Simple

It’s simple

erase,

the loss,

the pain,

that emptiness,

erase it all,

move on,

smile,

laugh,

hide those scars,

behind sleeves,

those bruises,

cover them,

hide it all,

don’t weep

don’t live grief

exposing

us living with pain,

loss,

emptiness,

scars and bruises,

behind

sleeves

in silent caverns

of memory

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I’m Back Blogging, I think.

It has been too long since I sat down to write. It has been a combination of things, both great and small that has kept me from my writing. For the last few months I have been struggling with a bit of depression that has worn me down. I really have tried to climb out of the valley, to see that bit of sunshine on the horizon, but the darkness is still there. Like a hungry wolf it lingers waiting to pounce when I am at my weakest and once it has sunk its teeth in, I can’t seem to thrust it off. Of course there are several factors and the big one for me is trying to find my way in this strange new world of being retired. I know that some folks can’t wait to retire, the fantasize about laying on some warm beach all day, or being able to play golf or just lay around without any expectations. No more punching the clock, no more having to work in a place that sucks the marrow from one’s soul. It sounds great and I thought I had a plan, then like all good plans, life gets in the way. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a difficult transition if we stayed up in Massachusetts. There I had my colleagues who would have helped me to find a new way. I had Grub Street, that would have kept me on track with my writing, taking courses that would have greased the mental wheels as I continued to put on paper my thoughts and feelings. In other words, I had stuff, I had the necessary social and intellectual connections, where now, there are none. Moving to Delaware, into a new state, a new diocese has been difficult. I’m not a big extrovert and I don’t get out making friends all that easily, so I have struggled finding my way. As I have watched my former parish continue to move into a new direction from afar, I sometimes feel wistful and sad, wondering what it would have been like had I not retired. Honestly, I miss the liturgy, the weekly celebration and the daily work of being with the people in the ordinariness of life. In this new diocese, I feel like an intruder of sorts, a virus that should be shunned so that nothing changes the lives of those here. Going from Diomass to Delaware, is like going from a corporate size parish to a family parish, there is a different mindset in the smaller diocese. Like a family parish, there are the matriarchs and patriarchs who one must engage with. Not only that but one needs to deal with the bishop and here, in Delaware, the bishop is new and he has his vision, which may or may not work as well as he hopes. It is just another layer in this labyrinthine world of the church and I have not felt, nor have I desired, to be a traveler along these roads. Yet, here I am, stuck in the middle not knowing what to do or where to go. Sure, I’ve done some supply, preached a couple of times, even helped with a book study, but that is like giving a drop of water to a thirsty soul, it doesn’t help. So the big question for me, is what do I do with what I have been given? That’s great because at this point I have no idea. This week I will attend my final writing class at Osher, well let’s be honest, it really isn’t a class in the real sense, it’s just a group of older people who write and hope what they write makes sense. This class has not helped to motivate me at all even though I have tried to get something down. So for the next few weeks, months maybe even year, I will endeavor to sit my butt down and just write. It doesn’t have to be pretty, or even make sense, all I need to do is write. I have plenty of books on writing to read, I have books on poetry, memoir and all of that to help motivate and guide me. Another way to help me out of this funk is getting back to my blog that has laid dormant for the last few months. Just lay it out there for all to see, lay out the struggle and the pain, the deep insecurities as well as the darkness that lingers.

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

The Dash Between

Walk through a cemetery, slowly. Gaze at the various grave markers, take note of the person’s name, the date of birth the date of death, look around, see what offerings have been left by others. The gravesite tells much if we are really attentive, we get to know who this person is, those bits and pieces of offerings give us a glimpse into their life, when they once roamed this planet, when they were fully alive and present. Between the birth and death there is a space or a dash, that small part represents all that person was and did, how they lived, loved it represents their hopes and dreams, the pain and joy, all that life brings.

I have done plenty of funerals, have seen many gravestones and read about those who lie beneath the ground. Some heroes, winners of medals and adulation from a grateful nation, some mothers who sacrificed so much for children and grandchildren, some husbands who once stood as the providers for their families, all once living breathing human beings. The space, the dash is where their story lies, it is in that place where we find discover their true self, it is in that space where we discover ourselves.

Memoir is mining the dash, going beneath its surface and diving deep into those memories that have made us who we are, and will be the legacy we leave. I am coming now to the end of another period of life as retirement lies out there on the horizon. I have been a priest in the Episcopal Church for over 26 years, I have served my current parish for 17 of those years. I have made many mistakes, I have suffered depression and felt defeated, yet, I have also felt great joy and love. I have experienced the full spectrum of the human condition, witnessed birth and death, held the hand of one facing great struggles, watched as others have turned their backs and walked away. My heart, has been filled to the brim with joy and broken also by great heaviness, a sense of failing not just the people I serve but the God whom I have given my life over to.

Vocation is a calling. It is answering the call to follow and follow I have done. Not the most perfect of followers and definitely not one of those bright shining stars that populate the universe of clergy. I have been the person whom God created me to be, I have tried, failed and tried again and through the trials and tribulations I have grown to love these people whom I have lived with. Last Sunday was Easter and it will be my last Easter here in the place I am. As I looked out at the congregation, knowing many only come once or twice a year, I saw so many stories and each one has touched my heart. The teens who I held in my arms so many years ago, pouring water over their heads as I baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, bringing them into the community of faith. The families who I sat with as we watched a beloved member die, as we stood at the edge of the grave, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It was hard, it will be hard, to say good-bye, to bid these people farewell, even now as I write this I feel the clutch in the throat, tears on the edge of my eyes, remembrances pouring out.

My own dash, the space between birth and death, is where I am now being called into, to write, however imperfectly, about this life. If anything, I write this for my grandchildren and those who will one day walk into some graveyard, stare down at a stone with my name engraved on it with a birthdate and death date, and that all important dash.

Third Grade Teacher

Her voice was hot,

a heat that blistered

the fragile skin

deep into the dermis

where it festers 

to this day

as I sit here,

wondering

if I would ever live

to know the truth

of what I’m to become,

long since burned

on that day

slowly emerging

from the blackened depths,

reaching out

a tentative hand

that will heal the burn

that runs deep.

Evening Prayer

Here in the twilight, 

I sit, the air is warm, 

the sky beginning to change, 

red and orange as the sun sets. 

A cooling breeze whispers 

as the calls of night creatures 

begin their song and I pray.

Lifting my heart up,

unburdening the soul

from the pain and confusion

wrought by demons

desiring death over life.

Seeing in the waning light

those first glimmers of stars

whose light shines

despite the darkness

giving hope to a troubled soul.