City Life

Yes, it’s noisy and infested
filled with dark, dingy abodes
streets littered with cast-offs
both inert and organic.

A place of despair for some
of light and delight for others
this is the city
crowded, unkempt, dangerous
a kaleidoscope of sound and color
overwhelming the innocent
enticing the adventurous
boring the dwellers within.

The city, bears it all
under the strains of the masses
that hurtle down its streets
walking through its alleys
with heads down
pushing against
tides of indifference.

The city takes,
the city gives
we are its children
and its future
we carry its fortunes
in our valises
sharing our dreams
waiting for the sun to rise
and for hearts to sing.

A Brief, Personel, Reflection

 I ride a bicycle. There, I said it, I’m a cyclist and have been for years. I enjoy the freedom of being out on the road, the wind in my face, the sound of the tires on the pavement, and being able to see things that I would miss had I been going by in a car. I’ve ridden in the heat and humidity of a New England summer as well as in the cold and snowy days of winter. Getting out as much as possible, doing anywhere between 35-50 miles on a daily basis, was and still is my goal and my future plans are to once again cross the country by bicycle.

 Cycling is a challenge, physically as well as mentally. Getting through a head wind, going up mountain roads, getting caught in a thunderstorm and negotiating streets and roads under construction, all have their own way of being a challenge. Yet, in spite of these barriers, in spite of the traffic and occasional difficulty, I still find cycling to be exhilarating and fun. 

 It is said that it’s not a question of “if you will have an accident” but “when will you have an accident”. Many cyclists can tell you about a crash, either self-induced or caused while racing or training for a race. Many can show you the scars caused by road rash on their legs and arms, especially the elbows and knees. Most crashes, result in no more than the discomfort of having the outer layer of your skin scrapped away by the pavement and then having to clean out the bits of gravel lodged into the wound. There’s nothing more fun than jumping into a shower after a crash and having to wash out the scrapes and scratches you came home with. Then again, there are more serious crashes. Cyclists have been maimed, some even killed, by distracted drivers and the cyclists own inattentiveness to their surroundings.

 A couple of years ago, on June 5, 2015, I had my accident. Sure, I had others, experienced the road rash wounds and the times when my cleats got stuck and I fell over, but this accident was a life changing experience. I was struck by someone opening their car door, without first looking to see if anyone was passing by them. It was the crash that got me writing more, mainly because I realized that life, my life, is tenuous.

 I know I’m not the only person ever to experience life changing events, however, this is my life changing event and it is one which I am still processing. In my writing, in my prose and poetry all of which is disjointed and in need of a good editor, I seek to delve into the deeper mystery that is self. Time and again, through what I write I’m seeking my true self, that person untarnished by the layers of life that have accumulated over the years. Yet, knowing that I will never recover what has been lost, I will never find that pure, true self lying embedded in the core of my soul. I dig into the tell of who I am, scrapping away the layers of dust and debris, of the loves lost and the loves gained, the heartbreak of living, which we all take part in and in which we all share. 

 Maybe I’m waxing a bit too philosophically, I’m not much of a philosopher, but I believe that inside each one of us is that unique story. Stories that need to be told, to be shared and talked about, to help us to heal from the fractures in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. 

 My accident resulted in a broken hip, that was surgically repaired with titanium nails by one of the best surgeons. Weeks in my bed at home, learning how to get up, walk up and down stairs, and months of physical therapy were all part of the process. 

 Now here I sit, on a hot July day in the midst of a heat wave, writing. Doing what I started doing days after the accident, trying again to delve into the mists of time and space, to find that hidden treasure, the one St. Paul claims we have hidden in “jars of clay.” Maybe that’s my own lesson, that no matter what, I am just that a simple jar made from clay and subject to being broken, physically as well as mentally. If we as people could only learn that each of us are simply clay pots subject to our own forms of decay, “you are dust and to dust you shall return”, maybe, just maybe, we might not be so ready to dismiss and judge. A dream, perhaps, but one worth writing about anyway.

Wild and Free

Maybe it’s me

the way I think,

not in a straight line

and not in sequential steps.

As I look back 

on all those years

when I was told the path,

and I went the other way

not willing to be fitted

with bit and bridle of convention

but wanting to run free,

along the broken ridge lines

across the empty beaches

to feel the wind in my face

to stand in the rain

shaking my rebellious fist 

to the forces that try to chain.

Now I know the tale

of the Handmaid and her woes

being tied down by fear of others.

Lives are meant for living

pushing against the walls

trying to contain the hearts

of the artists and poets

whose words are dangerous

and not at all straight and narrow

but wild and free.

Friendship in the Age of Social Media

 Friendship, today that word seems to have taken on a new meaning. We have “friends” on Facebook, we are connected through Twitter and Instagram, I have followers of this blog as well as followers on the other social media platforms, yet, are they friends? Friends in the true sense of the word, the classic dictionary definition:

A person whom one knows well and is fond of; intimate associate; close acquaintance. A person on the same side in a struggle; one who is not an enemy or foe; ally. A supporter or sympathizer. Something thought of as like a friend in being helpful, reliable, etc.

 When I read the definition, I cannot say that I have many “true” friends on social media, while some are real in the classical sense of being a friend, most are acquaintances, people I have known in various stages of my life, but not close, not intimate. I could not share my inner thoughts with many, I could not share my own struggles and doubts, and recently I cannot even share my own political views. 

 I began really thinking about friendship after going out last evening with two of my oldest and dearest friends, Bill and Bob. It was Bob, Bill, Mike, Ted and I who formed the our small but close group. Our friendships began long ago when we were in high school at a time of peer pressure, the desire to conform, yet to also rebel, a time when one is trying to figure out the confusing signals that come with teenage angst. Bob, I have known since the third grade and he came into my life at a time when I was having difficulties in adjusting to a new school, new people, and also the lingering effects of tragedy at home. Our third grade teacher was, to put it mildly, was my Gorgon. In my imagination she was evil, a witch, a dark shadow that over whelmed all that I tried to do. Going to school then was my journey into Mordor and I was the Hobbit just trying to survive by keeping my head down. It was during this turbulent time that Bob and I became friends, hanging around together, going to each other’s homes and generally being boys. Mike, I would meet in our Freshman year at Framingham South as part of the Class of ‘69. He was one of five boys and his dad was a career Navy man so it was his mom who ruled their home. Mike and I would get together at his home after school, watch Dark Shadows and consume several cans of Hi-C fruit drinks. It wasn’t long after that when Bob, Mike and yours truly began hanging out together and by the time we reached our Junior year, Bill and Ted became part of our crew.

 Throughout the years we have all grown, Mike, Bob and I, all joined the Army together after we graduated in 1969. After basic we went our separate ways, with Mike and I ending up in Vietnam and Bob being stationed in Alaska. Bill and Ted went to college, where we lost contact with Ted, but the four of us remained close. We shared our joys, our struggles, our lives with each other. Even as we moved along, getting married, having kids, choosing our vocations, we remained close.

 There are so many stories to be told about our friendship, some funny, some sad, but all of them born out of our deep affection for one another. Now as we grow older, move into new phases of being grandparents and re-defining our lives, our friendship shows little or no sign of going away. Sure, distance, family and life do get in the way, yet, each of us knows that when called upon we can be assured that they will be there to support, give comfort and be that friendly ear.

 As I sit here and write, I feel a sense of loss in these deep friendships. With the advent of social media, and the accumulation of acquaintances rather than friends, I feel a deep sense of loss. Most of my Facebook “friends” are good folks, I like them but I could never share with them on the same level as I do with those four. Being an introvert and never one to put myself out there just to have friends, I find the whole thing, depressing. 

 Is it a part of the aging process? I don’t think so, having time alone, to read, write and be in that blissful state of solitude has its own reward. I also have that most beautiful of friendships with my partner and spouse, someone I can be me with, who knows my many foibles, yet, still loves me as I love her. 

Out on a Frozen lake

The sun sets early

on a cold winter night

as I set out 

across the frozen lake

looking up at the stars

clear in the cold darkness

blinking brightly

as the moon begins to rise

out there,

silence 

and I feel your presence

listening 

as the frozen sheet

groans underneath my feet,

alone, yet not alone

I am at peace

a peace I yearn for

once again

as I remember that night

out on the frozen lake

alone, yet not alone.

It’s in the Future, Why Worry?

 I sit here in my office at church surrounded by pictures and memorabilia that I have collected over the last twenty-five years. On the wall behind me hang my academic achievements and two ordination certificates, what a friend of mine called, the “ego” wall. Many years ago, as I was finishing up High School and getting ready to join the Army, it never occurred to me that I would one day have a wall dedicated to my academic achievements, considering I was not the best of students. Even now there is that doubt lingering in the dark alleyways of my mind, lying in wait to assail any notion I have of being successful. Recently, I have been doing a decent job of keeping those doubts at bay and making sure their voices are stilled, yet, they remain ever present, ever ready to burst from the tomb where I’ve placed them. No tomb or prison, no wall or gate is ever high enough or strong enough against those deeper thoughts and fears that reside within us all.

 It is difficult admitting to one’s doubts especially when you reach a certain age, for me that age seems to have arrived. I am now on the cusp of entering the retired zone, of changing my life once again not knowing what I’m going to do with myself and, of course, I am full of doubts and a few fears. I’m sure many feel this way as they look down the road, a road that has yet to be paved, trying to imagine life without work. Okay, sure while we are slaving away at some desk, or in some cubicle we fantasize about being retired, partaking in our favorite hobbies and having plenty of time to enjoy those activities, but then I think, is that all? Sure I can go out cycling without having to worry about being called by the funeral home, or a parishioner in crisis. I will be able to actually go somewhere and not be on call each and every day, but then what? How do I create my daily life? How do I find that which feeds my soul and makes me want to get out of bed? Regardless how one may think of their job, and trust me I’ve had a few doozies in my life, still there’s something to getting up, stepping out and being productive. Each day is filled with hope, that a dream will come true, that you will find that one thing that changes your life and those around you. 

 Maybe I’m overthinking all of this, but then that is my nature to do just that, overthink. Then this gets me into trouble because those little demons, so carefully caged within begin to swing their little tin cups against the bars creating a cacophony of discordant sounds as they seek to escape. Maybe, I’m being a bit too existentialist in trying to figure things out, then again, what does one mean by being existentialist? I get too caught up when I delve into the philosophical side of my being because I really have no idea where I stand at this point.

 So then, let’s get back to my point, before I drift further away from the shore of reality, my impending retirement. No matter when I finally pull the trigger and actually do the deed, I think it’s always a good thing to contemplate, before it’s too late, and I find myself in a real swamp. To be absolutely clear, I am a bit fearful, not just of leaving but also of what I will do with myself. I’m not that great at anything besides being a priest and if my writing is any indication, I don’t believe it will find financial success. Yes, it will keep me busy and yes, it will be interesting, at least in my mind it will be, but only as a vocational hobby rather than a workable lifestyle. You see those pesky little doubts, banging away on the bars of their cells are getting louder and more vocal, I think one of them has taken on Jimmie Cagney’s persona. 

 The question is, what do I need now, psychologically and spiritually to get me started on this long and winding road into the forest called retirement. I look around at the various icons and pictures seeing a life well lived and hopefully that will continue into the foreseeable future. I also see hope, in what I do write and what I do feel. Sure, something could happen to change all that, like getting hit by an opened car door, but focusing on some unknown disaster is only opening those cage doors and allowing the gremlins of doubt to come out and play. 

 So I think, write and live.

An Evening Walk

They walk

hand in hand

along the river

of a mid summer evening

escaping the heat

of the city streets

talking,

planning,

future,

family,

children,

a life 

of promise

filled with

youthful hope

they never heard

or even felt

what was called

a stray

not intended 

for them

yet finding 

a home

in the tender flesh

breaking bone

and severing arteries

as they bled out

on the summer eve

just another casualty

on the midnight news.