Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Can you remember being a child on a hot summer day, cut-off blue jean shorts, clean t-shirt that smells like Tide, running, climbing, playing? Your friends are called to dinner but your mother is working late so you amble home … disappointed they’ve had to go but pleased as the sweat begins to dry and you realize it smells sweet like fresh hay at Grandma’s, or the beach.
Inside the white picket fence you recall the shade by the bay window at the side of the small white house and it's patch of clover so green it leans towards blue so you go and lie down to rest. The excited breath of your play slows, eyes closed for a moment or two until they open to a sky deep and blue like some fantasy painting of scudding clouds on an infinite pallet of possibility.
Can you remember the sense of well-being, limitless hope and the joy of friendship, this secret place where you know some other child has been? "John and Suzie" … handprints in the concrete under the old, used to be a carport, yet they are as much of you as this clover and this sky. They are as much of you as your dreams and the questions of youth and images of dappled shadows in the woods. Walk like an Indian, strong yet flowing as a cat on soft ground.
Can you remember when your breath was like honey dripping from a spoon, rich and golden, part of the light that danced in the corner or on the hardwood floor … reaching for you … asking you to reach back into it's dust dancing spell?
Can you remember them calling as you crouched under the house breathing the damp red clay? Calling, calling for you to come join them yet you could not. Like something was holding you back yet knowing all that caused you to remain is the witness that speaks from within.
Saturday, November 11, 2017
The Make-a-Wish Foundation had sent us to Fiji because that had been my son’s wish. He had survived bone cancer, limb salvage and a year of chemo. The whole trip had been surreal. I have memories of him playing in the light surf of the cove, afraid that his manufactured left leg might break, his mother and I para-sailing over azure water, bone colored reef, our fears and doubts cast upon the wind for at least these few moments.
We were on a flat-bottomed speedboat trip inland, skippered by a young East Indian man called, “Captain Jack”, with a small group. Clear sky, the smell of sugar cane pervading the wind blasted senses as the metal boat surfed shallow water with it’s sand and pebble laden bottom. We’d watched a young male sprint his dun colored stallion along the bank in deep sand, his shirt billowing behind and then glided bootleg up to a rickety wooden pier.
They told us the village lay on the other side of the cliff. A small group huddled in wait. As we exited the boat, a rail thin waif of adolescent female in a wrinkled cotton dress reached out her hand. Captain Jack told us her name was Katina. She was African in appearance but covered in pink mottles like a pink and coal colored map. When I grasped her hand, it was rough as tree bark and then I noticed her eyes. They were the milky white of the blind as she smiled a wide and big-toothed greeting. My fear of communicable disease rose then settled.
We were told she had been blind since birth and was “touched” somehow. They said if she bothered us to let them know. She insisted on walking between my wife and I, eager to hold our hands as she led us up the precarious, hand crafted walkway that climbed the precipitous sandstone face. When we came to the community hall and church she held back then disappeared. Had someone called to her?
I can’t remember what she said. I was transfixed by the environment and profound feelings. I only know that in that innocent child I saw the face of God. Poverty, sugar cane, pebble-bottomed river of wild wind and an afflicted child, vessel of grace and love that seemed to reach in and hold my beating heart in her disease scarred hands.
We met the village chief, received the wooden bowl of muddy water kava in consecration of spirit and community. We sat cross-legged in one of the cinderblock buildings where they had laid a feast upon cloths on the floor. They played a battered guitar and sang to us then encouraged us to join in. The native women in their colorful costumes sat apart from the men, their furtive glances questioning yet receiving the pale foreigners. Late afternoon we returned down the path to the speedboat waiting at the rickety dock.
I wondered, “ Where is Katina? Surely she’ll come.” She did not and I found myself saddened by the lack. As we pulled away, engines rumbling that guttural growl, I gazed back and she stood there in the bright day, hand raised in farewell, her shabby dress catching in the balmy breeze at her spindly legs and my heart flew into the sky like a bird released.
Thank you Father for the dignity of life. Thank you for the profound grief that allows me to see the heart of a blind and wanting child on the other side of your earth and know we will meet again. The truth is … I meet her now, my young friend, in each moment, each tear, and each hint of light that illumines the rough yet loving hand of God.
Have you known that moment in the mirror when you realize your life has forever changed? Have you seen your anguish gushing forth unable to stem the tide … lost in the rushing away of all security? The dam you built so long, so steady, bursts and your village of hopes and dreams begins to succumb to the rushing flood and you know it will never be the same, will not sustain you or give you comfort.
Have you known that moment in the mirror when all you have suffered before becomes small and fear takes control of your mind?
Then you scream, STOP and begin to gather and gird yourself for battle. You dry your tears and breathe because you know all of life, all that came before, was to bring you here to this tormented place that will not destroy you … for there is work to be done.
If you have known this moment and still stand. If you have known this moment and a part of you is haunted when you are tired or melancholy then know this. You are not alone. If in the dark you can lie down and rest then we will all be there with you ... oh this universe of souls, like an army of hope til the Master shall call us home.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Being a child was like living in secret. All the men were loud and rough. They would tousle his thick, red hair and tease him for blushing. The sandy loam of his grandparent’s world was burdened with sand spurs and there was no sign of books but the worn Bible.
The old wooden house made of planks the color of rain, with its rusty tin roof was foreign and foreboding.
One day his Dad took offense and made him go cut a switch from the hedge out front He’d had to go back because the first one did not suit.
After ... his legs stinging, the whelps trickling tiny spots of blood in places on his freckled legs, he returned to the hedge. While cutting the switch he’d seen the tunnels. So he angled through the scratching brush to crawl on his knees in that soot-dirty loam so they would not see his shame.
It was cooler there and he could watch the smoke from the old stone chimney spiraling up into the cloud-bruised sky. He could watch his fantasies of honor and heroes escape the hardscrabble cavern of that dream dashed shack that seemed to eat these men who had once been boys like him.
It ate them, then spat them out, mean at heart with sly grins and easy offense. Yet he loved them still.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
It’s dawning on me that I often don't live authentically … or at least I think I can’t. I grew up rock and roll in the late sixties and early seventies. Went overseas to Nam. Developed some bad habits but had a blast. When I came back music was still central to our lives.
Eventually I reformed, had kids, and joined a church. During all that I cut my long hair, changed the way I dressed, etc. I guess you could say I became a responsible productive member of society.
Thing is, sometimes I hear a song or see a music video and I get goosebumps. It’s a good thing. There’s a flood of energy, my heart beats a little faster, hair stands up on the back of my neck.
You see, this is part of who I am too. Greg Allman wrote a song, “I’m No Angel”. I’m pretty sure he was feeling some similar things. Reformation does not erase our heartbeats. Is it good to stifle a benevolent beast? I do a lot of reading and as far as I can tell suppressing our true selves can be a path to disaster.
I wanted to post a rock video on Facebook noting some memories and ask if “anybody was out there.” Then I got to thinking. What about the folks at church, the community, my clients, etc.? I deleted it and sat there wondering ... what the hell?
I’m no angel. I just try to be the best I can be. I meditate, pray, practice yoga and tai chi chuan, serve as best I can but I also train to fight, listen to rock and roll and have a racy streak a mile wide. My son’s know Dad likes “edgy” things.
A friend of mine died yesterday … I’m no spring chicken so folks are dying all over the place. I don’t want to die a “pretender”.
I’m going to post this and I’m going to post that freakin’ video. Tonight I’ll say a prayer asking for knowledge of God’s will and the strength to carry it out.
Saturday, August 26, 2017
One of his earliest memories was his Mom lying half through the doorway her brunette hair splayed over the hardwood floor. The bedroom light was on but her torso and head lay in the shadow of the hall.
She looked like she was sleeping in this irrational place. He knew different. His father had come home after a road trip. He had been happy to see his handsome, grinning Dad in his white shirt with the starched collar. The clip-on tie lay loose to the tie clip halfway down the front. Dad smelled like cologne and something else Charlie couldn’t quite place.
Dad would say hello to Charlie, buss his thick red hair, then go back to the bedroom. Mom would follow from the kitchen. It never took long for the whispers to start to rise. Before long they’d be yelling. Usually his father would stomp out, the taps on his spit shined shoes clipping along the slick waxed floor.
This time Charlie had heard a slap then his Mom had fell half into the hall. Dad stepped over her mumbling as he left.
The door slammed and he was gone, so Charlie went to her. He knelt at her side … the carefully ironed pleats of her dark patterned skirt just at his feet. At first her eyes were closed but after a moment they pursed and then peered slitted up at him.
“It’s ok, Honey. Momma is just resting. Give me a minute and I’ll fix you something to eat.”
Thursday, August 24, 2017
The Hindu call it “maya”, the distraction from eternal reality that is material existence. Constructed of the gunas that bind it all together, we move through a dream … searching.
In Picasso's “ The Old Guitarist”, he seems suspended in pain, resigned yet in all his weakness, attempting to make music of the instrument that is his “life”.
We are all much like this creature, wandering in a wilderness of seeming light while the truth swirls around and within our internal darkness. As long as we try we can hear, though faint, His music.
Friday, March 17, 2017
We had a 10-day-old baby name Tobias spend the night with us last night. My 19 year old twin sons are home and Tobias’s parents slept on the couch so they could get a break, while my wife tended. We all held Tobias. I told the Mom as I watched everyone coo and play,
“Thank you for bringing us this gift.”
“Babies bring happiness, don’t they?” she replied.
We were all more animated than we’ve been for years. Of course my wife and I began to tell story after funny story of our boys when they were little so there was much laughter.
I was up a couple hours later than usual. I was not tired after a long day as I am prone to be. I had been fascinated by the tiny fingers gripping my hand … the quick breaths … the wriggling as the face communicated every bubble and body feeling.
I touched his glowing skin and hair and could not feel it unless I pressed a little harder. He finally opened his dark eyes and when he looked at me I felt special.
As I entered my meditation space I was mindful that the house was full of love. Sometimes I forget.
I performed my preparation and sat beginning the slow breath … waiting for Christ … waiting for Father, Son and Holy Spirit … sitting … and then he cried out from downstairs and before I knew it, for the first time in a year, I broke meditation, stood up and hurried downstairs.
I needed to comfort him, to know what was wrong. I lay my hand in full upon his torso and tried to intone a sort of “OM” hoping the vibration might still him. It seemed to help just a bit yet he was hungry.
I retired with a soft heart.
This morning I rose and entered the space again to sit with God. Same preparation, prayer … “ Come to me, Father … Come to me now. “
As I settled into the breath, space and time expanding … gazing into the light, Tobias cried out. He’s so small, the sound like a baby lamb … “help me … help me”, he seemed to plead … my heart soared as tears rose and the light grew and I knew that God had spoken.
Recently a teacher for whom I hold much respect gave us a story:
“ A couple I ministered had a baby and harbored much concern over how their precocious and active 4 year old might react. Would she be jealous? Would she hurt the baby? As we will do with our newborns, they watched and tried to always be present when their 4 year old was near.
Then one night they heard a noise in the nursery. The mother tiptoed down the hall and as she came upon the door heard whispering. Something told her to wait so she stopped to peek through the crack of the parted door. Standing by the crib the four year old held the slats with her face in between and whispered to her baby brother,
“Tell me about God. You were just there but I’m forgetting already.”
We strive each day to provide, maintain our health, serve others. We work and play and move through the reality we are familiar with. It is so easy to forget. Hours pass with little thought of the beauty, power and grace.
So I share this with you in the hopes that, for these few moments, you might be mindful. If you ever find that the spirit seems distant. If you are ever lonely and your heart is heavy … find a baby.
“They were just there," and can help us remember.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
It’s a difficult time in America but not so different from many in the past. There is a rift but that is democracy. Yet I am saddened for the loss of something … many things.
For a little while, we were thinking people. We examined the problem, polled all sides, accessed our resources and sought to solve any problem with determination and compassion for all.
For a little while, we respected others and they respected us … not because we were stronger or louder but rather because they suspected we would act with reason and tolerance seeking consensus.
For a little while we were assertive rather than aggressive.
We reached with open arms rather than balled up fists.
We offered a ready smile yet brooked no attack. We made mistakes and named them … hiding from no one.
We sought to help the poor and raise up the disenfranchised. We attempted to put reins on the greed of Wall Street and curtail the abuse of the environment by corporate concerns.
We sought through economic sanction and thoughtful discourse to impede the growth of nuclear war capacity. We tore down old walls of past offenses that no longer served.
For a little while, the world viewed us as a progressive bastion of free and inclusive policy with empathy for the plight of others not so fortunate.
For a little while we brought the youth of America home to their families instead of indiscriminately sending them into the maw of 2000-year-old fistfights. We understood that our way might not be the right way for all peoples yet we welcomed the “huddled masses” that would escape tyranny.
For a little while we refused to be the brute we abhorred and the whole world knew that right or wrong we sought the higher ground.
Maybe some find hope in angry vitriol. Maybe some find vindication in exclusion, judgment, and intolerance of those who are different than them. Maybe they think that self-serving isolationism will build a wall behind which they can live.
Troy fell, Rome deteriorated behind its wall of arrogance, and Nazi Germany dissolved like the “wicked witch of the north” for its hate and angry oratory steeped in the highest wall of all … racial superiority.
For a little while we were a nation of solutions. It was far from perfect yet each day … each mistake, I felt like we were grounded in the love of all mankind.
I know that our soul is still alive. I know that when the dust settles, we will pick ourselves up and seek to regain the posture of magnanimity that is the defining banner of this great nation.
It is not the end but rather a beginning. There are those that have not been heard and they have raised up the only hope they could see.
For a little while we believed so deeply in our just cause that we ignored the voices of the masses that sought so desperately to tell us they were suffering.
For a little while we attended to the downtrodden, the minority the immigrant until the salt of the earth became poisoned by our neglect.
Now … for a little while we must listen more, talk less and stand firm in the belief that all people are created equal and we must not … at the risk of our fundamental way of life, ignore anyone that would live free.
The call is to honor and justice. The mission is to bind ourselves to the truth that lies within the heart and soul of all humanity … love.
We must love with all our hearts and all our minds and all our strength so that no matter what, we will persevere as a nation of free peoples that represent … no … that fight … for the rights of all.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Opey accidentally kills a bird with his new slingshot. His look of shock and dismay pierce my heart. I look over my shoulder to see if I am alone.
My two-year-old son, Tucker, at the pool on the first day he could duck his head under the water and hold his breath. I’d drop pennies on the baby steps. He would “dive” under and bring them up. Once, twice … three times … four. Sputtering, gasping, grinning from ear to ear. “ Do it again, Daddy. Do it again! I am thankful in that crowded pool for my dark sunglasses.
I’m with my red headed kid brother in a movie theater, “Dead Poet’s Society”. Prep school boys troubled but saved by the literature professor tenderly played by Robin Williams. He won’t give up on them. He manages to show them their inner beauty. Betrayed and falsely accused, he has been cast out by the powers that be. His students are confused. As he departs, thinking he has lost them, one boy stands on top of his desk and head high, hand to heart, intones clearly to the professor’s bowed, stooped and resigned back … “Captain my Captain!” As each boy stands to his desk my well of emotion pours forth. I am glad it is dark. We have to sit for an uncomfortable time after the lights go up. We chuckle nervously.
My dear friend is ordained as a minister. Her father, a pastor all her life, speaks in the sanctuary where my satin clad babies were presented to the church. She sits before us in a chair bathed in the soft light of day cast through the stained glass. She seems so small there … so vulnerable. Each congregant makes their way down to touch her and whisper in her ear. There’s her husband, then her children. Young and old walk down the aisle until her father in law, Henry … shaky on his cane … brave to even try, moves toward her. I am undone.
A writing class during an exercise. I remember the face of a dear and cherished woman whose career and good heart I revere. I have seen her recently gazing up at the cross. She is somewhere between here and another place. As I write and read of that vision of her rapture I am overwhelmed.
I’m not sure why some men cry and others don’t so much. I have heard that it has to do with our childhood wounds. What I do know is that we all see God in our different ways. Sometimes when I see him it’s a lot like dropping an Alka-Seltzer into a coke. The reaction is sudden and I am near helpless.
I figure … in the end … it’s just another of God’s ways of keeping me humble.
Friday, January 27, 2017
Charlie and his family lived at Wossord Apartments on Main Street in Palmer, S.C. The house was one of those red brick, single story affairs where the brick formed a framed open-air front porch. He was never sure why they called it apartments.
Charlie, his Mom and Dad lived in a small recessed annex connected to the house. He never saw anyone else there though. He understood that Mrs. Wossord was a kind and elderly widow who seldom ventured out.
Charlie, his Mom and Dad lived in a small recessed annex connected to the house. He never saw anyone else there though. He understood that Mrs. Wossord was a kind and elderly widow who seldom ventured out.
His favorite thing was to sit cross-legged and watch Robin Hood on the black and white cabinet television in the den. Robin Hood was brave, strong, exceptionally agile and always helping people. Charlie wanted to be like him.
As the ending credits rolled, his Mom would pour a bowl of Sugar Smacks at the yellow-topped, aluminum and Formica kitchen table. The timing had to be perfect or the Sugar Smacks would get soggy and that simply would not do.
His anticipation was palpable as the sweet crunchy pods infused the creamy white milk with sugar. (To his continued amazement the milkman had left the milk on the stoop in glass bottles). The best part was when the last “Smack” was gone and he could drink the sweet milk. His slurps echoed a bit with his nose buried in the bowl, cool ecstasy in his mouth … flowing down his throat.
Earlier Charlie had awakened, as was his way, just before dawn. He loved those moments when his eyes first opened and all was dim silhouette. He had risen and donned the clothes that his Mom had ironed, folded then placed on the wooden high back chair by his bed.
Ever so quiet he tiptoed to the door, reached to his highest point and grasped the brass knob. The gray light of dawn revealed his friend the weeping willow standing guard just outside the door. The sweet air caressed his face.
He had to turn and balance on the threshold in order to pull the door to because when he stepped down he would not be able to reach it. Once he heard the click of the throw he grasped the frame with both hands and lowered down the two brick steps.
Each day was breathless elation alone there in the morning light. All were still in their beds and not aware of his presence. He stole around the front of the house by the porch, rounding the corner to gaze upon a clearing the size of a football field.
The area was adorned with clotheslines and well-houses. Seven or eight white frame mill houses with their backs turned stood like small churches. He spied an abandoned tricycle and ball glove. Once he had startled a hare and peed himself a little.
There was an old yellow and white tomcat always prowling about that would pause and stare at him with an ominous glare. He was grateful for his shoes as the sandspurs crunched under foot in the sandy loam and scrub grass.
When he arrived at the bare wooden steps and the peeling paint of the weathered, back door, he tapped gently, curious of the rap of his tiny white knuckles on the rough texture of the solid wood.
Ear against the door he listened until he could hear the soft creak of her footsteps padding over the worn hardwoods. The door receded from his gaze as she cracked it open and smiled down at him while he edged sideways through the crack. The room smelled vaguely of kerosene, as he followed her back to her bunk.
The five other children turned and rustled in their bunks along the walls. He was greeted with soft wheezes and sniffs and an occasional raised hand or sleepy smile He watched the sway of her flannel nightshirt with tiny pink and blue flowers. She braided her hay colored hair in one long braid down to the middle of her back. Her thin calves were "white as a baby's butt" and the pink bottoms of her feet were a tad dirty from the old floor.
He pushed his shoes off at the heel with the opposite toes, as quiet as he could and crawled under the covers with her. She cuddled up behind him like he was her favorite stuffed animal and whispered good mornings in his ear. Other than his Mother's, her warm breaths are the first whispers he has known.
They lay quietly while the light grew until their mother purred,
“Time to get up children. Good morning,Charlie … hope you are well. ”
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
There’s a melancholy to the graying years. Not so much regrets as rolling memories of searching time ; misguided “truths”, hedonistic need. With the aches and pains of age comes the awareness of roads that we banged along, breakneck, striving for some unseen goal when the whole time it lay within us.
We needed only get out of the way. I am grateful that even then, at least I could feel the warm sun, hear the roar of the ocean, lean into the wind and know those moments with mindfulness like a soul photograph filed away so that I can gaze at the “album” now.
I feel the presence of my sons and know they are moving through the universe a bit more sight full than did I. I have shown them the “album of life”, time and again. I have sought to explain the scars and revealed my heart to them in the hopes that maybe they could sometimes rest in truth.
Maybe they could pause to see the fabric of the universe and know the thread that weaves it all is love. Maybe they can see that violence is a poor tool that we use trying to repair our fear.