Charlie is still. He’s as still as the limb, where he sits. He seems a part of the limb, a greenish tan, blending into the bark, a greenish tan separating from the bark. Shallow breaths move his rib cage in and out. Slow rolls rotate Charlie’s eyes.
Charlie was my eldest son’s Chinese water dragon many years ago. Charlie was what most folks would call a lizard. His tail was about two-thirds the length of his body. When Charlie was young, he was relatively small. As he got older, he grew much larger.
Charlie lived in a converted aquarium. The only water was in the little pool where Charlie occasionally sat and sipped. Not the only water. A humidifier misted Charlie and everything else within the aquarium.
Moss, wood chips, soil, plants and an old tree limb were Charlie’s world. Each week, something changed within the terrain as my son found some new thing to add a further dimension to Charlie’s home.
A Christmas gift, Charlie became as much part of the family as the dog, or the frogs, or the newts, or the fish, or, yes, the crickets and worms which served as the lizard’s and amphibians’ meals. I watched these changes. I watched Charlie feed. Yet, I had never really just sat back and watched Charlie until one morning.
Charlie’s still. I’m still.
Yet, they are two different types of still.
Charlie’s survival depends upon being still. He remains still because he is aware of being watched. Though I sit several feet away and the aquarium glass separates us, he seems aware of my presence.
In waiting to eat, he is also still. A cricket will flit around the aquarium’s terrain. Charlie does not move. A cricket may crawl on Charlie as if the lizard were another tree limb in the aquarium. Then, snap, Charlie moves and the cricket disappears inside his mouth.
Charlie’s stillness is patience. A patience which, in the wild, may mutually assure that he is not eaten while allowing him to eat. He is still because his life depends on it. His stillness is born out of necessity.
My stillness is relaxing. I am not worried about eating or being eaten. Yet, this stillness seems as important to my survival as Charlie’s is to him. It seems important to my peace of mind, a slowing of the pulse, an opportunity to relax, and breathe.
Too often my life seems more like that of the crickets, flitting here and there, rushing from thing to thing, and place to place, ignoring the dragons nearby: Dragons of danger, peril, stress, fast-food, the passing of time moving another day closer to the inevitable.
More often, I should slow down, take a breath, notice what is around me, not just the possible dragons, but the good things in life, too.
Watching Charlie, I realized it is far better to be the dragon than the cricket.
I take another breath, no sign of movement, except the inhalation and exhalation of my ribs, the occasional blinking of my eyes, and I am still, for now.
Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.