What is the story that I want to tell, to write about here on the pages of this blog? Do I have the courage to tell that story and all that comes with the telling? So much is locked up in memory, various pictures, feelings, textures, that engages all of the senses making up that story. I have struggled trying to tell my story and not get bogged down in the telling. There is so much that needs to be sifted and examined for truth, not only truth of the story itself but the truth of how that story has made me who I am and continues to remake me each day. There is that deeper story of love and loss, of success and failure, of being a child and passing into the adult life. Memories hang along the rafters, I look above me and I don’t know which one to choose, which one do I dare to open. I write to find myself in these memories, that child waking up from a nightmare, that teen being bullied, a young soldier in a foreign land, a newly minted husband unsure of himself while trying to be strong, a dad now responsible for another human life, a priest seeking to discover where God is leading, now I sit here retired, picking through those various pieces of my life and trying to put it together. It is a great jig-saw puzzle, thousands of pieces all scattered along the table and I am looking at it all utterly daunted by the undertaking. Like with any jig-saw, it is best to start with the borders, get the edge right before moving on into the interior. Yet, even the border is hard to define, the borders of life are not static but dynamic, they’re ebb and flow through the mind, clear one minute and haze the next. Nothing is solid in memory, and so like some explorer crossing a vast ocean I must make my own way, with little or no navigation aids. What is that story? What makes mine worth the telling? Fear robs me of that courage I need to tell what I know and what I feel, yet, I can’t let that fear hold me back. Maybe, just maybe, it is in those moments of fear that I will find who I truly am and that in and by itself might just be the story I need to tell.
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.
What is the measure of one’s life?
In the still moments where alone I sit
writing out the words that play
along the horizon of my mind
darting to and fro
seemingly solid at once
then becoming ghosts the next
whispers that speak in the dark
that have no meaning
as I try to grasp what to do
my writing is weak
my poetry is nonsense
but the words taunt
they jump about,
just out of reach
the feelings are raw
how do I measure my life,
by what I do,
or what I don’t do?
Is it worth the effort
or the critique of a thousand voices
that all yell and scream.
Life is measured in the seconds and minutes
in the hours of the day
in the seasons as they change
in watching the summer fade
and falls colors drop away
as winter winds blow them around
down empty streets
where lovers clasp each other tightly
holding themselves against the cold
of their own feelings and doubts.
What is the measure of my own life?
What will I leave behind to be read
and thought about?
Time flies, once you are young, filled with ambition and desire, hopes and dreams then suddenly your staring in the mirror at an aged face, worn down by the years. What have I accomplished, what are my crowning achievements? We ask those kind of questions especially when mortality stares us in the face. Is there more? I know I certainly hope for more, more time with loved ones, more space to create and write, more to see and do. The world rushes headlong into its future, not paying attention to the road being taken and then wondering how did we ever get so blindsided. It’s simple, we are so focused on the future that we forget about the present and by the time we do, well, we are lying in great weakness left wondering.
Since passing the age of 65, I have been giving a lot of thought as to where my life will take me. I cannot last forever, there is no portrait of me hanging in some darkened Gothic basement where the image grows older while I stay young. No, when I look in the mirror, I see the age lines, the bags under my eyes, the loss of shine in the eyes. Although this happens, it does not mean that I just lay back and surrender to the inevitability of the aging process. In my occupation, I have seen way too many folks do just that, give up. When the road gets tough, when one is stuck in mud season with tires spinning yet going no where, it’s easy to just quit. The fires of passion are quenched by the realities of the choices we have made. The saying is so true, “we made our bed and now we need to lie in it,” what so many want is for another to come along and remake that bed.
Not one of us is perfect. Sure, we run into the occasional perfect person, with the perfect spouse, perfect kids, perfect job and the perfect, well manicured lawn in front of the perfect well maintained home. Yet, if one just scratches the surface we find that most of that perfection is an illusion, that underneath the finely made up personality lies someone struggling against the greater tide. The addictive lifestyle is not just about drugs, alcohol, or sex, the addictive lifestyle also includes our ego, the picture we present as we walk out into the world. Self confidence, the ability to out debate others, creating our own little island where we rule our emotions, feelings and humanity, is soon revealed to be nothing more than a sand bar quickly washed away when the hurricane arrives.
Robert Farrar Capon wrote "Our greatest temptation is to think that it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life.” I have witnessed those who have sought out a better life by doing just that, trying to live more aggressively, stepping over any and all that get in the way, is somehow that magical highway to heaven. My own attempts at trying to be a bit more aggressive, a bit more out there have usually ended up looking more like a train wreck than a success. What I keep returning to, over and over, is my own faith. In prayers where I seek, not riches or fame, but where I pray that my eyes will be opened, my heart will be filled and my soul will find peace. Sure, I get jealous. Jealous of those who write better, who are better poets, who are better preachers and priests, than I could ever be or attain to. At times I wonder why God never gave me those gifts, why was I left off of the list, then again, as I look back there have been plenty of times where I have squandered my opportunities. That, unfortunately is true for so many of us. If we sat down in a quiet place, turned off the computers, the cell phones, got away from Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and took our own moral inventory, we would all see moments when we were not at our best. Moments when we made a decision that looked good at the time only to regret it much later, then turn around and blaming someone else for our misfortune.
Time certainly does fly by, sometimes at supersonic speed, but that does not mean we need be trapped in its wake. Moments of grace abound, the colors of the world are just as bright and love, that mystery of mysteries, carries us along. The Psalmist writes; “If I climb to heaven, you are there * if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.” God’s ever present love and grace, in our life and death, always.
Kill your baby,
kill the sentence,
kill the paragraph,
kill what you wrote,
only then will you know
how well you write
but it’s so hard to kill
that which you labored
so long to give birth.
Four way stops
are like life’s crossroads
no one really knows the rules
who gets to go first
so we take tentative steps
a quick glance
left then right
a slow creep out
hoping to catch the eye
of the others who wait
as you gently pull out
hoping that it’s the right choice
but then again
are there ever right choices?