Are we Doomed?

I’ve always wondered what it must have been like for those ancient Romans as their world began to collapse around them. Here they were, the only superpower, a first class military, abundant wealth and status and yet, just outside their walls stood a rag-tag army of immigrants. Yes, these barbarians, this tribe of Goths, were immigrants. They came across the boundaries of the Empire, they were part of a great migration that would eventually swallow up the once powerful Roman Empire and plunge Europe into what we call today, the Dark Ages.

I’m not going to go into the history of what happened but I am curious as to what those Romans felt as they watched their way of life crumble before their eyes. What warnings did they have? What propaganda did the Emperor and Senate use to insure them that all would be just fine? It is hard for me to imagine their feelings, then again, as I watch the daily drama unfold on Twitter and the various media sites, I’m beginning to understand what may have been going through their minds. Of course, that is all assuming that they, the Romans, were aware that something big was happening, that their world was experiencing a cataclysmic shock that would be felt for generations to come. Back then, there was no Social Media sites, there was no instantaneous news feeds running 24/7, and once the roads were cutoff, even getting messages into the city would have been greatly curtailed. I can only imagine a city rife with rumors, each one more shocking that the next. Unscrupulous businessmen taking advantage of the fear, selling security in the form of freed gladiators, who would protect your home and family from the impending hoard. Of course, being human the citizens would have done anything for security, just like today, we will do anything for security even if it means giving up our precious freedoms. Only later, when it’s already too late, do we find these securities to be nothing more than phantoms, there one moment gone like a wisp of smoke the next.

We Americans are not immune from the changes we see all around us. Nations, like North Korea, Iran and others, want to have nuclear capabilities. They see the larger nations as a threat, bullies who can punish them economically and so like the little kid being bullied in school they seek to even out the playing field, and that means having “the bomb.” The big kids cry foul, claim that they’re not playing by the rules but then again, neither did those Germanic tribes who sacked Rome play by the rules. So, what do we do? I have no answer for the greater questions, in fact no one does. There are no easy answers, no one size fits all solutions that will make everyone happy. After all we are dealing with human beings, a species that for centuries has never been able to see the consequences of their actions.

Then the question becomes, are we doomed? No, at least I hope not. Sure there are those days when it looks pretty dismal then we have those moments of light. People reaching out to help one another, some even crossing boundaries that once were impassable to pull each other along. The recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida have shown our better nature as people reached out across, social, racial and cultural divides to help one another. Heroic efforts of first responders and ordinary citizens, risking life and limb to help, again shows that deep connection we have. Somewhere, in each of us there is that spark of the Divine that despite our best efforts to keep it hidden from view refuses to be closeted.

Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11. I looked up into a bright blue September sky, as a plane flew overhead preparing to land at Logan. That plane is not a villain, it is not inherently evil, it is just a machine designed to carry people across great distances in a matter of hours and not days. It is one of humanity’s crowning achievements, the very idea of flight, of escaping the bonds of earth and flying into the heavens. Yet, on that day 16 years ago, this marvel of engineering was turned into a weapon of mass destruction. Yes, humanity is capable of doing great things, wonderful things and, humanity is also capable of so much destruction.

In Matthews Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” I have to wonder, as I read the latest social media postings and watch the news, if the one we need to fear is not the other but the one in the mirror.

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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.

Prayers of Defiance

Hands clasped together

knees firmly rooted 

eyes closed

each breath measured

in the quiet

alone,

praying

but for what?

Love is the desire

of everything we do

as the world lurches

from one idol to the next

seeking happiness

in the squalor 

of massage parlors

and brothels of shame.

Holding on to faith

in the midst of despair

an act of defiance 

against those seeking

to chain the hearts

of those who love

The Headache of Zeus

I’m looking for that perfect sentence

the one that will open this poem

the perfect metaphor never used

so that you will read my poetry.

I even bought a book or two

to help me on my quest

to find the right combinations

of those words that I seek.

Poetry for Dummies is one

that claims to help demystify poetry

only will it help demystify me.

I dream, dreams of words aligned

all in perfect poetic order

then when I sit to write they are a jumble.

Outside the sun shines bright

and I hear the birds singing

the world is slowly waking up 

as I emerge from the dreams.

Now I sit here writing once again

looking at the blinking cursor

on the blank screen of the iPad

trying to remember what I dreamed

in the midnight hours

because what I saw was that sentence

all pretty and perfect

just waiting to be birthed

a sleeping fetus

enclosed in a darkened womb

of my mind

the headache of Zeus

that refuses to be born.

Cup of Tea on a Rainy Day

Outside a cold rain falls

I hear passing cars whoosh

as they rush down the street

splashing through puddles

ignoring the people walking

inside I am warm and taking tea

trying to write some poetry

what comes to mind

is the tea that I drink

it is warm and comforting

but I’m not a tea guru

I don’t drink it everyday

I don’t know my Earl Gray

from my Darjeeling 

even if they were on hand

I just pull out the tea bag

pour boiling water

and wait a few minutes

while I watch as the tea steeps

and the water transforms

from clear to a rusty red

as the tea bag floats along

swirling its flavor throughout

then I drain the bag

put in the sugar

I always use sugar

as my Dad used sugar

then a splash of milk

as my Mom splashed milk

then on a cold, rainy day

I sit back, with pencil in hand

sipping tea and writing poetry.

Traffic Stop

They walk across the road

chests puffed out, heads high

as if to say, we own this spot

their waddling has purpose

as the traffic waits for them

once in a rush now stopped

having to wait while they saunter.

A brief moment of rest

from the hectic days we have

a time to watch this slow parade

that does not rush or seem to care

it’s not easy to sit there patiently

too many things to do and see

but maybe this brief interlude

is a special gift of peace

as finally the last of the group

a few steps behind, slows down

to look up at the massive vehicles

as if to say, “You’re welcome