Will I Ever Know?

Will I ever know what it means to be a writer,

will I ever compose that one great love poem

or guide a reader into a realm they’ve never seen,

or am I doomed to just sit here in the darkened space

struggling with finding those elusive words

that just won’t come no matter how much I call

sitting outside of my vision taunting me as I write.

So, I sit here alone surrounded by the wisdom

of writers who have struggled in their own right

and the ghosts of so many who have long since gone

who wrote those now classic works that live still today.

Will I ever know what it means, really, really means.

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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.

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.

Retirement Day One

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?

Who has strife? Who has complaining?

Who has wounds without cause?

Who has redness of eyes?

Those who linger late over wine,

those who keep trying mixed wines.

Do not look at wine when it is red,

when it sparkles in the cup

and goes down smoothly.

At the last it bites like a serpent,

and stings like an adder.

Your eyes will see strange things,

and your mind utter perverse things.

You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.

(Proverbs 23)

Day one of retirement, day one and looking ahead and behind while trying to remain present in the here and now. Feeling like there’s something I need to do, something not quite finished, like the final touches on a painting or that last piece of a gigantic puzzle. Retirement comes with no prepared packaging. You enter at your own peril and you make of it what you will but it can also become one’s master. Finding solace, time to write, time to read and do what I like will require some discipline. New habits need to be formed and made a part of the daily routine without turning the daily routine into a rut. Reading Morning Prayer the passage from Proverbs warns against imbiding too much on wine. We could say that imbiding on anything for too long is not good and one of the dangers of being retired and without the daily habit of work, is to get lazy, bored and possibly depressed. Unfortunately, I have been down the depression road, I have been stuck in the ruts and have needed help to claw my way out. Depression is not something we easily talk about, especially men. We tend to travel down the dark path with our chin up denying that we are indeed down in the dumps. The truth is we can’t do that and survive, not to deal more openly leads us into even darker waters, abusing booze, inappropriate sexual liaisons will only create a deeper rut. Our eyes will see strange things our minds will wander and our hearts will break but that needn’t be the only path. I’m just now testing these new waters, dipping my toe in carefully to see whether or not I’ll take the plunge. That plunge is actually trying to see if any of my babblings are worthy to be published and read by others. I have the time, I just need to get over my own fears of being ridiculed and rejected. In a way it’s not about me personally but then again it is if I take rejection personally. I guess that the idea is never to quit trying, to write, send out a query letter, explore the genres and continue to try. Anne Lamott talks about writing as taking it word by word, writing that shitty first draft then purging it later of the adjectives, adverbs and useless words, writers tend to use. Then get down to really honing the craft. So here I go, day one of retirement, my shitty first draft in need of revision, but at least I wrote and didn’t drink that wine

So it Begins

As I approach another change in my life’s story, I begun to reflect on how I have arrived to the place I am now. It’s one of life’s great mysteries, how the choices we make, the challenges we face and the decisions that got us to where we are, have impacted our lives and the lives of those whom we have come to know. It’s a mystery because in the moment we don’t fully understand that a simple yes or no can have that kind of impact. In fact, in the moment, we seldom truly think about what might happen but only think of the initial gratification we get in making the decision we have made. When we were young, just beginning our conscious life, everything we did or did not do was filled with drama. Coming to the realization that we are, as Shakespeare once said, all actors on the great stage, had the twofold effect of us trying to improvise our lines or surrendering ourselves to the script that has already been written for us. I would tend to be cautious about our script already being written for us and that we are merely players on the grand stage, it’s a bit too Calvinistic, a bit too cut and dried. It makes us puppets and that our actions are not our fault (a built in excuse for making bad decisions), but merely our following what has been predestined for us to say and do. On the other hand, I believe that we are the captains of our own ships, that we set the course, and head blindly into the consequences of our own thought process. We hope beyond hope, that what we decide and what we do will turn out for the best and when it does or doesn’t we only have ourselves to look to for either admonishment or astonishment.

Each step, each word is indelibly carved into the memories and like many others, I carry those memories with me like a Red Cap at the airport, taking them from the curb to the terminal and back again. Some of these memories are heavily weighted with regret and grief, memories of words not said, of love not given, of turning one’s back when, at that moment, they needed your front. It’s funny, at least for myself, that it’s the failures that seem to take front stage. There they are, like a really bad comic, bombing their lines in front of an unforgiving audience who throw rotten tomatoes at you. In many cases I have come to find out that I am both the bad comic and the audience member with an oozing piece of rotten fruit ready to toss. I am both one and the same, I am both in every moment of life the player and the played and yet, I carry on. Why? Why do we carry on, why not blame someone else, after all that seems to be the favorite thing to do today, point a finger and yell loudly. I for one have come to realize that many of my decisions, many of my deeds, I have done willingly and with a huge dose of naïveté. Not an excuse, it just is what it is, all part of being human and living today.

Memoir, is that written account of that kind of life. A life of ups and downs, of digging oneself into a hole and hopefully, climbing back out. Each moment we either leave a piece of ourselves or we gain another piece to carry along. We shed old skins, the skins of jealousy, of anger, of words unsaid and of the pain we to have suffered. It is not about perfection, or even having that unique story because no one is perfect and every story deserves a telling.

I will begin my story, I will tell my tale and I will do it to the best of my own flawed memory. Accuracy is not the point, at least not for me, but honesty is and that is done in telling the story truthfully, without embellishment or false heroics. I will write in private, I will share one day and I will learn anew of a life lived fully.

A Non-Bloggers, Blog

What do I do? It’s a question that seems to be ever evolving as I move through these last weeks of being a full time clergy person, something that is becoming a bit rare given the current climate of our culture. My mother, at age 95, always tells me that time goes by so fast and yes, she is right, but if time didn’t go by then where would we all be? Stuck, that’s where. We would never grow, never learn, never take the chance to love and to be loved. I know that my life will take on a new dimension and I also know that being a retired priest does not mean not being a priest, it just means that I will now have to focus my energies elsewhere.

It is all about discernment, of listening to the still, quiet voice in the silence of my heart. It means that if I want to write, I mean, really write then I need to go deeper than I’ve ever gone before. I need to plum the depths of my feelings that seem at times to be all over the emotional map. It also means actually sitting down daily and writing, which is where I tend to get sidetracked. There is always something else, some other thing to be doing and before I know it, I’ve lost another day to trivialities that could have been handled at a later date. That, and staying away from social media, the great time sucking divergence that, as far as I can see, holds little redeeming social worth. Sure, some postings are good, and yes, there are some positive aspects to social media and what is out there, but overall, it just sucks the life out if you’re not careful,

So as I write this, trying to be conscientious in developing a writing habit, I’m wondering, what do I write about? Basically, I write whatever seems to show up in my head. I just put words to paper, in this case to my iPad, and go from there. Sometimes I post this drivel to my WordPress page, my attempt at being a blogger, while sometimes I just let it sit here and fester. To be a blogging sort you have to have an angle, something that is at once witty and yet, provocative. A blog that grabs the attention of a few who then pass along your stuff to others thus creating a following. I know that I am far from being all that interesting and I truly have no angle, all I do is just write what I feel and then let the chips fall where they may. However, is that enough?

There is more to every story and more to every person, the challenge is to let those stories out and see how they take the light of day. Will it grow and be fruitful or will it shrink and die in the harsh glare of the critics eye? I did get a compliment from a writer, someone who is actually published and now teaches at Grub Street in Boston, who said that I do have a story to tell. So I will write that story, I will share bits and pieces, I will lay myself wide open to the opinions of the critics, good, bad or indifferent. After all, growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and to not take this chance to write, well, then I may never know and that would be the real tragedy.

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.