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.

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What Tale do I Tell?

What tale am I to tell? 

Where does my story begin?

Where will it all end?

I look about and see poetry

in the trees as the wind blows through the leaves

in the songs of the birds nesting in the branches.

There is poetry in the love I share

in the tears I shed

in my own imperfections.

I look up at the clouds scudding across the sky

changing shape molded by unseen hands

creating a story that is timeless.

I am such a small part of the greater whole

seeking to discover that one great purpose

writing these bits and pieces of poetry

hoping to see in the words a reflection of my soul.

Perfection is a dream, a fantasy of youth

these words are imperfect as is the language.

It can never describe those deeper feelings

that lie at the core of my being,

a being fraught with fear and anxiety

of knowing I am not enough on my own.

What tale do I tell? 

What mystery lies at the root of my heart?

The roads I have travelled were never straight

winding through a landscape at once beautiful and terrible.

Through the gauntlet of people and places

faces haunting the edges of my memory

now I stand on the precipice of the future

as I stare out across a valley shrouded in fog

wondering where my story will take me.

Time grows shorter with each passing year

I now have arrived at a point where there are less tomorrow’s

and I can no longer sit idly 

as that enemy time, 

gnaws me down into dust.

All is sacred, all is holy, if I dare to look outward

fear is the cage created to justify our own failures

and I have failed and fallen so may times

yet, like the Phoenix I have risen from the ashes

to stand before the judgement seat of the Holy

the mystery of unconditional love

that calls us out of our tombs

unbinding our tortured souls

and bathing us in the light of truth.

Reflection on the News

It comes as no surprise

to see how we react

to the news that shocks

us to the core.

It’s easy to blame the past,

hindsight is 20/20

and of course,

we would have done it better.

It would be nice if people

were so easy and predictable

not creatures of habit

seeking what’s best for them.

Yet, that’s not the way,

hasn’t been since that fatal bite

in a garden lost to memory.

I’m a Bouncer

I’m a bouncer,

not that kind of bouncer,

the muscular, no necks

who stand watch

over the dimly lit nightclub

watching designer dressed people

sipping their specialty cocktails

while the jazz band plays

eyeing one another,

seeking that one time love

that really isn’t love

but a need to feel something

even if only for a moment.

I’m a bouncer between words

seeking the right combo

playing all the wrong notes

with no rhythm or blues.

Needing to feel something

in the poetry of my life

if only for a moment.

I bounce because I’m scared 

of what might happen

of where the words will take me.

I used to bounce on an old sofa

in the basement of our house

listening to the A-sides of 45’s

on an old Sears and Roebuck

record player I got for Christmas

and there, with music playing

I would bounce and imagine

what some call daydreaming,

of adventures beyond my walls

being the hero who gets the girl

the one who saves the world.

Now here I sit, imagining still

daydreaming away, some say,

as these words flow out.

Nothing is perfect

nothing is easy

so I continue to be just that,

a bouncer needing to feel

if only for a moment.

A Drone Dares to Write

There comes a moment when you realize you suck at something so bad that it’s time to either shit or get off the pot. Writing, sure it’s not easy, sure it takes time and sure not everything written by you is worth reading, but there are those for whom writing is a lark. By that, I mean they write effortlessly. Now don’t give me some bullshit that it’s not all that easy when a seasoned writer can vomit clever lines and titles with the ease of a person having a stomach virus, the words just spew forth and all in a colorful pattern. Those of us, I should say, people like me, who have struggled creatively with everything they have ever tried (yes, I’ve tried plenty times to be creative) only to be beaten down by the critical voices both within and without. When I write all I hear are all those English teachers who only fawned over the literary geniuses in our class, rewarding them with extra credit and special one on one critique. While the rest of us drones were relegated to reading Jane and Dick books in the vast mausoleum that was called a study hall. We were the cannon fodder, the kids being readied for the factories and janitorial jobs that no one wanted to do, then the geniuses closed down the factories and the drones were truly flightless. Now, here I sit, doing what every English teacher told me I could never do and that is write, write creatively. As I enter into the later part of my life I write, a bit of prose, a bit of poetry pouring out my heart onto the blank pages. Really, what do I have to lose, all the ego and self respect as to my own creativity I once believed in, now litters those long dormant study halls of the past. I’m never going to be a “published” writer, as such, that domain belongs to the geniuses and spewers of fine words. Me, well, I’ll throw out my words like one throws spaghetti at a wall and see what, if anything, sticks which in the end only creates a mess but at least it’s my mess.