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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Keep Looking Up

Updated: Aug 8, 2023



Step outside, tilt your head back and raise your arms straight into the air. Silently gaze up at your hands, your fingers, the sunlight dusting your wrists. Now, notice the sky between your palms, the cool azure, or is it grey … the languid clouds traipsing past. Welcome to the totality of your existence. Your raised hands are this moment - dynamic, alive, reaching. The sky is infinity - ineffable, everywhere, always. Infinity baffles my monkey brain, because it travels in both directions ... never starts, never stops. When I consider it, I think of my children. And their children. And the children a thousand generations ahead, living messages we send to a time we will not see.



“It is beautiful to talk about beautiful things and even more beautiful to silently gaze at them.” ― Dejan Stojanovic


The first gift my kids gave me was an understanding of permanence. The idea that this warm, pink thing was indelibly imprinted in the universe. A kiss on the cherubic cheek of time. Having to keep that helpless primate alive also provided a desperately needed sense of selflessness atop a crushing blow to ego, both major steps forward on my journey to being unbroken. And of course, youngsters provide constant, free entertainment, living toys for all of us to play with.


In his charming short story, Bears Among the Living, Kevin Moffett wrote,

“At IKEA my son asks why there are so many pregnant women shopping. I tell him I’m not sure. He asks if women go to IKEA to get pregnant and, although I am intrigued by the idea of women going to IKEA to get pregnant, I restrain myself from telling him that yes, they do. I say maybe they do. He asks if I knew that French women are naked 30% of the time, and I tell him I did not. Where did you hear this? He says it’s just something he knows. He says he knows a lot of things his mother and I don’t. Seems like lately he’s been trying to keep himself a mystery. When I tell him he needs to go brush his teeth, he says, Does a tiger brush his teeth?” — Kevin Moffett, The Best Short Stories of 2022



I know lots of things, though I don't know most things. One thing I know is that our own little Buddhas, smelling of honey and sunshine and so eager to know things, constantly blessed us with exquisite non-sequitors ... like, “What is the highest number you ever counted to?” Or, "What do birds eat? Do they like blue cheese?" And the occasional humanistic bombshell like, “What is doubt?” At eight years old, my son asked, “Daddy, why don't you have to do anything but drink beer and talk?” Hmmm. In that same short story, Moffett wrote, “Listening to my wife and son try to reach a compromise about how many toys he is allowed to bring to bed with him, I think: The sheer number of words it takes to raise a child - it’s absurd.“


Reading with offspring circa 2011

All this got me thinking that each person should be allotted at birth a finite number of words to speak in their lifetime. Clearly, I surpassed my quota somewhere around 1995 and should have remained silent ever since - with notable exceptions for reading to children, writing these rants and singing (aka rocking my go-to Karaoke tune in the video below, John Prine's Angel from Montgomery). Other than that, however, I would have had to shut the fuck up 30 years ago.




When I look up into the sky between my hands, I often think of my father, who last year transitioned from an upright human to the horizon line. Like all our phone conversations my whole life, these brief, connective moments are somehow complete. Talk less. Smile more. The unending sky also reminds me of the laughably brief blip of time allotted each of us. I often feel compelled to smack that brevity right in its teeny rat face. But that frown turns upside down as I appreciate the countless firm handshakes left in those sun-kissed hands. The applause. The skin they will caress.




I also reflect on sacred moments with my now teenage sons, wherein I attempt to access my own lived teen experience to clear bits of rubble from the roads they’re walking down. Turning the corner on the third act of my life, just seeing their adolescent faces provides purpose and pleasure.


"The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you

are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love. To be loved. To never

forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence

and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest

places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or

complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all,

to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to

forget." ― Arundhati Roy


2023 commissioned work
Detach, inkjet book covers of Siddhartha, acrylic on canvas, 24x32" 2023

I'm no expert on maximizing our fleeting lives, that’s for sure. But a primary joy I receive from our Swan Dive Podcast project is the opportunity to connect with those who have clarity on this question. People like our most recent guest, Katie Hathaway, my current "shero."



Katie had a fine and privileged life as a business woman, devoted mother and wife in northern Florida. But, a few years ago, driving home from school, her 7-year-old son told her he knew his classroom would be the first to get shot up if a shooter came, because it was closest to the front of the building. Of course, this non-sequitur gutted her. The mere fact that her boy would be thinking these thoughts made Katie sick. As many know, I reacted similarly to Sandy Hook given my son was the same age as twenty 6-year-old victims that unimaginable day.




But, this is not a tirade on gun violence ... nor a sad story. To the contrary, this is about recognition of purpose. Katie Hathaway woke the next day and pivoted her entire life to something she cared deeply about. For whatever internal reason, she knew she had to do something. To run into the firefight. Now, she's Florida chapter lead at Moms Demand Action. She's logged thousands of hours in the streets, on the phone, petitioning elected officials, attending school board and council meetings ad nauseam. Katie shows up. That's where she fits into infinity. I invite you to enjoy Katie‘s boots-on-the-ground story. More importantly, ignite your own.



“The hand is the visible part of the brain.”

Immanuel Kant


Staring at the sinew of my hands, I recognize my ability to grasp. To seize moments. To create. Our early human ancestors, Homo Australopithecus, bore scant difference to deer or iguanas or bears. In Sapiens, historian Yuval Noah Harari describes them as "unremarkable animals" searching for food and safety. I embrace this notion of being unremarkable because, we’re really not too far from screeching monkeys scratching our bits. Nevertheless, we can still stare upward through our raised hands. Shut our eyes and picture our desire. See our best self, the one who actually lives by the golden rule, leads with kindness, empathy, enthusiasm. We embody this higher frequency ... even just for a few moments. Without distraction. Detached. In blissful wonder of our own potential.



One of the most blissfully wonderful people I've ever known died this week at 99. Hopelessly romantic and committed to her art, Ruth Greenfield moved to Paris in 1949 to study classical piano. There, she experienced a society far more racially integrated than her native Miami, still in the throes of Jim Crow segregation in schools, beaches, parks, restaurants. Back home in 1951, Ruth founded the Fine Arts Conservatory, one of the first fully integrated schools for music, art and dance in the South. Her sole criteria for a child's entry was a love of music, and this colorblind approach, considered scandalous at the time, breathed fresh air into the hacking chest of a toxic society. Ruth was the prettiest nonagenarian I ever saw, her beauty magnified by her boundless curiosity. She always asked substantive questions and remembered every vivid detail about us, my mom, our kids, our passions. She never wanted to talk about herself ... so I'm doubly delighted/grateful to have captured her American Dream story on Swan Dive.


And, she always graced us with music at her beloved piano. Sitting together in the living room of her historic Miami home, her outstretched hands dancing with the clouds of white keys between them. The phrase "tickling the ivories" must have been coined for Ruth, for her wizened fingers made her instrument laugh and filled us all with infinite delight. I love you, Ruth. I know you can hear me. I'll see you in the horizon.


Now, please send us out with a tune!




Keep looking up!



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Guest
Sep 03, 2023

What a gift to have a quiet moment to read your post Stuart! I went outside as you said, raised my arms to the sky and drank in the infinity I found here between my hands in my precious mountain home. You always find a way to present a new perspective, on what I call "the most perfect adventure" of raising our boys! Thank you and a big sky hug from all of us to all of you. Jane XO

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eric.dubbin
Aug 08, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

If dreams were lightning and thunder was desire, this old house would have burned down a long time ago. i loved every juicy morsel of that posting.

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Stuart Sheldon
Stuart Sheldon
Aug 08, 2023
Replying to

And I love every morsel of you, Sir!

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Guest
Aug 05, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Once again your words delight my soul Stuart. Thank you and Pura Vida to you and the family.

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Guest
Aug 05, 2023

As an octogenerian I can attest that joining PiLam in college at UF extended my life by at least 30 years. It was eating Gus' healthy meals and using clean bathrooms in the House that got me to age 86. So if the guys want me to give an endorsement to avoiding TEP and becoming a Pilam, just let me know. Chuck Ruffner

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