent.  The scent that separates one person from another, however subtle.  And to Hugh, her scent was pleasing beyond explanation.

Once or twice their eyes caught each other.

He also had a fraction of a second during this moment when he could see her hair from only inches from his eyes.  However, after several of these attempts of proximity, Hugh began to feel that he was taking a risk.  He needed to see her from another location…from a corner where she would not notice him.  That very last thing he wanted was to have her think that he was stalking her.

No, that could never happen.

So on each Wednesday, he would find a place to pray…that is to watch her.

As she turned the corner by the confessional was a marble column that contained Holy Water.  She would dip her fingers into the clear liquid and cross herself before pulling back the heavy velvet curtain and going in to tell the Confessor her failings…her sins.

Hugh began to keep time of her sessions.  She would stay 24 minutes each time.  Hugh, who had not been to confession in many years, thought that was a long time to tell someone your sins.  Then he began to wonder.  What could this beautiful, pure, virginal soul have to confess?  What sins could she have committed?  Was she an embezzler?  A diamond thief?  An art thief?  Surely, none of her sins could have been of the flesh, she was too pure a soul for that sort of thing.

It didn’t take many Wednesdays before Hugh fell in love with the girl.  He had no idea of how to approach her.  What would, or could he say to her?  It was at these times that he lost faith in himself.  No woman as angelic as she would ever so much as give him the time of day.  Hugh was certain that his existence was nothing to her.  He may as well have lived in the backwaters of the Amazon River.

But, his curiosity grew as to what she was telling the Confessor.  So he devised a plan.  This was a despicable plan and he was ashamed of himself for even considering it.  He went ahead and considered it anyway.  He would listen in on her confession.  After all, it was the only way.  Even if he caught the priest in a small alley behind the church in the blackest hours of the night and put his hands on his neck, the old man would never break the Seal of Confession.

Hugh went to a large Radio Shack and began to ask questions.  Eventually, he found out about a small “spyware” shop several miles south of town, in a warehouse district close to the Vermont border.  He purchased a small mic that would transmit voices to the tiny ear set of his smart phone.  Next, he went to a cheap stationery store and bought some patches of goo that was meant to stick posters on walls.  It was guaranteed to hold 15 pounds.

Perfect.

A few days later, he sat and read a book in the apse pews.  He waited until the tourists left.  The church wardens were busy moving people out in preparation for the evening Mass.  A wide column blocked anyone’s view of him and the confessional.  He stood close by as if he were studying a plaque on the wall.  Then, after a quick check around him, he pulled back the velvet curtain and, leaning over, pressed the goo and mic to the underside of the small elbow shelf below the screen that separated the sinner from the Confessor.

“May I help you?”

Hugh quickly backed out and stood facing a young priest.  He hadn’t seen this guy when he checked seconds earlier.

“I…I think I had dropped my wedding ring on the floor,” Hugh lied.

They both pulled back the curtain and looked on the carpet.  No ring.

“Sorry, guess it slipped off elsewhere.”

Hugh was out of the side door just as he heard the chiming bells that told the small congregation that Mass was about to begin.

On the next Wednesday, Hugh was sitting somewhat more distant from the confessional.  He quietly pushed his ear phone in and pulled his hair over it so people would not think he was listening to some punk group in this house of worship.

He turned his phone on and muted the tones.  He could hear the rustling of a books pages.  Earlier, he watched as the elderly Confessor entered the center booth and prepared for the parade of sinners.  He was probably reading his Office, a certain number of prayers that priests were required to read every day.

Then he saw her coming down the side aisle.  It was a mild day and her coat was unbuttoned, revealing a plaid shirt.   Her small breasts, hidden from view all winter, were now slightly visible under her shirt.  He tried to imagine them on her slight body.

She dipped her fingers into the Holy Water and crossed herself as usual, but not before glancing at him and holding the contact longer than usual.  She turned and entered the booth.

Hugh became suddenly uneasy.  What if she had seen too much of him each Wednesday?  What if she suspected him of stalking her?  He knew he wasn’t.  He knew he loved her…but from afar.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” she began.

“Yes, my child?”

“You see, Father, I have certain feelings for a certain man…and I don’t even know his name.  I think he follows me around the church sometimes.  I know he’s here in this church tonight.”

Hugh’s panic grew.

“Do you think he’s following you to do harm to you?  Shall I call 911?”

Hugh’s phone was equipped with a chip that could tell him if another cell phone was being activated.  He heard the signal!  The Confessor had taken his cell and turned it on.

It was all over.  Hugh walk quickly to the side door and broke into a sprint.  Halfway through the park that surrounded the church he yanked the ear phone out and threw his cell into a trash can.  He leaned over to cover it with a discarded meal.  Perhaps this would give him precious time to get many blocks away when the police searched the cans.  He ran like his life depended on it.  He ran until he found himself lost in the tiny side streets of Old Montreal near the river.

“Oh, no, Father.  No.  No.  You see I have come to love him, even though we’ve never spoken.  I am taken by this man.  I want this man, Father.  I want him to take me and make the maddest of love to me.  Please, Father, help me find the right words to say to him.”

“You see, my Confessor, all my other little sins are nothing I feel the need to ask forgiveness for.  I have come today to confess the deepest of and darkest of sins….Lust.”