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.

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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.

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.

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.

An Evening Walk

They walk

hand in hand

along the river

of a mid summer evening

escaping the heat

of the city streets

talking,

planning,

future,

family,

children,

a life 

of promise

filled with

youthful hope

they never heard

or even felt

what was called

a stray

not intended 

for them

yet finding 

a home

in the tender flesh

breaking bone

and severing arteries

as they bled out

on the summer eve

just another casualty

on the midnight news.

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?