Stories are Everywhere

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.

Inconvenient Truth

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.

God’s Gift of the Present

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.

City Life

Yes, it’s noisy and infested
filled with dark, dingy abodes
streets littered with cast-offs
both inert and organic.

A place of despair for some
of light and delight for others
this is the city
crowded, unkempt, dangerous
a kaleidoscope of sound and color
overwhelming the innocent
enticing the adventurous
boring the dwellers within.

The city, bears it all
under the strains of the masses
that hurtle down its streets
walking through its alleys
with heads down
pushing against
tides of indifference.

The city takes,
the city gives
we are its children
and its future
we carry its fortunes
in our valises
sharing our dreams
waiting for the sun to rise
and for hearts to sing.

Wild and Free

Maybe it’s me

the way I think,

not in a straight line

and not in sequential steps.

As I look back 

on all those years

when I was told the path,

and I went the other way

not willing to be fitted

with bit and bridle of convention

but wanting to run free,

along the broken ridge lines

across the empty beaches

to feel the wind in my face

to stand in the rain

shaking my rebellious fist 

to the forces that try to chain.

Now I know the tale

of the Handmaid and her woes

being tied down by fear of others.

Lives are meant for living

pushing against the walls

trying to contain the hearts

of the artists and poets

whose words are dangerous

and not at all straight and narrow

but wild and free.

Friendship in the Age of Social Media

 Friendship, today that word seems to have taken on a new meaning. We have “friends” on Facebook, we are connected through Twitter and Instagram, I have followers of this blog as well as followers on the other social media platforms, yet, are they friends? Friends in the true sense of the word, the classic dictionary definition:

A person whom one knows well and is fond of; intimate associate; close acquaintance. A person on the same side in a struggle; one who is not an enemy or foe; ally. A supporter or sympathizer. Something thought of as like a friend in being helpful, reliable, etc.

 When I read the definition, I cannot say that I have many “true” friends on social media, while some are real in the classical sense of being a friend, most are acquaintances, people I have known in various stages of my life, but not close, not intimate. I could not share my inner thoughts with many, I could not share my own struggles and doubts, and recently I cannot even share my own political views. 

 I began really thinking about friendship after going out last evening with two of my oldest and dearest friends, Bill and Bob. It was Bob, Bill, Mike, Ted and I who formed the our small but close group. Our friendships began long ago when we were in high school at a time of peer pressure, the desire to conform, yet to also rebel, a time when one is trying to figure out the confusing signals that come with teenage angst. Bob, I have known since the third grade and he came into my life at a time when I was having difficulties in adjusting to a new school, new people, and also the lingering effects of tragedy at home. Our third grade teacher was, to put it mildly, was my Gorgon. In my imagination she was evil, a witch, a dark shadow that over whelmed all that I tried to do. Going to school then was my journey into Mordor and I was the Hobbit just trying to survive by keeping my head down. It was during this turbulent time that Bob and I became friends, hanging around together, going to each other’s homes and generally being boys. Mike, I would meet in our Freshman year at Framingham South as part of the Class of ‘69. He was one of five boys and his dad was a career Navy man so it was his mom who ruled their home. Mike and I would get together at his home after school, watch Dark Shadows and consume several cans of Hi-C fruit drinks. It wasn’t long after that when Bob, Mike and yours truly began hanging out together and by the time we reached our Junior year, Bill and Ted became part of our crew.

 Throughout the years we have all grown, Mike, Bob and I, all joined the Army together after we graduated in 1969. After basic we went our separate ways, with Mike and I ending up in Vietnam and Bob being stationed in Alaska. Bill and Ted went to college, where we lost contact with Ted, but the four of us remained close. We shared our joys, our struggles, our lives with each other. Even as we moved along, getting married, having kids, choosing our vocations, we remained close.

 There are so many stories to be told about our friendship, some funny, some sad, but all of them born out of our deep affection for one another. Now as we grow older, move into new phases of being grandparents and re-defining our lives, our friendship shows little or no sign of going away. Sure, distance, family and life do get in the way, yet, each of us knows that when called upon we can be assured that they will be there to support, give comfort and be that friendly ear.

 As I sit here and write, I feel a sense of loss in these deep friendships. With the advent of social media, and the accumulation of acquaintances rather than friends, I feel a deep sense of loss. Most of my Facebook “friends” are good folks, I like them but I could never share with them on the same level as I do with those four. Being an introvert and never one to put myself out there just to have friends, I find the whole thing, depressing. 

 Is it a part of the aging process? I don’t think so, having time alone, to read, write and be in that blissful state of solitude has its own reward. I also have that most beautiful of friendships with my partner and spouse, someone I can be me with, who knows my many foibles, yet, still loves me as I love her. 

Out on a Frozen lake

The sun sets early

on a cold winter night

as I set out 

across the frozen lake

looking up at the stars

clear in the cold darkness

blinking brightly

as the moon begins to rise

out there,

silence 

and I feel your presence

listening 

as the frozen sheet

groans underneath my feet,

alone, yet not alone

I am at peace

a peace I yearn for

once again

as I remember that night

out on the frozen lake

alone, yet not alone.