Are we Doomed?

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.

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Porcelain Thoughts

I sit here

on the toilet

the porcelain throne

wondering,

how many seconds

minutes

hours

days

have I spent

doing just this,

sitting

contemplating

wondering

what to write

having brilliant

and I do mean,

brilliant ideas

only to watch them

flush down the drain,

some folks get anal

(you see what I did there)

others get concerned

the color

shape

even smell,

becomes important

like ideas

that I have

their color

shape and yes, smell

and I think of time wasted

just sitting here

not doing

not writing

just defecating

pushing out the toxins

and then it hits me,

writing poetry

my brains way

of pushing out the toxins

that pollute my thoughts

and so here I sit

writing this poem.

A Brief, Personel, Reflection

 I ride a bicycle. There, I said it, I’m a cyclist and have been for years. I enjoy the freedom of being out on the road, the wind in my face, the sound of the tires on the pavement, and being able to see things that I would miss had I been going by in a car. I’ve ridden in the heat and humidity of a New England summer as well as in the cold and snowy days of winter. Getting out as much as possible, doing anywhere between 35-50 miles on a daily basis, was and still is my goal and my future plans are to once again cross the country by bicycle.

 Cycling is a challenge, physically as well as mentally. Getting through a head wind, going up mountain roads, getting caught in a thunderstorm and negotiating streets and roads under construction, all have their own way of being a challenge. Yet, in spite of these barriers, in spite of the traffic and occasional difficulty, I still find cycling to be exhilarating and fun. 

 It is said that it’s not a question of “if you will have an accident” but “when will you have an accident”. Many cyclists can tell you about a crash, either self-induced or caused while racing or training for a race. Many can show you the scars caused by road rash on their legs and arms, especially the elbows and knees. Most crashes, result in no more than the discomfort of having the outer layer of your skin scrapped away by the pavement and then having to clean out the bits of gravel lodged into the wound. There’s nothing more fun than jumping into a shower after a crash and having to wash out the scrapes and scratches you came home with. Then again, there are more serious crashes. Cyclists have been maimed, some even killed, by distracted drivers and the cyclists own inattentiveness to their surroundings.

 A couple of years ago, on June 5, 2015, I had my accident. Sure, I had others, experienced the road rash wounds and the times when my cleats got stuck and I fell over, but this accident was a life changing experience. I was struck by someone opening their car door, without first looking to see if anyone was passing by them. It was the crash that got me writing more, mainly because I realized that life, my life, is tenuous.

 I know I’m not the only person ever to experience life changing events, however, this is my life changing event and it is one which I am still processing. In my writing, in my prose and poetry all of which is disjointed and in need of a good editor, I seek to delve into the deeper mystery that is self. Time and again, through what I write I’m seeking my true self, that person untarnished by the layers of life that have accumulated over the years. Yet, knowing that I will never recover what has been lost, I will never find that pure, true self lying embedded in the core of my soul. I dig into the tell of who I am, scrapping away the layers of dust and debris, of the loves lost and the loves gained, the heartbreak of living, which we all take part in and in which we all share. 

 Maybe I’m waxing a bit too philosophically, I’m not much of a philosopher, but I believe that inside each one of us is that unique story. Stories that need to be told, to be shared and talked about, to help us to heal from the fractures in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. 

 My accident resulted in a broken hip, that was surgically repaired with titanium nails by one of the best surgeons. Weeks in my bed at home, learning how to get up, walk up and down stairs, and months of physical therapy were all part of the process. 

 Now here I sit, on a hot July day in the midst of a heat wave, writing. Doing what I started doing days after the accident, trying again to delve into the mists of time and space, to find that hidden treasure, the one St. Paul claims we have hidden in “jars of clay.” Maybe that’s my own lesson, that no matter what, I am just that a simple jar made from clay and subject to being broken, physically as well as mentally. If we as people could only learn that each of us are simply clay pots subject to our own forms of decay, “you are dust and to dust you shall return”, maybe, just maybe, we might not be so ready to dismiss and judge. A dream, perhaps, but one worth writing about anyway.

It’s in the Future, Why Worry?

 I sit here in my office at church surrounded by pictures and memorabilia that I have collected over the last twenty-five years. On the wall behind me hang my academic achievements and two ordination certificates, what a friend of mine called, the “ego” wall. Many years ago, as I was finishing up High School and getting ready to join the Army, it never occurred to me that I would one day have a wall dedicated to my academic achievements, considering I was not the best of students. Even now there is that doubt lingering in the dark alleyways of my mind, lying in wait to assail any notion I have of being successful. Recently, I have been doing a decent job of keeping those doubts at bay and making sure their voices are stilled, yet, they remain ever present, ever ready to burst from the tomb where I’ve placed them. No tomb or prison, no wall or gate is ever high enough or strong enough against those deeper thoughts and fears that reside within us all.

 It is difficult admitting to one’s doubts especially when you reach a certain age, for me that age seems to have arrived. I am now on the cusp of entering the retired zone, of changing my life once again not knowing what I’m going to do with myself and, of course, I am full of doubts and a few fears. I’m sure many feel this way as they look down the road, a road that has yet to be paved, trying to imagine life without work. Okay, sure while we are slaving away at some desk, or in some cubicle we fantasize about being retired, partaking in our favorite hobbies and having plenty of time to enjoy those activities, but then I think, is that all? Sure I can go out cycling without having to worry about being called by the funeral home, or a parishioner in crisis. I will be able to actually go somewhere and not be on call each and every day, but then what? How do I create my daily life? How do I find that which feeds my soul and makes me want to get out of bed? Regardless how one may think of their job, and trust me I’ve had a few doozies in my life, still there’s something to getting up, stepping out and being productive. Each day is filled with hope, that a dream will come true, that you will find that one thing that changes your life and those around you. 

 Maybe I’m overthinking all of this, but then that is my nature to do just that, overthink. Then this gets me into trouble because those little demons, so carefully caged within begin to swing their little tin cups against the bars creating a cacophony of discordant sounds as they seek to escape. Maybe, I’m being a bit too existentialist in trying to figure things out, then again, what does one mean by being existentialist? I get too caught up when I delve into the philosophical side of my being because I really have no idea where I stand at this point.

 So then, let’s get back to my point, before I drift further away from the shore of reality, my impending retirement. No matter when I finally pull the trigger and actually do the deed, I think it’s always a good thing to contemplate, before it’s too late, and I find myself in a real swamp. To be absolutely clear, I am a bit fearful, not just of leaving but also of what I will do with myself. I’m not that great at anything besides being a priest and if my writing is any indication, I don’t believe it will find financial success. Yes, it will keep me busy and yes, it will be interesting, at least in my mind it will be, but only as a vocational hobby rather than a workable lifestyle. You see those pesky little doubts, banging away on the bars of their cells are getting louder and more vocal, I think one of them has taken on Jimmie Cagney’s persona. 

 The question is, what do I need now, psychologically and spiritually to get me started on this long and winding road into the forest called retirement. I look around at the various icons and pictures seeing a life well lived and hopefully that will continue into the foreseeable future. I also see hope, in what I do write and what I do feel. Sure, something could happen to change all that, like getting hit by an opened car door, but focusing on some unknown disaster is only opening those cage doors and allowing the gremlins of doubt to come out and play. 

 So I think, write and live.

Writers Block or Not

I can’t really call it “writers block” since I just read a litany of quotes that deny the existence of such a malaise, for instance:

“I don’t believe in writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. If you’re a writer, you sit down and write.”

– Elmore Leonard

“I haven’t had trouble with writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly. My first drafts are filled with lurching, clichéd writing, outright flailing around. Writing that doesn’t have a good voice or any voice. But then there will be good moments. It seems writer’s block is often a dislike of writing badly and waiting for writing better to happen.”

– Jennifer Egan

“All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?”

– Philip Pullman

“I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen — whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book — it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”

– Jeffery Deaver
“Writer’s block is a luxury most people with deadlines don’t have.”

– Diane Ackerman

“Lower your standards and keep going.”

William Stafford

I love the last one from William Stafford mainly because, I can’t lower my standards much more than I have already. Then again, what are my standards? That’s a good question and one I’ve never given much thought. Sure, I would love to write that one great piece or that one great novel or poem, but do I really have the stuff, the inner smarts, to write like that? No matter what some may say, I believe that the really great writers have a skill that us mere mortals do not. Somewhere in the genes, in that magical mix that makes us human beings, the great writers got something else, a bonus gene that allows them to see the world through different lenses. Sure, many of us can describe a sunrise or sunset, a forest full of tall pines or the view of the ocean from atop a mountain, but can we see what’s underneath, the glimmer on the glass, the undulating waves, the various shades of green that fluctuate as the shadows of the clouds pass over the distant scene.

There is a sense of the magical, of wonder and desire that some people can easily write about. Love in it’s infinite ways of being, how it feels in the deepest parts of our souls, how just to look at one’s beloved brings a depth of feelings right into the core of who we are. No wonder we say, they are broken-hearted, for love can and does not only break a heart, it shatters the fragile flesh.

There I go again, off on a tangent not at all sure how I got to this point when the point was about writers block and my own style. Maybe, and this is a big maybe, it’s really not a block but a more of a drought. Ideas, ones you thought would make for a great story, once written down seem flat, dead and rather silly. Yet, each day I try to write, something. A small piece, a bit of poetry, micropoetry, something that forces me to dig below the surface and mine the richness that is waiting to be exposed to the light of day. That is if all I discover is a vein of fools gold, it looks all bright and beautiful but upon inspection and retrospection is found to be worthless. As I write this, I’m thinking, isn’t this all part of writing and wanting to write, the self doubt, the fear and wondering if what is written is any good?

I’m sure that most of this sounds familiar to many who have read some of my stuff, it’s become my theme and maybe my vocation. It allows me to express my doubts, fears and inadequacies and put it out there for all to see and read. I also hope that by voicing my own lack of confidence that it might just help someone, who has more talent, to go ahead and write that one piece that has been rattling around in their head for so long. As for me, I’ll continue throwing out the words that I see with my minds eye. I will continue to write knowing that I tend to jump from one thing to another in the most haphazard of ways and really, isn’t that the reason to write?

Prayers of Defiance

Hands clasped together

knees firmly rooted 

eyes closed

each breath measured

in the quiet

alone,

praying

but for what?

Love is the desire

of everything we do

as the world lurches

from one idol to the next

seeking happiness

in the squalor 

of massage parlors

and brothels of shame.

Holding on to faith

in the midst of despair

an act of defiance 

against those seeking

to chain the hearts

of those who love