Thursday, January 31, 2008

mouse hockey

I first saw the phrase
in the title of her note;
I’d never thought of it.
I’m sure it’s old news
in Toronto and Alberta
where they’ve moved
beyond poker-playing
dogs to a world where
mice come out checking,
skating, slap-shotting,
even riding the little
Zamboni, while rodent
fans toss back a couple
beers between periods.

Now I’m wide awake,
during dreaming hours,
playing this thing out
in my mind as though
there were somewhere
to go when all I’m doing
is setting myself up for
someone to ask why
I’m tired. “Mouse Hockey,”
I’ll say, straight-faced
and hope they can push
past the poker pups
to the frozen fortunes
of mice on ice.


P. S. -- There's a new recipe.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

white man's burden

Say it loud: I’m white and male and not very proud.

And it’s all thanks to two NPR stories. The first came as I was driving to work. WUNC, our local station hosts a program called The State of Things. Frank Stasio’s topic today was “Hillary and Obama.” I came in on the middle of the conversation at the same time as a caller had his say. He talked about being a life long Democrat and then he said, “If Obama is our candidate, I think I’m just going to have to vote for McCain. He’s a Republican I can tolerate.”

Stasio pressed him: “Is one of the reasons you would vote for Obama because he’s black?”

The guy paused and said, “Honestly, yeah. And there are a lot of us that feel this way.”

A couple of hours later, the show was Day to Day and the story centered on John Edwards’ decision to “suspend his candidacy,” as he put it. Rather than spend much time talking about Edwards, the story focused on his absence and in particular who white men are going to vote for now that only a white woman and a black man are left – and they talked about it for a long time with several people as though white guys didn’t know what to do.

I actually dropped my knife on the cutting board and said, “Are you frickin’ kidding me?” (I was alone in the kitchen at the time.)

For the past seven years, I’ve done menial labor as a kitchen worker. It’s good work, it’s honorable work, it’s creative work, it’s what I love to do, and it’s menial labor because every night at the end of the shift I sweep the floor and push three fifty-five gallon trash cans to the dumpster and empty them. But even if I’m pushing those bins through the back hallways at Duke, I still get deferential treatment from a lot of the other workers because I’m a white male: I’m The Man.

It’s a club I wish I could unjoin.

When I was in Baylor, I qualified to join some honor society whose Greek letters I can no longer recall. It’s only value was it went on my transcript to make me look more intelligent, I guess, to future employers or graduate schools. My sophomore year, I went to the meeting where we were to accept new members. All of the applicants were qualified to join by a long shot. The president stood up and began to go through the process of voting on each one. I raised my hand and asked why we didn’t take them all, since it was an honor society and they all met the requirements. His answer was if we let everyone in then it would be as special for those who made it.

I never went to another meeting.

As a high school English teacher, I refused to allow my students to use “man” or “men” as though they referred to everyone. Every semester, someone would say, “But they’ve always been used to mean everyone.”

My response was, “They were used to mean everyone, when everyone meant the white males. When the Declaration of Independence says, ‘All men are created equal,’ it meant the white men; it didn’t mean everyone. Men means men. English is a big language; don’t let your lack of vocabulary limit your inclusivity.”

White men have been in charge for a long time. They still are – just look at who was sitting in the room during Bush’s speech the other night: a sea of dark suits, red or blue ties) and lots of white, wrinkled skin. That Hillary and Obama stand to make history one way or another is one of the signs that life isn’t always going to be so white and white. We’re going to come out on level ground more and more (and probably act like we got cheated out of something). And we need to quit whining about how immigrants and minorities get special treatment. We’ve been treated special the whole time. I don’t get followed around in a store because they think I’m going to shoplift because of the color of my skin. I don’t get stopped by the cops because they think I’m the wrong color to be driving such a nice car. I don’t get dragged off by INS because my last name matches on their list, even though the list is wrong. I’m not expected to stay home with the kids and I don’t get blamed for latch-key children because I choose to have a career and a family.

I don’t do much of anything that elicits the response: “I never saw a white man do that. Good for you. Your people must be so proud.”

Not voting for someone because of the color of his or her skin is not just wrong, it’s ignorant. Expecting to get my way because of the color of my skin is no different. In my lifetime, I’m going to become a minority: there will be more people of color than white people in America. I’m not saying that as a threat; I say it with eager anticipation. White men have had a long time to be in charge and we’ve shown we pretty much suck at everything but reminding people we’re in charge and picking fights (The White Man in Chief being our most recent shining example).

What was it Jesus said? Oh, yes – “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

Damn. Every time one of those minorities speaks up, I have to move back.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

state of the union

After what I saw of the State of the Union address last night, I couldn’t help but think of Steve Earle’s “Christmas in Washington,” which he wrote in the late nineties. Ten years later, the parties’ names are interchangeable. When Steve introduces the song, he often says, “This is a song about heroes.”

It's Christmastime in Washington
The Democrats rehearsed
Gettin' into gear for four more years
Things not gettin' worse

The Republicans drink whiskey neat
And thanked their lucky stars
They said, 'He cannot seek another term
There'll be no more FDRs'

I sat home in Tennessee
Staring at the screen
With an uneasy feeling in my chest
And I'm wonderin' what it means

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

I followed in your footsteps once
Back in my travelin' days
Somewhere I failed to find your trail
Now I'm stumblin' through the haze

But there's killers on the highway now
And a man can't get around
So I sold my soul for wheels that roll
Now I'm stuck here in this town

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

There's foxes in the hen house
Cows out in the corn
The unions have been busted
Their proud red banners torn

To listen to the radio
You'd think that all was well
But you and me and Cisco know
It's going straight to hell

So come back, Emma Goldman
Rise up, old Joe Hill
The barricades are goin' up
They cannot break our will

Come back to us, Malcolm X
And Martin Luther King
We're marching into Selma
As the bells of freedom ring

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

The best video I could find was Steve singing the song with Joan Baez.

If only our politicians knew what it meant to be leaders.


Monday, January 28, 2008

a question

What’s the point of pain?

That’s the question that ran through my mind last night as I drove home from work. When I wrote about remembering a few posts back, one of the lines from the clip of Jerry Orbach singing, “Try to Remember” was

deep in december it’s nice to remember
without a hurt the heart is hollow.
Why is that nice to remember? What if we remembered when we were whole, not hollow, before we ever started hurting? Right now I have folks I care about who are in deep pain: one’s father is dying at a time when the family is fractured; one’s young child is dying because there seems to be no other option; Ginger’s father’s mind is being slowly erased by Alzheimer’s. The pain appears to be eating them up, rather than making them whole.

What’s the point of their pain?

After mentioning them, I must say the cause of my question is something less earth-shattering and still difficult. When it comes to relationships, I can more quickly move to talk about the meaning of suffering, or at least making meaning of suffering. In living with my depression, I’ve learned a great deal about how pain informs hope and strengthens it. I have heard the words of those who know about suffering much more than I and who have passed down songs which give melody to the meaning they know in their lives. We just got the latest Mavis Staples record and when she sings
we shall not, we shall not be moved
we shall not, we shall not be moved
like a reed planted by the water
we shall not be moved.
The second time I heard the song, I began to wonder when a reed became so immovable. Like a boulder, or a mountain, maybe, but a reed? The melodic truth is there is an uncomfortable vulnerability to being human.

Now that I’m treading in such deep theological and philosophical waters, the reason for my question is almost hard to articulate: our house in Massachusetts has still not sold. We have never been in a financial situation to be interstate landowners, so things are getting pretty serious. Sometimes it feels as though our options lie between desperate and humiliating. I think the reason the whole thing raised my question is I don’t see some grand theological swirl to what we’re living through. The whole struggle feels pointless. And Mavis is still singing:
got my hand on the freedom plow
wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now
keep your eyes on the prize – hold on.
When I hear those words, I feel humbled long before I feel hopeful. She knows pain far deeper than anything in my life and she’s still singing about standing strong and holding on , while I would take most anything for this part of the journey.

One of the book reviews at Journeys with Jesus is of Stanley Hauerwas’ commentary on Matthew in the new Brazos Commentary series. In the review, I found this quote from the book:
The problem, after all, is not belief in the resurrection, but whether we live lives that would make sense if in fact Jesus has not been raised from the dead.
Even though their words make clear the difference between a gospel singer and a religion professor, they both articulate something that feels a bit out of reach to me right now, as do Paul’s words from Romans 8:28:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (RSV)
Life, for me and even more so for many more around me, feels more like the verses Paul quotes a little farther down in the same chapter:
For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
If Mavis and Stanley are right, I need to hold on to Paul’s finishing words:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Lent is a little over a week away; my journey appears to be already beginning.


P. S. -- Here's Mavis.

Friday, January 25, 2008

the art of living

I intended to write more this evening, but instead I got to paint.

My friend Doug is in town and he is an artist. I asked for a painting lesson, so tonight we sat down in the dining room and he constructed a still life centered around a ceramic Winnie the Pooh I have (at Ginger’s suggestion) and we painted. First, he painted a study to show me how to do it and then he instructed me as I did my own version. Here are the finished products. (Mine is the one on the left.)

The experience was full of so many good things for me, not the least of which was getting to hang out and do something creative with my good friend who is really good at painting. I got to learn something new, too, which is always worth the trip. What I loved most was listening to Doug talk about how a painting comes to be. He talked about values and colors and light and shadows. His instruction was about painting and was also parable for me because it led me to think again about how the creative tensions in our lives are what make us grow and thrive.

Painting is full of polarities: light and dark, cool and warm colors, translucent and opaque. When Doug talked about the colors, he even spoke in opposites. When we started painting, it was the collusion of the opposites – the mixing of colors, the grasping of shadows – that brought the image to be on our boards. Our creativity was fed as we worked with the tension between the poles instead of choosing one side or another.

The point of this little painting parable is one I think you can see coming, but I’ll say it anyway. A big part of what stagnates us as a country is we, as Americans, deal with most issues as either/or: we are attracted to the poles in most any discussion. We take our sides on either end of whatever the discussion and then yell back and forth at each other as if that counts as conversation. Rather than moving to a more creative place, we end up hoarse and hostile.

I’m not saying the answer is some sort of middle way that “tolerates” everyone and accomplishes very little. I am saying we have the possibility of being creators when we are willing to listen to both poles and live in the creative tension that grows when we don’t move too quickly to claim our values are absolute. Whatever the issue -- global or local, institutional or relational – we all have something to learn, something to teach, and room to grow.

The art of painting means learning how to integrate the opposites in a way that creates something beautiful. The art of living is not so different.


P. S. -- There's a new recipe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

heart breaking news

Gaza is one of the Palestinian Territories on the border between Israel and Egypt and a part of the land taken by Israel in the 1967 war. Conditions these days have continued to worsen because of an Israeli blockade on the area that has not allowed even food and fuel to get into Gaza. Reuters has a good article on the situation here. They also give some good background facts:


Gaza has been continuously inhabited for more than 3,000 years. It was a crossroads of ancient civilizations and a strategic outpost on the Mediterranean. The Bible says Samson died in Gaza while destroying the Temple of the Philistines.

It is believed to be the burial place of Prophet Mohammad's great grandfather.

The Ottoman Empire ruled Gaza for hundreds of years until World War One when it came under British rule along with the rest of Palestine. It came under Egyptian control in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel's creation.

Gaza's population tripled in 1948-49 when it absorbed about a quarter of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees displaced from areas that are now part of Israel.

Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in the 1967 war and ended its military presence there in September 2005, having removed 8,500 Jewish settlers from 21 enclaves after almost four decades of occupation.

Israel resumed ground operations in June 2006 after militants from Gaza tunneled across the border and captured an Israeli soldier, who is still being held.

Just one year later in June 2007, Hamas Islamists took control of the Gaza Strip in fighting with their secular Fatah rivals, triggering the closure of front-line crossing points. Aid agencies warned of growing hardship for ordinary people.

More recently Israel closed its borders with Gaza, cutting fuel supplies to the territory's main power plant and petrol stations and stopping aid shipments that include food and other humanitarian supplies. The closure raised international concern over a potential humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel said the blockade is a bid to curb rocket salvoes fired into Israel.


About 1.5 million Palestinians live in Gaza, more than half of them refugees from past wars with Israel and their descendants. Gaza has one of the world's highest population densities and demographic growth rates.

Most Gazans live on less than $2 a day. Israeli security closures curbing cross-border trade and access to jobs and Western sanctions imposed after Hamas came to power in early 2006 have hit the Palestinian economy hard.

Gaza's creaking sewage system became the latest casualty of Israeli sanctions aimed at getting Hamas to halt militant rocket fire from the impoverished territory. Officials at the local Palestinian water utility said more than half of Gaza's population had no running water this week.

Heba of Contemplating From Gaza, one of the blogs I read, wrote an article on her personal experience here.

Last night, someone blew holes in the border wall between Gaza and Egypt, allowing thousands of Palestinians the chance to cross over and get sorely needed food, fuel, and other supplies. Here are two video reports, from Reuters and Al-Jazeera.

Since it took me awhile to find much focus on the situation among American media, I thought I would pass this along.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The Writer's Almanac put me back in touch with a poem I deeply love yesterday. Since I'm struggling to find words of my own tonight, I'll let Robert Frost do the talking.


When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter of fact about the ice storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from the town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Monday, January 21, 2008

underneath the satellite sky

Ever since I wrote the post on memory the other day, I’ve had the Hubble Telescope on my mind (which may explain the headaches). I don’t know much at all about the giant flying machine except it is discovering all kinds of things about our universe and sending back pictures that are absolutely amazing. When I went to the website today, I found this image of an Einstein Ring

and this explanation:

The Hubble Space Telescope has revealed a never-before-seen optical alignment in space: a pair of glowing rings, one nestled inside the other like a bull's-eye pattern. The double-ring pattern is caused by the complex bending of light from two distant galaxies strung directly behind a foreground massive galaxy, like three beads on a string. This very rare phenomenon can offer insight into dark matter, dark energy, the nature of distant galaxies, and even the curvature of the universe. The phenomenon, called gravitational lensing, occurs when a massive galaxy in the foreground bends the light rays from a distant galaxy behind it, in much the same way as a magnifying glass would. When both galaxies are exactly lined up, the light forms a circle, called an "Einstein ring," around the foreground galaxy. If another background galaxy lies precisely on the same sightline, a second, larger ring will appear. The massive foreground galaxy is almost perfectly aligned in the sky with two background galaxies at different distances. The foreground galaxy is 3 billion light-years away. The inner ring and outer ring are comprised of multiple images of two galaxies at a distance of 6 billion and approximately 11 billion light-years. The odds of seeing such a special alignment are estimated to be 1 in 10,000.

What I understand about those words is what looks like a single image to me is the alignment of light particles just now getting to where we can see them that range from 3 to 11 billion light years away and the chance of them lining up as they did is better than the chance of me winning the state lottery.
Here are two other images I saw (took) today:

Ginger and I participated in Durham’s Annual Martin Luther King Celebration March and Rally with several hundred folks who walked side by side through downtown and ended up worshipping together (more than rallying) at First Presbyterian Church. This is my first experience living in a town so directly affected by King and all of the Civil Rights Movement. The history I had been taught second hand, the experiences I had growing up in Africa, the way Martin’s words and writings have influenced me over the years, and the spirit of those with whom I walked today aligned to give me my own little Einstein Ring, I guess I could say, bending the light and dark of all these experiences into a picture I had not anticipated.

You see, the reason Hubble had been on my mind is I’ve been thinking about all the things it had gone past. The pictures get cooler and more amazing and the gallery gets larger and larger and stuff gets left behind. (My metaphor breaks down a bit here. Hubble is actually orbiting the earth taking pictures deeper and deeper into space; I didn’t know that when I was thinking about this stuff so bear with me.) Hubble was launched in 1990, the same year Ginger and I married. In the same years that it’s lens has been pointing deeper and deeper into the universe, my focus has not been quite as singular. I’ve been a youth minister, a Blockbuster video guy, a substitute teacher, an English teacher, a concert security guy, and a chef – and that’s just the jobs. I’ve made candles and handmade cards, painted with watercolors, learned to write icons, written songs, wrote the draft of a novel, am trying to put together a book of poetry and recipes, and written this blog. I’ve lived in four towns, five houses, and had six schnauzers. I’ve worked on Habitat projects, written letters for Amnesty, cooked who knows how many church dinners and breakfasts, had three foster kids, and probably lost track of more stuff than I’ve hung on to. Whether I’m in orbit or hurtling through space, stuff – even important stuff – has gotten left behind.

Yet, when I read about the Einstein Ring, which I found by accident on the Hubble site as I went to find the link for this post, it gave me a different way to think about it. When we say a star is three billion light years away, it means the light we are seeing is three billion years old: that’s how long it took to get where we can see it. Sometimes the light from things long ago takes a while to get here and, when it does, it shines in such a way to make connections we had not seen before. Sure, some stuff stays behind us (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and there are things we will not understand until the light of both the past and the present hits just right.

Ginger came home from another MLK service this evening and, in the course of our conversation, said, “You know, the world is really different than it was forty years ago.”

Yes, it is. We can see that now.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

walking with martin

When I was in seminary, I took voice lessons because I wanted to learn to sing better. We had a musical school that offered voice to non-majors, so I went and asked and they agreed. One of the songs I learned was “I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked,” which was sung from the vantage point of one walking through Palestine and being in all the places where Jesus once was. At the time, the song was something to help me learn to sing. Some years later, Ginger and I got to go to Israel and Palestine. When we walked from the Mount of Olives up to the small stairs that entered the Old City on the way to Caiaphas’ house, our guide said, “I can tell you for a fact Jesus walked up these stairs. Much has changed since those days, but these stairs have always been in use. Ginger and I scooted our feet across every inch of the stones and wept, overcome that we had walked that day where Jesus had also walked.

I thought about that song in church this morning as we focused our worship around the life, words, and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. One of our older members, a retired minister, gave the children’s message and talked about King coming to Durham and Chapel Hill to meet with thirty-five white ministers who wanted to know how they could help. When he got to town, they realized there was not a restaurant in the area that would allow them to eat together, so Dewitt said, “Come over to my house.” He went on to say when they got to the house they offered Dr. King his choice of the chairs in the room and he chose this rather unassuming one (which was next to Dewitt at the front of the church this morning). I wasn’t fast enough to get the picture of Ginger quickly sitting down in the chair as the children returned to their seats.

Ginger split her sermon time with Bill, who had come to the South as a college student to help with voter registration. As he told about things that happened over forty years ago, his emotion was completely present tense. Then Ginger told her story of being born in Birmingham, Alabama on May 9, 1963, just down the street from the Birmingham Jail and days after King had written his letter from his cell. Ginger had researched and recounted to us all that happened in her hometown the week she was born. After she finished, Ginger, Bill, Carla (our associate pastor), and I read excerpts from King’s letter. Here’s the part that stuck with me:

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
When we finished, I wanted to scoot across the stairs that lead up to the altar because I felt as though I walked today where Martin walked, and not in days long ago, but in my lifetime. One of the most significant implications of the church being named the Body of Christ is we are the incarnation of God’s love and grace in the world. We are God’s hands and feet and eyes and ears. Martin moves me because he lived like he believed that to be true, all the way to his own death. That doesn’t make him a hero; it makes him faithful.

Patty Griffin has an amazing song called, “Up to the Mountain,” which is her tribute to Dr. King. The second verse says:
sometimes I feel like
I've never been nothing but tired
and I'll be walking
till the day I expire
sometimes I lay down
no more can I do
but then I go on again
because you ask me to
As Jesus called Martin and both call to us, may we call to one another to go on again, choosing to work for others rather than protect ourselves and truly incarnate the God who created every last one of us.


Friday, January 18, 2008

one thing I can hold on to

I’ve stared at the screen the last two days and then gone to bed without writing anything. I woke up this morning, intending to chase away whatever was keeping me from putting words down, but didn’t have much luck because I just felt empty. As I sat there, John Prine’s words came to mind:

there’s flies in the kitchen -- I can hear them a-buzzin’
and I ain’t done nothin’ since I woke up today
how the hell can a person go to work every morning
and come home every evening and have nothing to say?

As many times as I’ve sung “Angel from Montgomery” (or listened to it – it’s my favorite song), that last verse penetrates deep into my heart: how can I look at the world, or at my life, and come up wordless? Ginger, who has had the special privilege of living through these days with me, first suggested I get out of the house and to a coffee shop to see if there were any words there and then called about a half an hour later to say, “I know what you can write about.”

“Tell me,” I said.

“Write about what you’re thankful for.”

With those words she gave me one thing I can hold on to. When it comes to saying thank you, there’s always something to say.

I’m deeply grateful for the way the folks at Pilgrim UCC have welcomed and embraced us. Moving to a new place (and grieving the one left behind) is lonely business and the folks here have been unabashed in expressing their intent for us to be a part of them.

I’m grateful for hymns. On any given Sunday, my entrée into worship is through the congregational singing. Back in seminary days, they told us the congregation was the true worship choir, all of us singing together, not as the audience but as the primary participants in the act of worship. As much as I like some of the new music, the songs that feed me most profoundly are the ones that have been sung down over generations, words weathered and wise, because they pull me into the stream of singing saints, a sort of melodic Communion.
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
I’m grateful for my brother, Miller. A number of years ago, when things between us were distant, at best, my dad said to me, “You need to keep in touch with your brother. He’s the best friend you have.” At that time, my father’s statement was not true. The years since have given grace enough for us to let some stuff go and work through some other stuff such that he is today not only family but a dear and trusted friend.

I’m grateful Ella is bouncing around the house spreading joy and socks wherever she goes.

I’m grateful for this blog and the connections created here. I’m also thankful it has afforded me the chance to develop the discipline of a writer (even when I don’t know what to write).

I’m grateful that pitchers and catchers report in less than a month (Go Sox!).

I’m grateful that just ten days short of nineteen years ago, at a retreat in Texas, I walked over to a beautiful woman and introduced myself. I then proceeded to follow her around the rest of the weekend and, when I got back home, called her and asked her to go see Lyle Lovett (which meant I gave away the ticket that was to have been my friend’s birthday present). I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating in the least when I say spending my life with Ginger has saved my life. I’m still going because of the way she has incarnated indefatigable love and grace and hope on a daily basis. The best news I know is I get to spend my life with her. As I wrote once, imagining us together as old people:
this is the story of two common hearts
that started our young and grew old
they have practiced a lifetime
the art of a well-worn love
Tonight’s list is by no means exhaustive, but I would like to add one more: I’m grateful John Prine wrote this song:


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

try to remember

One day during the last couple of weeks, I heard a story on NPR about a guy who is documenting his entire life – every email, every event, every just about anything – on his computer, and has been doing so for several years. I can’t remember which NPR program aired the segment, so I can’t offer a link. The conversation centered around how or if we are changed as human beings if we don’t forget things, or at least remember selectively.

I remembered the story this morning when I read this poem at The Writer’s Almanac:

Nothing Is Lost
(Noel Coward)

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.
One of my favorite novels is Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams, in which the author imagines the dreams the budding scientist had when we was still working as a patent clerk in Vienna. Each chapter recalls a dream about the same village and a different concept of time. In one dream, no one has the capacity to remember anything but the day they are living, so people spend the last couple of hours of the day writing down what they want to recall about the day and then the first few hours of the next morning reading their books to remember who they are, who their family is, what they do, and what has happened to them. It doesn’t take long before there isn’t enough time in a day to go back and read everything they have written, so they have to be selective about what pages they peruse and let some go unread.

However diligent the guy is with his computer, however well he has cataloged his every move, what he is doing is not remembering. He will never be able to find a time or place in his life to take in the panoramic view of all he has collected. Leaving if for those who come after him will only prove that he (like the rest of us) is just not that interesting. Remembering is not the same as cataloging every detail. It is re-membering: putting a moment back together again without reading the instructions, letting the pieces rise up from wherever they have been and emerge like a painting on a canvas, so that we can describe what that moment feels like now. Thus, we are shaped by what we let go of, or what slips away, as much as the things we carry with us.

The point of life is not to be permanent, but to be present. None of us is going to be remembered much once we’re gone. But when we are, it will not be because someone came across us in a hard drive file, or put our name on a building, but because of a shared event when we left an indelible mark on someone who mattered to us. The things we do remember stack up like stones in an altar, putting us back together, one step closer to wholeness.

Like the song says, “Try to remember and if you remember, then follow.”


Monday, January 14, 2008

grace and garnishes

First, an update.

Our new family member has a name: Ella. We tried several different ones on, but this one seems to be the best fit. She is awesome.

Tonight was my first real night at the new restaurant. Last night the Duke men had a home game and everyone was at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tonight, Ramon (my prep cook/dishwasher/sidekick) and I cooked meals for seventy-five people, which translates to a culinary butt-kicking. I spent all afternoon getting ready and we used up everything I made. Here’s the menu:


Fried Calamari with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce
Warm Brie in Puff Pastry
Hummus Platter
Green Salad


Pan Roasted Salmon, Crispy Potatoes, and Asparagus
with a lemon-thyme beurre blanc

Tuscan Chicken Sandwich
with portabella mushroom, Fontina cheese,
and basil pesto on sourdough bread

Grilled Barbeque Flatiron Steak
with sweet potato polenta and asparagus

Vegetable Lasagna
layers of pasta filled with assorted vegetables
and ricotta cheese in a mushroom sauce

Teriyaki Stir Fry with Beef or Chicken or
Vegetables only
As I was chopping some parsley to season the mushroom sauce, I was taken back to church on Sunday because the children’s message gave me a new appreciation for the little green plant. More often than not, parsley is the stuff we put on your plate at the end to make it look pretty: a garnish. It does come in handy as a subtle seasoning, but I think it’s mostly for show.

Carla, our associate pastor (who is amazing with our kids) gathered the children around her to talk about baptism on Sunday, focusing on the blessing (as Ginger did also in her sermon). “Baptism reminds us we are loved by God,” she said. And then she pulled out a small plastic bag filled with sprigs of parsley. She poured some water in a cup and then dipped one of the small branches in the water and began to splash water in the faces of the children saying, “God loves you.” Then she gave each of the kids their own piece of parsley and sent them out into the congregation to bless us. Isabella, one of my favorite kids, got a good plant full of water when she swung it my way. I felt loved.

I also feel fortunate because I work with parsley everyday. Thanks to Carla and Bella, I have a built in reminder of grace right in my refrigerator, waiting to remind me my life is seasoned with love and garnished with grace. I may start using it a lot more.

Peace (and parsley),

Sunday, January 13, 2008

two new things

Today holds two new things.

The Chef I work for is quite the entrepreneur. She not only owns the restaurant, but also a long established and well known catering company, and contracts with Duke to run a small restaurant on campus that serves faculty at lunch and students in the evening. The student venture is new this year and still finding its way. Thursday she asked me to take it over to see what we could do. What that means is I become a salaried employee (hooray!), I won’t be at the other restaurant any more (the hard part) and I have a shot at doing a really cool thing. The place is small and, for now, only feeding about forty or fifty people a night. I will start with a dishwasher/prep cook and me. I’m excited. I think this is going to be good.

Now for the second thing. When we moved from Massachusetts, we took our two Schnauzers, Lola and Gracie, to Ginger’s parents to stay until we found a permanent home here. (The Schnauzers are not so good at transition.) They arrived there just before Thanksgiving. As I have written before, my father-in-law has Alzheimer’s and has been declining steadily, particularly over the past six or seven months. Since the pups arrived, he has been so much better. Instead of sleeping most of the day, he is up early and awake petting and playing with them. It has become increasingly clear to Ginger and me that we can’t take them away from him. We’ve had a hard time coming to terms with that, and we are full of gratitude for the gift the little dogs have given the whole family.

Yesterday afternoon when I got home from work, Ginger was standing in the front yard to greet me with this little one.

We have yet to name her, but we are quickly falling in love. I’ve been fighting off a bit of a bug, so I came home from work to sleep. The pup curled up on my chest as I lay on the couch and helped me feel better.

New year. New things. Many stories yet to unfold.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

close guantánamo

God has not given us a spirit of fear;
but of power, love, and of a sound mind.
(2 Timothy 1:7)

On January 11, 2002, the first prisoner arrived at Guantánamo Bay. Since then approximately 775 people have been detained there. 405 have been released, leaving about 305 people still in custody. The facility costs over $100 million to run each year (meaning we’ve spent over a half a billion dollars so far) and, in the course of six years, only ten people have been charged with crimes. One person, an Australian, pleaded guilty. Eighty-six percent of those detained in Afghanistan were not captured by US forces in combat, but were turned in by Afghan citizens for the reward money. The youngest known prisoner – excuse me, enemy combatant – is thirteen; the oldest is ninety-eight. (*These facts came from here, here, and here.)

There are several good reasons to close the detention camp at Guantánamo that run the gamut from pragmatic to philosophical, but I just want to talk about one: we are doing something to people from other countries we would not tolerate being done to our own citizens. We’ve put them in prison across an ocean and not on our soil (so they wouldn’t fall under full US jurisdiction), called them “combatants” instead of prisoners of war so we didn’t have to abide by the Geneva Conventions, made it almost impossible for them to get any kind of legal representation, and held most of them without telling them why they are in custody. I don’t care how damn scared we are of Osama bin Laden, or how justified we feel in answering violence with violence, what we are doing to the people at Guantánamo is wrong and we should stop.

Jesus was simple and direct: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He said nothing about doing unto others to keep them from doing unto you. What he knew was treating each other as we wish to be treated is how perfect love casts out fear. Six years in Guantánamo shows us how fear casts out love. One of the pieces I saw supporting the detention camp started by pointing out that no US citizens were being held there. The implication seemed to be it was OK to do whatever we needed to do because they weren’t us. Is that really the choice we want to make?

I’m wearing orange on January 11, as are many Americans (I hope), as a statement of solidarity with those who wish to see Guantánamo closed. I understand there are many levels to the political and militaristic rhetoric around this issue on both sides. I understand we can read statistics in any number of ways. I also understand we live in a dangerous world. Six years of detention later, however, I don’t think we’re significantly safer because those guys have been locked up in Cuba.

Six years ago, my oldest nephew would have been about the same age as the youngest person detained at Guantánamo. In that six years, Ben finished high school, went on to college, even studied a semester at Oxford, and will graduate this summer. He wasn’t born in Afghanistan or in poverty, so he didn’t grow up hearing about al Qaeda. He didn’t grow up in a country that has stood at the crossroads of war and conquest for centuries. My nephew is going to graduate from college and the Afghan guy is still sitting in Gitmo. If he had lived all these years in Afghanistan, I don’t imagine he would have ended up at Oxford, but I feel as though we, as a nation, have robbed him and many others of lives they might have had because of our fear. We had been do unto in the September 11 attacks and we wanted to do unto in like fashion. It has served none of us well.

We are doing damage at Guantánamo. We can stop and we should.

May we live in and treat one another (all the one anothers) with a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.


today, face to face

I’ve spent a good bit of time today thinking about someone else’s words and actions that have nothing to do with me directly and everything to do with me – no, us – in ways that run deeper than we know. My friend Gordon Atkinson is in the Dominican Republic working with a group called EDGE Outreach and their Pure Water Pure Life program. They train people to go into parts of the world where the people don’t have access to potable water and install water purifiers. Even better, they do this by putting together teams of volunteers who go through training and then travel around the world (and pay for it, too) so people don’t get killed by the stuff that’s in their drinking water.

Here’s the EDGE promotional video:

They may not have clean water in Santo Domingo, but they do have Internet access, so Gordon has been blogging. There are two posts so far: here and here. The first post is the one that kept me thinking all day because of the raw honesty of his words.

There is no way I can describe the hour and a half journey through the heart of Santo Domingo. This is the stuff you don't see in the tourist areas. The streets were packed with vehicles and bicycles of every kind. The entire center of the city looks poverty stricken, from my point of view. But my point of view is meaningless here. There were so many people. There seem to be almost no traffic laws; cars and buses and bikes and pedestrians weave in and out following some set of rules that they understand but I do not. I wish I could have taken pictures, but it was already dark.
“But my point of view is meaningless here.” How very wonderfully un-American. Yes, he is going to help and he is going to install water purifiers (in a hospital, for one thing), yet he doesn’t sound like the answer guy or the self-appointed savior of Santo Domingo, or the superhero white guy who has taken a week off to help those poor little people in the Dominican Republic. At the close of his post he says:
Okay, I'm not proud of what follows, but it is the truth. It's important for me to admit it because, well, it's the truth. I don't really know how I'm going to sleep here tonight. I have a top bunk with one sheet and no covers. I won't get to shower until tomorrow, maybe. Tonight I'll brush my teeth with a cup of bottled water. Windows are open to the outside, so I don't know what kind of bugs I'll encounter during the night. And to be honest, I had a hard time eating that hot dog. I could only finish about half of it. I have no idea where it was purchased and how long it was on that table. So I'm hungry, and I really don't know when I'll eat next. I hear they are serving us breakfast in the morning, and I'm afraid to see what it will be.

And I'm ashamed of myself because this is as good as it gets here. Our hosts welcomed us and were so delighted that we have come. They've given us their best.

And to think when I arrived at the airport I took this picture because I thought it was going to be a struggle dealing with the fact that you can't get real Diet Coke here. You get Coke Light, which tastes like straight Coke. At the airport, that actually seemed like an issue to me.
As we move from Advent to Lent, part of the journey is coming to terms with the messiness of the Incarnation. Being human is messy business. Gordon’s words and feelings speak to the heart of what it means to be human, to be a bundle full of consecrated contradictions. His words and actions take me to words familiar and powerful:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

(1 Corinthians 13, The Message)
When Paul wrote we were squinting in a fog (“we see through a glass darkly”) but one day we would see clearly (“face to face”), I’ve always taken it to mean a time beyond our time. Gordon’s words make me think there are days in this life when the fog lifts and the amazing power of love bursts through the contradictions and the cloud cover to let us see how connected we are because of how some in our midst have incarnated God’s love and grace.

Thanks; Gordon, for the clear view.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I know I’m late to the game, but I finally saw Ratatouille Sunday night. Ginger and I watched it when I got home from work. What a wonderful movie. When I got to the restaurant this afternoon, I couldn’t help but talk about the film and the appreciation of the story of a little rat who dreamed of being a French chef was unanimous.

How can it be that the folks at Pixar could lead us to embrace as the chef an animal who is among the least appetizing of any, when we think about them being in the kitchen? This is good work and they didn’t miss a detail. The first thing Remy the rat does when he gets into the kitchen at the restaurant is wash his hands. The Little Chef, as he is called, has to convince the humans he belongs in the kitchen and convince his family he wants more out of life than scavenging for garbage.

Since we’ve not yet unpacked the remote to our DVD player, we weren’t able to watch any of the extras to find out how they researched the food side of things. What I can tell you is they were spot on in most every detail. James. one of the other chefs at work who had seen some of the extras said Thomas Keller, who owns the French Laundry and is arguably the best chef in America, consulted on the film, even to the point of letting his ratatouille be the model for the dish in the movie.

There was one moment in the film that took my breath away. The movie builds to a scene where the young chef, guided by Remy, has to cook for Anton Ego, the food critic. Remy decides they should make ratatouille. The others are not so sure; after all, it’s a peasant dish. When Ego takes a bite of Remy’s creation, he flashes back to his boyhood, sitting at supper eating the same dish. Here’s what food can do: pull you back to your true self. James also loved that scene, he said, because it affirmed what he most wants to do: food therapy. He thinks there’s a way to use cooking in intentional therapy. I think he’s on to something.

I suppose if I were really doing this right, I would have a ratatouille recipe to post along with my review. I‘ll work on that and get back to you. For now, I’m soaking in the aromas of Remy’s dreams and biting into the belief that following our hearts is how we are truly fed.


Monday, January 07, 2008

traveling with sisters

The restaurant where I work is a little over three months old, which means those who have been there since the beginning are worn out. The food service world already has a built in what-have-you-cone-for-me-lately component: you can’t put the food on the table and say, “Gee, I really wish you had been here yesterday” and expect to stay open for long. Layer on to that the seemingly unending little changes and corrections that need to be made to help the business find its rhythm and everyone is doing more than a full time job.

This week, people started dropping like flies. Three of our cooks have been out sick; two or three others are running on fumes. The good news for me was I worked double shifts most of the week, which is good for two reasons: one, I made more money and two, I got to spend a lot more time in my Depression Free Zone. Part of the reason for the illnesses has been the Durham weather, which can’t seem to make up its mind between winter and spring. But I think most of the weariness comes from another source. January and February are traditionally slow months in the food world. Though we want the business so we can stay open, everyone was looking for a respite this week so we could catch our breath and it didn’t come. We had the busiest week in the restaurant’s brief history and we were short staffed.

Life, like orders in a restaurant, just keeps coming. As Roseanne Rosanadana used to say, “It’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

As I was driving home from my shift Friday night when I called my brother to catch up a bit. He filled me in on his week and I told him about mine, mentioning how dark the days had seemed. He then said something I knew and yet needed someone else to say so I could hear it: “You know, Milton, I’ll bet a lot of what you’re feeling is because of the move. Every time we’ve moved it’s taken me six to nine months to sort through things. You lived in Massachusetts for seventeen years. You’re grieving. It’s going to take some time.”

On Sunday, Ginger (who says a lot of things I need to hear) quoted Nancy Sehested (who shares our Baptist roots and is now in Asheville) in her sermon:

In our Epiphany journey, we go with two sisters. One is Rachel, her eyes still weeping and looking backwards. The other is Mary, arms filled with the fragile promise of new life, looking ahead. Our journey must be made slowly because neither Sister Grief nor Sister Promise can walk too quickly.
I went to church thinking I was waiting for the Wise Men to come to town, only to learn I’m traveling with Two Sisters, one an incarnation of inconsolable grief and the other of intractable hope. How one journeys with them feels a bit like trying to ride Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmepullyu at first, but the more I’ve thought about Miller’s and Nancy’s and Ginger’s words, the more I come to see the creative and faithful tension in traveling with people vested in looking both forward and back.

My blogging pal and nearby neighbor Jimmy told me about his daughter’s interest in genetics and he talked about how scientists are learning there may be the possibility of turning off “switches” in particular genes that could prevent disease, like my depression. I’ve pondered that option for some time now and come to the paradoxical conclusion that I’m not sure I would want to flip that switch. When I think of the pain I’ve inflicted because of my depression, particularly on Ginger, I wonder if flipping that switch might not be a good idea. And I also have questions. How do I know where the depression ends and I begin? Would I be the person I am had I not lived through days like these? Is the point of life to avoid pain and suffering or to make meaning of them?

The questions aren’t any easier than living day to day, holding past and promise in the present tense (tension?), as voiced in this quote from Chase Peeples (also from Ginger’s sermon):
The example of the Magi begs the questions, what do we see when we look in the darkness? And what could we see if we allowed our eyes to adjust to the light available to us?
Annie Dillard wrote (in which book I don’t remember), “If you want to see the stars, you have to go sit in the dark.” It’s less about flipping switches than it is adjusting to the light and being mindful of the sisters who flank us on each side, calling us to slow down, reflect, and persevere daily, faithfully, and intentionally. Mary pulls us to remember there is life beyond grief and Rachel reminds us we are all walking wounded. Healing comes in traveling together.

There’s an old gospel hymn, “God Leads His Dear Children Along,” that has always spoken to me. I found the story behind the hymn today and now it means more.
The author of this hymn, George Young, was a carpenter and a pastor. He didn’t make much money in either profession. Most of his life was spent in small farming communities. Finally, however, he and his wife were able to build their own home, and they moved in. Shortly afterwards, while the Youngs were holding meetings in another small town, someone set fire to their house and it was reduced to ashes. It was probably out of that experience that George Young wrote this hymn.
Here are the lyrics:
In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet,
God leads His dear children along;
Where the water's cool flow bathes the weary one's feet,
God leads His dear children along.

Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.

Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright,
God leads His dear children along;
Sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night,
God leads His dear children along.

Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.

Though sorrows befall us and evils oppose,
God leads His dear children along;
Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes,
God leads His dear children along.

Some through the waters, some through the flood,
Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
In the night season and all the day long.
I’m tired this week because I chose to work double shifts when I was asked and because I’m living with a depression I didn’t choose. I’m traveling with Two Sisters who were walking long before I took to the road and they are telling stories of how God holds us all, in grief and in joy, in past and in promise, in darkness and in light. Life will never be fixed by the flipping of a switch; neither will it be stopped: it just keeps coming.

Sisters -- and brothers -- come, let us keep walking together.


P. S. -- Here is an excellent article on the roots of the violence in Kenya.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

talk and pray

I got a note today inviting me to a reunion of folks who went to Nairobi International School back in the seventies. My parents were missionaries and we lived outside of Nairobi in a small town called Karen that took it’s name from Karen Blixen or Isak Dinesen, as she is known to many. I was in ninth grade, my brother in seventh. On Saturday mornings, we would walk out to the road and hitchhike into the city to eat at Iqbal’s (whose specialty was chipati and keema).

My view, looking back, is romanticized because I was a ninth grader and I’ll also stand by my statement that Kenya was a great place to grow up. Though it shares many of the same problems of other African nations – poverty, HIV/AIDS, postcolonial tribal issues – Kenya has been a haven for refugees of the surrounding war-torn countries (Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, and others), so the brutal rioting and ethnic violence that broke out in Kenya over discrepancies in the most recent presidential election are damaging in many, many ways.

Here are two first hand video accounts from a Kenyan television station, one from Kisumu

and one from Nairobi.

I follow my blogging pals Bill and Laurie in asking for prayers; I would also ask you to talk about what is going on to those around you. On a night when our presidential race is officially beginning (does it ever really end?), a country I love dearly is imploding over the election of their president. Hundreds have been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced.

Please, please, talk and pray.


P. S. -- NPR has a good collection of information.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

days like these

there are days when it's hard to put one word
in front of the other and push a page past blank.
there are nights when what looks like tired is
more. there are afternoons spent preparing for
evening meals for people I never see and I have
energy to cook the steak to order and reduce
the sauce to a perfect consistency, hanging on
to the meat even as it pools on the plate. I want
that stuff to follow me home, but it trails off
like air out of a balloon and, by the time I bring
what’s left of my day to her and she asks how
I am, all I can say is, “OK” unconvincingly. Being
with her is the best part of my day, yet I know it
costs her deeply to be here with me. still, she stays.
that’s true everyday, thank God.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

night and day

Everything was new for our new year: new place, new people, new traditions. We drove up to Raleigh, as Andy and Barney used to say, for their First Night celebration, one of the grandchildren of the original First Night in Boston. We heard some good bluegrass, Ginger saw an African dance company, and we spent the last couple of hours of 2007 listening to Tift Merritt. Best of all, we got to watch the “Raleigh Acorn” drop at midnight. The video is sideways because I’m still learning how to use my camera.

Before the year ended, Tift closed her concert with a song called “Shadow in the Way.”

Before a word is spoken,
Everything is broken,
Even what you hid inside.
The world has let you down,
wrung the shame out of your pride.

But even as you falter,
Like sunlight on the water,
You shine on my face.
This darkness in your heart,
It's just a shadow in the way.

When the fire leaves,
When no one believes you,
When you give yourself away
To a stranger on the road
Who gives you nothing in exchange.

Even when the door shuts,
Even though the night cuts
Like a silver blade,
In the morning you will find
It's just a shadow in the way.

Though we're caught in the darkness,
Don't be afraid.
Though we're caught in the darkness,
Don't be afraid.
This world of sorrow,
It's just a shadow.

Got to get up again,
Let the light in,
Throw your tears away.
That mountain looks so high,
It's just a shadow in the way.
We knew no one in the crowd when we got there. We talked with the couple standing next to us for the concert, Jay and Andrea, and came away with a new connection.

In Shakespeare’s plays, the problems begin in the city and the characters move out into nature to try and work them out. We didn’t find or create any new problems up in Raleigh last night, but we did head for the woods this afternoon as a way to begin our new year. We joined the members of the Eno River Association for their annual New Year’s Day Hike. The day was sunny and in the low fifties, and the setting was pastoral and pacifying. Again, we were surrounded by people we didn’t know, yet we came away with new acquaintances and connections.

Tonight, we are back in the city again, getting ready for what tomorrow brings. The days ahead will certainly hold their share of sunshine and shadows and perhaps less than their share of solutions. Certainly, we have many new connections to make in the days ahead and many to tighten and maintain.

As for the shadows, I think they’re a crucial part of the deal. If the darkness were complete, there would be no shadows. There has to be some light somewhere.