I am not one for making resolutions as most seem to have the half life of a gnat, but I am going to try and write more and to keep a record for this year. It will probably be a combination of journaling, poetry and some kind of essay as I try to convey my feelings, that is if I can ever understand them. Today, on this first day of the New Year, we are in the midst of brutally cold weather and it looks to be staying around for the next few days. It has kept me away from what I love to do, road cycling and even though I can ride indoors, take the occasional spin class, they are poor substitutes for getting outside, in the fresh air and enjoying the alone time. Being an introvert, my cycling gives me the freedom to work out the noises that are in my head, the words that I want to write, the poems that I need to say, the very heart of who I am. I’m not an expert writer or blogger, I’m a hacker. I try each day to write, I try to make sense and there are more times than I care to count where I fall way short, but still I write. So here I sit on January 1, 2018 living into a resolution that I have not made and hoping that I can find the words that will make sense and even if they don’t make sense, well at least I will have written them and that will have to be enough.
I’ve been trying now, for a couple of days, to write something cohesive and interesting. So far all I have are bits and pieces of incomplete sentences and thoughts, a nonsensical pattern of my scattered mind. It seems that I flit from topic to topic, writing about this and that but never getting to the core of why I’m writing this stuff. I try my hand at poetry and now I have a journal full of one liners and things that have popped into my head and made it to the page. None of it is ready for prime time, as they say, but at least they are somewhere accessible instead of residing in the labyrinth of my own thoughts. Being an introvert and a major procrastinator, if I don’t write down what I’m thinking at the moment I’m thinking it, then it is lost to the ages. Sometimes it does repeat itself in one form or another later but then I’m stuck trying to remember why I thought that thought in the first place.
So now here I am, using my blog to post my writing angst for all to read not knowing what people are thinking. I think, and this is just me, that bloggers write to be heard in a way that they are not in their daily lives. If not as introverted, as I tend to be, then it becomes a question of not feeling like you’re being listened to, that your ideas, questions, deep thoughts are somehow a nuisance to others. For myself, and this is not a psychological profile (or is it?), I remember school days when you were just a number, one of many kids all vying for attention in a Lord of the Flies kind of way. Being quiet and not feeling all that smart, I tended to seek the quiet corner, what I now call, as an adult, keeping myself under that radar. Even now, as a priest, I still tend to stay back when at a gathering of my colleagues and let the more extroverted ones have their say. I find it exhausting trying to step into the fray and the few times I have tried it has been dismissed as one would dismiss a bit of fuzz on their lapel.
Maybe, I’m being too harsh. Sure, I don’t just jump into the deep end and yes, I am unsure of myself even after all these years of living. It might just be that I take all of this way too seriously and I want what I write to mean something, to have some meat to it rather than a skeleton of dried, dusty bones. I’m not saying that I need or want to be famous, or widely read. I have just started reading, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser. I have only gotten into the first couple of chapters but this caught my eye; “You’ll never be able to make a living writing poems”, and I have to guess that I will never make a living writing in my blog, but at least I’m writing.
Maybe one day, when the dust has all settled and I am in fact the dust that is settling, one of my grandkids or even a great-grandkid, will happen upon this old man’s musings and take it upon themselves to write. Maybe they will create the next great novel, or become a world recognized poet, even a poet laureate all because of these seeds I am sowing now. Yes, it’s a nice dream but isn’t that the reason why we write because we don in fact have dreams. Dreams are the soil upon which we, upon which I, through out the seeds of my thoughts. These seeds are in the words, the images, the very heart of all that I see and reflect on. These seeds come in the quiet moments, when I sit down and take pencil to paper or when I pop open my iPad and begin tapping away at the keyboard. I never really know where it will take me, or what it will look like but there I am struggling with the muse who has entered into my life.
I guess what I am trying to say is that my writing is more like wrestling jello, I just can’t seem to get my thoughts to settle down enough to write about them. Right now, I have three thousand words of a piece of fiction that I’ve been working on for months. Where will it end up, I have no idea but there it sits, on my iPad as a Pages document taunting me to delve into its mystery. I have no idea where it will end up but at least I’m writing.
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.
I sit here
on the toilet
the porcelain throne
how many seconds
have I spent
doing just this,
what to write
and I do mean,
only to watch them
flush down the drain,
some folks get anal
(you see what I did there)
others get concerned
that I have
shape and yes, smell
and I think of time wasted
just sitting here
pushing out the toxins
and then it hits me,
my brains way
of pushing out the toxins
that pollute my thoughts
and so here I sit
writing this poem.
I’ve been sitting here, staring at that blinking cursor and blank white screen trying to figure out what to write about. Do I write a piece of prose, a bit of nonfiction or fiction, do I write a poem about a tree? There are millions of ideas that float across my mind and like a school of fish they slip past quickly before I’ve had any chance to grab even one. Stories are out there and stories are within, the trick is to start digging away and just write what you see and damn the consequences.
Stories come from our everyday experiences, those seemingly small moments that we don't think are very important but when we begin to unpack them we see something of ourselves. Yesterday I had one such experience, a connection made with a man named George. George has been hanging out in our church yard, using the picnic table to have his breakfast and coffee. George is one of those characters that seem to gravitate toward the church. They are lost, lost in the world, lost in society and lost within themselves. He’s not a dangerous person, he’s not unintelligent, he’s just lost. That is something many people just can't wrap their heads around, that here is a man, who is educated, seems smart and yet can’t seem to find his way. Yet, here he is, struggling. In his mind, in his lostness, he is wrestling with God in his own wilderness. The spiritual struggle some of us go through as we seek our place in this craziness called life.
George and I have now spoken several times and with each conversation another layer of his complex personality is exposed. That he was married, that he was a lawyer, that he had gotten involved with a fundamentalist religious group, and with their blessing went over to Europe to begin a ministry of house churches. Along the way he lost his purpose, he lost his wife and children to divorce and he may have even lost his connection to family and friends.
I sit here, a conduit to God’s grace, a conduit that is in itself flawed by my humanity. I sit and listen, I can offer no quick fix, no special prayers, or some magical incantation, I’m not a Shaman or a mystic, I’m just the person God created me to be. There are stories to be told, to be written down and shared. Stories of our common humanity, of our need for one another, not just when things are going great, but also when we are traveling along a darkened path. Life is a struggle and for some, like George, it is a greater struggle. That is why we need to share these stories because if I were to I be honest, if we were to be honest, there is a bit of George in all of us, that small, scared child who fears what is under the bed or the monsters lurking in the dark closet. Our lives are connected in that mystery we Christians call the Incarnation, the Divine Presence of the Word which called us into being out of the dust.
Maybe that’s why I’m writing this piece, because there are moments when it is easy to get oneself lost. I know there have been those moments, when the darkness of my own mind has overwhelmed me and I found myself struggling to find the path. I don’t believe there is not one human being alive who has not faced their own dark night of the soul, who have wondered about the choices they made and the consequences of those choices.
I read something yesterday stating that what anyone writes is not something original, but mainly a reworking of age old stories. Stories of love, of death, of growing up and coming of age. We all have those stories in the deep well of our memories and it is my task to dip into that well and draw upon those deep waters. Some of the water will be sweet and fresh, and some will be brackish, but it all comes from the same well.
I can say with complete confidence that I am no genius. I struggle with my grammar, I’m unsure of punctuation and word usage, but at least I’m willing to expose these thoughts to the world. Creating anything, whether it is a piece of art, a poem, a story, even a life, requires taking a risk. It’s all too easy to sit on social media posting someone else’s words, it’s something else to post your own. Maybe it is because in taking a moment to try and see the world through the eyes of another, I have been granted a gift and that gift is these words that I write.
It’s that inconvenient truth
the one we don’t talk about
because it’s just too frightening
and our minds refuse to accept
the reality that is all around
the darkness that comes
with the dawn of a new day
that Leviathan we can’t touch
devouring everything we cherish
grazing along the pathways
of once sacred places
now only a shell of former glory
where the rats gnaw at the rotted wood
and people only gaze, shaking heads
wondering where it all went
when they themselves feed on the carcass
while the fat man sings his laments
of what was and is now lost
and we cry for entertainment
for multiple pleasures of flesh and mind
taking away the pain of our lives
in the choices we have made
to turn away from each other
and sell our love cheaply.
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.