Shane Koyczan, “The Crickets Have Arthritis,” Words Aloud 2007, Canada (by WordsAloud2)
It doesn’t matter why I was there, where the air is sterile and the sheets sting. It doesn’t matter that I was hooked up to this thing that buzzed and beeped every time my heart leaped like a man who’s faith tells him God’s hands are big enough to catch an airplane, or a world. It doesn’t matter that I was curled up like a fist protesting death, or that every breath was either hard labour or hard time, or that I’m either always too hot or too cold. Doesn’t matter because my hospital roommate wears star wars pajamas, and he’s 9 years old. His name is Louis, and I don’t have to ask what he’s got. The bald head with the skin and bones frame speaks volumes. The Game Boy and the feather pillow booms like they’re trying to make him feel at home because he’s going to be here awhile. I manage a smile the first time I see him and it feels like the biggest lie I have ever told, so I hold my breath cos I’m thinking any minute now he’s going to call me on it. I hold my breath because I’m scared of a 57 pound boy hooked up to a machine because he’s been watching me and maybe I’ve got him pegged all wrong, like maybe he’s bionic or some shit. So I look away like I just made eye contact with a gang member who’s got a rap sheet the length of a lecture on dumb mistakes politicians have made. I look away like he’s going to give me my life back the moment I’ve got something to trade. I damn near pull out my pack and say, “Cigarette?” But my fear subsides in the moment I realize Louis is all show and tell. He’s got everything from a shotgun shell to a crow’s foot and he can put them all in context. Like, “See, this is from a shooting range”, and “See, this is from a weird girl”. I watch his hands curl around a cuff-link and a tie-tack and realize that every nick-nack is a treasure and every treasure has a story, and every time I think I can’t handle more he hits me with another story. He says, “See, this is from my father” “See, this is from my brother” “See, this is from that weird girl” “See, this is from my mother”. Took me about two days to figure out that weird girl is his sister, it took him about two hours today after she left for him to figure out he missed her. And they visit every day, and stay well past visiting hours because for them that term doesn’t apply. But when they do leave, Louis and I are left alone. And he says, “The worst part about being sick is that you get all the free ice cream you ask for.” And he says, “The worst part about that is realizing there is nothing more they can do for you.” He says, “Ice cream can’t make everything okay.” And there is no easy way of asking, and I know what he’s going to say but maybe he just needs to say it, so I ask him anyway. “Are you scared?” Louis doesn’t even lower his voice when he says, “Fuck yeah.” I listen to a 9 year old boy say the word fuck like he was a 30 year old man with a nose-bleed being lowered into a shark tank, he’s got a right to it. And if it takes this kid a curse word to help him get through it, then I want to teach him to swear like the devil’s sitting there taking notes with a pen and a pad. But before I can forget that Louis is 9 years old he says, “Please don’t tell my dad.” He asks me if I believe in angels. And before I realize I don’t have the heart to tell him, I tell him, “Not lately.” and I just lay there waiting for him to hate me. But he doesn’t know how to, so he never does. Louis loves like a man who lived in a time before God gave religion to men and left it to them to figure out what hate was. He never greets me with silence, only smiles and a patience I’ve never seen in someone who knows they’re dying. And I’m trying so hard not to remind him I’ll be out of here in a couple days, smoking cigarettes and taking my life for granted. And he’ll still be planted in this bed like a flower that refuses to grow. I’ve been with him for 5 days and all I really know is that Louis loves to pull feathers out of his pillow, and watch them float to the ground. Almost as if he’s the philosopher inside of the scientist ready to say, “It’s gravity that’s been getting us down.” But the truth is: there’s not enough miracles to go around, kid. And there’s too many people petitioning God for the winning lotto ticket. And for every answered prayer, there’s a cricket with arthritis. And the only reason we can’t find answers is because the search party didn’t invite us, and Louis, right now the crickets have arthritis. So there is no music, no symphony of nature swelling to crescendos, as if ripping halos into melodies that can keep a rhythm with the way our hearts beat. So we must meet silence with the same level of noise that the parents of dying 9 year old boys make when they take liberties in talking with heaven. We must shout until we shatter in our own vibrations, then let our lives echo and grow, echo and grow, grow distant. Grow distant enough to know that as far as our efforts go, we don’t always get a reply. But I swear to whatever God I can find in the time I have left, I’m going to remember you kid. I’m going to tell your story as often as every story you told me. And every time I tell it I’ll say, “See, there’s bravery in this world. There’s 6.5 billion people curled up like fists protesting death, but every breath we breathe has to be given back. A 9 year old boy taught me that.” So hold your breath, the same way you’d hold a pen when writing Thank You letters on your skin to every tree that gave you that breath to hold. And then let it go, as if you understand something about getting old and having to give back. Let it go like a laugh attack in the middle of really good sex, the black eye will be worth it. Because what is your night worth without a story to tell? And why wield a word like worth if you’ve got nothing to sell? People drop pennies down a wishing well, so the cost of a desire is equal to that of a thought. But if you’ve got expectations, expect others have bought your exact same dream for the price of a ‘hard work, hang in, hold on’ mentality. Like, I accept any challenge so challenge me. Like, I brought a knife to this gun fight, but the other night I mugged a mountain so bring that shit, I’ve had practice. Louis and I cracked this world wide open and found that the prize inside is we never lied to ourselves. Never told ourselves that we’d be easy or undemanding. Never dreamt of anyone handing us anything. So we sing in our own vibrations, and dare angels to eavesdrop and stop mid-flight to pluck feathers from their wings and write demands that God’s hands take the time to catch you. So that, even if God doesn’t, it wasn’t because we didn’t try. I don’t often believe in angels, but on the day I left Louis pulled a feather from his pillow and said, “This is for you.” I half expected him to say, “See, this is the first one I grew.”
There will be bad days.
Loosen your grip, opening each palm slowly now.
Know that now is only a moment, and that if today is as bad as it gets, understand that by tomorrow, today will have ended.
Accept each extended hand offered, to pull you back from the somewhere you cannot escape.
Scrape the gray sky clean.
Realize every dark cloud is a smoke screen meant to blind us from the truth, and the truth is whether we see them or not - the sun and moon are still there and always there is light.
Despite your instinct to say “it’s alright, I’m okay” - be honest.
Say how you feel without fear or guilt, without remorse or complexity.
Be lucid in your explanation, be sterling in your oppose.
If you think for one second no one knows what you’ve been going through; be accepting of the fact that you are wrong, that the long drawn and heavy breaths of despair have at times been felt by everyone - that pain is part of the human condition and that alone makes you a legion.
We hungry underdogs, we risers with dawn, we dissmisser’s of odds, we blesser’s of on – we will station ourselves to the calm.
We will hold ourselves to the steady, be ready player one.
Life is going to come at you armed with hard times and tough choices, your voice is your weapon, your thoughts ammunition – there are no free extra men, be aware that as the instant now passes, it exists now as then.
So be a mirror reflecting yourself back, and remembering the times when you thought all of this was too hard and you’d never make it through.
Remember the times you could have pressed quit – but you hit continue.
Living with the burden of anger, is not living.
Giving your focus to wrath will leave your entire self absent of what you need.
Love and hate are beasts and the one that grows is the one you feed.
Be the weed growing through the cracks in the cement, beautiful - because it doesn’t know it’s not supposed to grow there.
Declare what you accept as true in a way that envisions the resolve with which you accept it.
If you are having a good day, be considerate.
A simple smile could be the first-aid kit that someone has been looking for.
If you believe with absolute honesty that you are doing everything you can - do more.
There will be bad days, times when the world weighs on you for so long it leaves you looking for an easy way out.
There will be moments when the drought of joy seems unending, instances spent pretending that everything is alright when it clearly is not; check your blind spot.
See that love is still there, be patient.
Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end.
Ignore what others have called you; I am calling you friend.
Make us comprehend the urgency of your crisis.
Silence left to its own devices, breed’s silence so speak and be heard.
One word after the next, express yourself and put your life in the context – if you find that no one is listening, be loud.
Stand in poise and be open.
Hope in these situations is not enough and you will need someone to lean on.
In the unlikely event that you have no one, look again.
Everyone is blessed with the ability to listen: the deaf will hear you with their eyes; the blind will see you with their hands.
Let your heart fill their news-stands; let them read all about it.
Admit to the bad days, the impossible nights.
Listen to the insights of those who have been there, but come back.
They will tell you; you can stack misery, you can pack despair you can even wear your sorrow – but come tomorrow you must change your clothes.
Everyone knows pain.
We are not meant to carry it forever.
We were never meant to hold it so closely, so be certain in the belief that what pain belongs to now will belong soon to then.
That when someone asks you how was your day, realize that for some of us – it’s the only way we know how to say, be calm.
Loosen your grip, opening each palm, slowly now – let go.
To deliver oneself up, hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hill, or sea, or desert: to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labor in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.
Photograph by Edward Sheriff Curtis (February 16, 1868 – October 19, 1952)