My Journey in Words

In the past few weeks my life has changed. First, I retired, second, I’ve moved. Now I’m trying to figure out what shape my life will take, so I offer this small piece of reflection. It’s not perfect, nor is it finished but it is where I am at the moment.

July 11, 2018

Thanks, once again to Parker Palmer I have another mystery to unravel in my attempt at the writers life. Here he quotes Henry David Thoreau:

My life has been the poem I would have writ

But I could not both live and utter it

Now what do I do with that? What is the poem I would have writ had I the time to writ what it is that needed to be writ? For me this is the struggle, to find something that grabs at me instead of these various, meteoric thoughts that fly by quickly only too burn up in the atmosphere of my thoughts. I write, to put it mildly, trash even as I long to make sense of where I am in this world. Being deeply troubled by what I read and see, how does my small voice fit in the the greater narrative? Palmer seems to have found his voice, a voice that has been honed and worked on and re-honed to what it is today. Richard Rohr, (another spiritual author I need to read) writing about Palmer and his new book writes that “Our entire culture is in need of true elders, and you can’t be one until you have arrived there — chronologically, spiritually, and intellectually. Here’s a man who has arrived, with another book that’s a generous gift to all of us.” I am far from being anywhere near from being a true elder. I might be there chronologically, but the other two criteria are woefully deficient and need a good boost, a shot of spiritual and intellectual energy. I’m not too old to not have the desire to continue in my quest and even as the days grow shorter, I don’t feel desperate or anxious to get to that mythical somewhere. Maybe, for me, the struggle is the vocation, the purpose of my writing. The honest struggle of not paying enough attention when I was younger and now finding myself in the slow lane trying to catch-up. Now I’m back to the question, what is the poem I would have writ? What are the paradoxes that surround my life and where do they fit in with what I am trying to be as a writer, as a priest, now retired from the dailyness of being out there, yet still craving that need for contact? Now that’s a paradox, a both/and that will keep any shrink in business if one ever dares to try an unravel my inner workings. Today was a day of thoughts, not really journal material, or is it? After all what is a journal other than a place to vomit the crap that is floating on the interior and exposing it all to the light of day. It ain’t pretty and sometimes it smells, but that is the only way to come to understand who I am at this time in my life. I think that the only person that really gets me is Jane, the poor girl has had to deal with my ups and downs for the past 45 years and now she’s stuck with me on a daily basis as we negotiate being retired together.

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Seattle, 1971

I can get you to Canada,

she said,

as I waited for my plane.

Just take this card,

call the number,

and you will be free,

her blue eyes bright.

I looked at her wondering

if this could be true,

freedom from the pain

of all that I knew.

I held her gaze,

for just a moment

she smelled of fresh flowers

on a warm spring day

a memory I carry to this day.

I thought about her offer,

then said, No,

I’ve done my time

and now I’m headed home.

She turned away from me,

and walked to another gate.

Was she sad I wondered,

as she disappeared

melting into the crowd

Release

Let it go

it is all past

there is nothing to be done

you can’t change anything

the future is unknown

nothing to be done

it will happen

you can’t worry

fate is inexorable

a twisted vine

the past, present, future

intertwine

we carry all three

in our hearts

a part of the whole

what happened made you

what will happen will grow you

The Watch

Drip, drip goes the I.V.

the machine beeps

with each heart beat

as respiration’s are counted

beep, beep, beep

nurses enter pressing buttons

while he lays there unaware

as slowly his breath subsides

as the beeps dwindle

and respiration begins to fade

a nurses hand on his wrist

a tear from her eye as she watches

he slips into another place

no more will he suffer

the slings and arrows of hate

then the long sound

of the machine as it wails

matching her own grief

in the silence of her heart.

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.

A Spring Cleaning

Bits and pieces lay scattered

on the pages of my journal,

nothing complete

a sentence or two

of poems or prose

that I started long ago

the words lying there

as lifeless as dry bones

waiting for the fire,

that moment of creativity

that will bring them to life

giving them vibrant colors.

These bits and pieces

reflect the tattered shreds 

of my own mind,

thoughts and memories

that lay scattered 

littering the landscape.

How does one choose?

It’s like cleaning house

in the spring,

what gets kept,

what gets tossed?

Each word,

each phrase,

each incomplete sentence,

has a unique beauty 

that is hard to ignore.

So maybe it’s time

to open the windows

let in a fresh breeze

to clear the mind

and set the spirit free,

to air out the winter doldrums

giving new life 

to these words I write.

A Veteran’s Reflection

Memory grows old, 

yet the pictures remain,

shadows of a time so long ago, 

sights and smells,

corruption in the very air, 

black smoke rising,

a sacrifice to the gods of war and greed.

In the village, 

youngsters run around half naked,

old mama sans, squatting in the doorways,

lips red from chewing betel nuts, 

skin, brown like leather.

Young girls, 

their Ao dai’s fluttering in the breeze,

arms wrapped around their love, 

flying down on their scooters, 

while others, seek love

selling themselves,

to lines of fresh faced youth, 

lost souls, seeking comfort, if briefly.

As the sun dips into the west, 

in brilliant reds and oranges,

as the stars begin to peek out,

the sounds of war permeate the air,

in the darkness, death lurks,

the reaper making his rounds,

the cries of the dead go unheard