To Parker J. Palmer

You are an elder

or so I’ve read

a sage

filled with wisdom

for the age

a voice of reason

in unreasonable times

I read your books

and wonder

if I will ever achieve

that place of honor

of being an elder

filled with wisdom

whose words

are quoted

by the likes of ones

like me

who strive to write

with the same passion

and depth

or will I fade

into the twilight

a mere shadow

of who I once was

whose words are dust

that blow away

in an autumn breeze

never to return

lost forever to time.

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My Journey in Words

In the past few weeks my life has changed. First, I retired, second, I’ve moved. Now I’m trying to figure out what shape my life will take, so I offer this small piece of reflection. It’s not perfect, nor is it finished but it is where I am at the moment.

July 11, 2018

Thanks, once again to Parker Palmer I have another mystery to unravel in my attempt at the writers life. Here he quotes Henry David Thoreau:

My life has been the poem I would have writ

But I could not both live and utter it

Now what do I do with that? What is the poem I would have writ had I the time to writ what it is that needed to be writ? For me this is the struggle, to find something that grabs at me instead of these various, meteoric thoughts that fly by quickly only too burn up in the atmosphere of my thoughts. I write, to put it mildly, trash even as I long to make sense of where I am in this world. Being deeply troubled by what I read and see, how does my small voice fit in the the greater narrative? Palmer seems to have found his voice, a voice that has been honed and worked on and re-honed to what it is today. Richard Rohr, (another spiritual author I need to read) writing about Palmer and his new book writes that “Our entire culture is in need of true elders, and you can’t be one until you have arrived there — chronologically, spiritually, and intellectually. Here’s a man who has arrived, with another book that’s a generous gift to all of us.” I am far from being anywhere near from being a true elder. I might be there chronologically, but the other two criteria are woefully deficient and need a good boost, a shot of spiritual and intellectual energy. I’m not too old to not have the desire to continue in my quest and even as the days grow shorter, I don’t feel desperate or anxious to get to that mythical somewhere. Maybe, for me, the struggle is the vocation, the purpose of my writing. The honest struggle of not paying enough attention when I was younger and now finding myself in the slow lane trying to catch-up. Now I’m back to the question, what is the poem I would have writ? What are the paradoxes that surround my life and where do they fit in with what I am trying to be as a writer, as a priest, now retired from the dailyness of being out there, yet still craving that need for contact? Now that’s a paradox, a both/and that will keep any shrink in business if one ever dares to try an unravel my inner workings. Today was a day of thoughts, not really journal material, or is it? After all what is a journal other than a place to vomit the crap that is floating on the interior and exposing it all to the light of day. It ain’t pretty and sometimes it smells, but that is the only way to come to understand who I am at this time in my life. I think that the only person that really gets me is Jane, the poor girl has had to deal with my ups and downs for the past 45 years and now she’s stuck with me on a daily basis as we negotiate being retired together.

Journal Entry, June 26, 2018

We say goodbye to our house today. We say goodbye to the place where we lived, love, laughed, and cried, a place where we welcomed the newest of our family and where we watched the passage of time. Now, we go towards a new beginning, a new home where we will once again begin to create memories, where we will live, love, laugh and cry. It is part of being alive of being able to move forward and not be stuck in the past, not being afraid of the future instead embracing the present and living life to the fullest. Sure, we’re now retired and it will be different. We aren’t the richest folks in terms of money but we are rich in love, a love that opens up to us new avenues to explore, new adventures to behold. We are now entering a time of growth, of truly knowing that our lives are temporal and that we will age and slow down, but that doesn’t mean we will stop. I read an excerpt from Parker Palmers newest book, On the Brink of Everything, (a book I need to get and read) says this:

“We have no choice about death. But we do have choices to make about how we hold the inevitable — choices made difficult by a culture that celebrates youth, disparages old age, and discourages us from facing into our mortality. The laws of nature that dictate the sunset dictate our demise. But how we travel the arc between our own sunrise and sundown is ours to choose: Will it be denial, defiance, or collaboration?”

He is so right, it all comes down to the choices we make, about the roads we will travel and the places we will see. I know that I am way behind in the things that give me pleasure, behind in the reading and writing of poetry, behind in the reading and writing of essay’s that touch upon my own very human condition. I am behind in my own learning and in my own place in this world. I will never catch up, that is a fantasy, one that can lead to despair, but I can enter into a new relationship with poets I admire, writers who challenge me and my own faith journey as I age. If, as Palmer says, it’s a choice between denial, defiance or collaboration, then I will choose, collaboration which means that I will need to be attentive to the world about me, listen to natures natural rhythms, break down the barriers that hold me back and distort my view.

I am on the brink, I stand at that point where the sun and horizon meet, and where the sky is on the verge of changing. It is a place where I see the possibilities and where I am called to explore the depths of my being. It is my thin place, my secret garden, the wardrobe through which I am being beckoned to enter. God, speaks in the silence of my heart and I am now beginning to listen to that voice in a new place, not the voice that called a youth at one time but a voice that now calls me as I approach this new chapter in my life.

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. 

What Tale do I Tell?

What tale am I to tell? 

Where does my story begin?

Where will it all end?

I look about and see poetry

in the trees as the wind blows through the leaves

in the songs of the birds nesting in the branches.

There is poetry in the love I share

in the tears I shed

in my own imperfections.

I look up at the clouds scudding across the sky

changing shape molded by unseen hands

creating a story that is timeless.

I am such a small part of the greater whole

seeking to discover that one great purpose

writing these bits and pieces of poetry

hoping to see in the words a reflection of my soul.

Perfection is a dream, a fantasy of youth

these words are imperfect as is the language.

It can never describe those deeper feelings

that lie at the core of my being,

a being fraught with fear and anxiety

of knowing I am not enough on my own.

What tale do I tell? 

What mystery lies at the root of my heart?

The roads I have travelled were never straight

winding through a landscape at once beautiful and terrible.

Through the gauntlet of people and places

faces haunting the edges of my memory

now I stand on the precipice of the future

as I stare out across a valley shrouded in fog

wondering where my story will take me.

Time grows shorter with each passing year

I now have arrived at a point where there are less tomorrow’s

and I can no longer sit idly 

as that enemy time, 

gnaws me down into dust.

All is sacred, all is holy, if I dare to look outward

fear is the cage created to justify our own failures

and I have failed and fallen so may times

yet, like the Phoenix I have risen from the ashes

to stand before the judgement seat of the Holy

the mystery of unconditional love

that calls us out of our tombs

unbinding our tortured souls

and bathing us in the light of truth.