Simple

It’s simple

erase,

the loss,

the pain,

that emptiness,

erase it all,

move on,

smile,

laugh,

hide those scars,

behind sleeves,

those bruises,

cover them,

hide it all,

don’t weep

don’t live grief

exposing

us living with pain,

loss,

emptiness,

scars and bruises,

behind

sleeves

in silent caverns

of memory

Tea and Memories

I sitting here, 
drinking tea,
Earl Grey tea

steeped for two minutes
sugared, 
two to be exact
with a splash of milk
enough to change color
but not to make it cold.

Tea in the afternoon,
Dad drank tea
morning, noon and night
his was with sugar
Ma’s was with milk
in this cup I carry both,

it was given to me,
what I will pass along.
Sipping the last bit
a burst of sugar
hits the tongue

I think of his lunch pail,
a thermos filled with tea
enough for three cups
two breaks, 
one lunch
the only time off his feet
the machinery quiet

tea does that
breaks the routine
becoming a routine
my routine.

Nighttime in Qui Nhon

Above helicopters
circle like vultures 
propellers beating out their call,
sounding like a million bees
they spout their lethal projectiles 
raising a cloud of dirt and dust,
the angel of death has come to call
rockets flare out whooshing
no red glare, 
no bombs bursting,
just a spark of fire then gone
finding targets below
enemy hidden in a green tangle 
burrowed deep underground 
waiting out their Passover.

What is the Story?

What is the story that I want to tell, to write about here on the pages of this blog? Do I have the courage to tell that story and all that comes with the telling? So much is locked up in memory, various pictures, feelings, textures, that engages all of the senses making up that story. I have struggled trying to tell my story and not get bogged down in the telling. There is so much that needs to be sifted and examined for truth, not only truth of the story itself but the truth of how that story has made me who I am and continues to remake me each day. There is that deeper story of love and loss, of success and failure, of being a child and passing into the adult life. Memories hang along the rafters, I look above me and I don’t know which one to choose, which one do I dare to open. I write to find myself in these memories, that child waking up from a nightmare, that teen being bullied, a young soldier in a foreign land, a newly minted husband unsure of himself while trying to be strong, a dad now responsible for another human life, a priest seeking to discover where God is leading, now I sit here retired, picking through those various pieces of my life and trying to put it together. It is a great jig-saw puzzle, thousands of pieces all scattered along the table and I am looking at it all utterly daunted by the undertaking. Like with any jig-saw, it is best to start with the borders, get the edge right before moving on into the interior. Yet, even the border is hard to define, the borders of life are not static but dynamic, they’re ebb and flow through the mind, clear one minute and haze the next. Nothing is solid in memory, and so like some explorer crossing a vast ocean I must make my own way, with little or no navigation aids. What is that story? What makes mine worth the telling? Fear robs me of that courage I need to tell what I know and what I feel, yet, I can’t let that fear hold me back. Maybe, just maybe, it is in those moments of fear that I will find who I truly am and that in and by itself might just be the story I need to tell.

The Train Home

Train wheels clatter

passing cities and towns,

fields and meadows

through the clutter of broken buildings

garishly painted by graffiti artists

past rolling hills

at one time family farms

white sand beaches

with ocean views

waves crashing on shore

white mist veiling the scene

people walk the sandy strip

some alone staring down

others hold hands,

children skip and play

life passes as we cling to one another

conversations overheard

a mother talking about her son

softly cries as she whispers

buzzing, beeping cell phones

sending and receiving

secretive messages

thumbs fly across mini screens

replying as fast as they are received

a young child sleeps

secure that her mother’s love will not abandon

on this train,

some get off

others get on

life on this train won’t stop

on the wall

JESUS

in bright colors

the promise of the rainbow

on a train heading home.

A Non-Bloggers, Blog

What do I do? It’s a question that seems to be ever evolving as I move through these last weeks of being a full time clergy person, something that is becoming a bit rare given the current climate of our culture. My mother, at age 95, always tells me that time goes by so fast and yes, she is right, but if time didn’t go by then where would we all be? Stuck, that’s where. We would never grow, never learn, never take the chance to love and to be loved. I know that my life will take on a new dimension and I also know that being a retired priest does not mean not being a priest, it just means that I will now have to focus my energies elsewhere.

It is all about discernment, of listening to the still, quiet voice in the silence of my heart. It means that if I want to write, I mean, really write then I need to go deeper than I’ve ever gone before. I need to plum the depths of my feelings that seem at times to be all over the emotional map. It also means actually sitting down daily and writing, which is where I tend to get sidetracked. There is always something else, some other thing to be doing and before I know it, I’ve lost another day to trivialities that could have been handled at a later date. That, and staying away from social media, the great time sucking divergence that, as far as I can see, holds little redeeming social worth. Sure, some postings are good, and yes, there are some positive aspects to social media and what is out there, but overall, it just sucks the life out if you’re not careful,

So as I write this, trying to be conscientious in developing a writing habit, I’m wondering, what do I write about? Basically, I write whatever seems to show up in my head. I just put words to paper, in this case to my iPad, and go from there. Sometimes I post this drivel to my WordPress page, my attempt at being a blogger, while sometimes I just let it sit here and fester. To be a blogging sort you have to have an angle, something that is at once witty and yet, provocative. A blog that grabs the attention of a few who then pass along your stuff to others thus creating a following. I know that I am far from being all that interesting and I truly have no angle, all I do is just write what I feel and then let the chips fall where they may. However, is that enough?

There is more to every story and more to every person, the challenge is to let those stories out and see how they take the light of day. Will it grow and be fruitful or will it shrink and die in the harsh glare of the critics eye? I did get a compliment from a writer, someone who is actually published and now teaches at Grub Street in Boston, who said that I do have a story to tell. So I will write that story, I will share bits and pieces, I will lay myself wide open to the opinions of the critics, good, bad or indifferent. After all, growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and to not take this chance to write, well, then I may never know and that would be the real tragedy.

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.

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.