Such Great Heights

The Dewars Lounge in Terminal C of the Southwest Florida Regional Airport is nearly empty. Ours is the last flight of the night. Over beers and sandwiches, I tell Abbi about the round of golf my brother, father and I played this morning.

“I tell myself two things before every shot,” I said. “Keep your head down, and get out of the way.”

The former is the residual ethos derived of an age-old bad habit. I went hitless for entire afternoons of high school baseball, throwing my head out of my swing instead of watching the bat strike the ball. Likewise golf. Though I rarely play (it’s been two years), and do so solely in an effort to garner quality time with my reveared elder male relatives (my father, my uncle), I have been known to top the ball, sending it bouncing just a few feet off the tee, whiff it completely.

The latter, though, is the sage advice of Shivas Irons, protagonist of Esalen founder Michael Murphy’s fictional, mystic memoire, “Golf In The Kingdom.” I don’t read alot of golf books; I’m a more into post-modern fiction (Douglas Coupland, Nick Hornby, Russel Banks), World War Two non-fiction (“D-Day,” “Band Of Brothers,” “Flag Of Our Fathers”), rock bios (Dylan’s “Chronicles,” Legs McNeil’s “Please Kill Me,” Greg Kot’s “Learning To Die”), and the occassional rock criticism (Chuck Klosterman, Lester Bangs). But when my father sends me golf books — mystic or not — I read ’em.

After a particularly solid drive on the seventh hole (a 367 yard par four) of the Beachview Country Club course, my father paid me a high complimet.

“Nice hit,” he said.

“I tell myself two things before I hit the ball,” I said. “Keep your head down, and get out of the way.”

He smiled, then added one more nugget of Irons’ wisdom.

“And find your true center.”

I am loose lipped and emotional as I post-mortem the weekend of my father’s sixtieth birthday on Sanibel Island (click here for photos from the trip).

“It’s so weird,” I tell her. “I’m right on the edge of crying as I tell you you this. But it occurs to me just now that, for better or worse, my lot in life is to have a finely tuned sense of when I’m even a little bit off from my true center. It’s like a gyroscope, and I can tell when it’s just a speck off of its axis. I think that’s where all of the songs and writing and stuff comes from, but also the melancholy.”

“But it’s so hard to know when everything is centered,” she says.

“I dunno. For me, everything gets quiet. There are no voices in my head, no fear, or worry, or sadness, or anxiety. And I’m not looking backwards or forwards. I’m just,” I say, snapping my fingers, “right here. Right now.”

I take a sip of beer, and signal the bartender for our check.

“And then it’s gone.”

We settle up, shoulder our carry ons, and head for the gate.

‘Keep your head down, find your true center, and then get out of the way,’ I remind myself.

Everything is quiet in my head — no fear, worries, or sadness — as we lift off into the inky night with just one way to look: up.

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