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

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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.

So Simple

It seems so simple,

to just kneel and pray

to remain quiet and still

for just a few moments,

taking time to be silent

to block out the noises

and the shouts of others

who seek only to be loud

drowning us in a sea of words

hateful words, angry words,

while all I seek is silence

kneeling in the sanctuary

looking up at the stained glass

seeking peace that lies within

to calm my heart,

yet, tears come to my eyes

the heartbreak of deep loss

that loss of spirit and faith

in all that I hold dear and true,

so I kneel and pray

to quiet my troubled heart

lifting my hands to God

seeking that deep peace.

Small Things

It’s never that one big thing

that grand gesture

the opulent present

or the vast quantity spent

much is done in small ways

the tiny hand holding on a finger

a small crocus defiantly breaking through

a slight word that either cuts or heals

we live the butterfly effect

with our daily small gestures

a smile or frown

a look into another’s eyes

or downcast and aloof

can do so much to build or destroy

the fragile human heart.

I think of these things

as I write this poem

knowing my few words

are just small things

being tossed into the sea

a letter in a bottle

to one day wash 

upon a lonely, distant shore

there to be read

by one lost and afraid

who seeks just that,

small words to comfort

to heal the wounds

wrought in the daily living

that touch the heart

with a small breath

that lingers on the soul.