Poem for a Sunday Morning

February 16

                                              An early morning fog.

In fair weather, the shy past keeps its distance.
Old loves, old regrets, old humiliations
look on from afar. They stand back under the trees.
No one would think to look for them there.

But in fog they come closer. You can feel them
there by the road as you slowly walk past.
Still as fence posts they wait, dark and reproachful,
each stepping forward in turn.

{by Ted Kooser, from “Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison”}


I’m the first person up in my house. I have ample time to sit undisturbed in the quiet of the early morning to read, to write and to make plans for the day ahead.

This time of year, I pour a cup of coffee and take it outside where I can feel the cool air and hear the endless chitter of birds as they construct their small regretless lives in the surrounding trees.

I have no problem with regret. I like that, sometimes, I allow myself to remember my smaller, more vulnerable self. I shudder with the memory of being embarrassed in that particular way, in front of those particular people when I had so longed for their approval.

I ache a little in the heart when I think of how I turned my back on someone in pain or worse, when I caused that pain for no better reason than the very best I could do in that moment was not nearly good enough.

I laugh…a small, incredulous laugh when I remember how naive, how self-righteous, how self-important, how certain, only to discover that I was cleverly defended against the truth of my ignorance.

But I don’t stay there – I do not brood – not even for the length of a cup of a coffee. A sip maybe, that is all. Just a moment in that old place, those old feelings of not enough.

And then the morning lengthens, and the coffee is gone. And, like the birds, I get back to  constructing – to living – my life.

I wonder if the birds know that they are free.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Pocket Poem
{Ted Kooser)

If this comes creased and creased again and soiled
as if I’d opened it a thousand times
to see if what I’d written here was right,
it’s all because I looked too long for you
to put in your pocket. Midnight says
the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped
by nervous fingers. What I wanted this
to say was that I want to be so close
that when you find it, it is warm from me.


A week ago, for my birthday, my wife recited this poem to me from memory.

It took my breath away. She took my breath away.

The gift of her time, her patient efforts to put it to mind. A gesture of such vulnerability, there in our kitchen, standing there, in front of a hot stove, reciting these aching, haunting words of love.

The poem is ripe with aloneness and longing. It is also tender and hopeful.

The narrator – just like each of us – wants so badly “to be so close” to the one they love. They want to be sure of that love – that they have expressed it just the right way – in the space of their disconnection and uncertainty.

And I cannot help but read in those last lines…”it is warm from me”…an arrival, a coming together, even though the poet does not give us that connection explicitly, he intimates it as though it is real.

He gives us solid ground on which to stand at just the moment when we feel there is none.

I like this poem for now. I like it for Easter. I like it for Covid-19. I like it for the universality of our experience of the unknown. For our losses, whatever form they take in each of our lives, and for our collective, if hesitant, recognition that we can control only one thing: how we choose to embrace the gift of this moment and the possibility of what’s to come.


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Truth and Consolation

Everything in the first list is true.

Everything in the second list is also true.

TRUTH

  1. Life is hard.*
  2. You are not important.
  3. Your life is not about you.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. You are going to die

CONSOLATION

  1. Yes, it’s hard. It’s also joyful and magnificent. Which do you choose to focus on?
  2. Except to those who love and rely on you. Except to those whom you serve.
  3. Until you humbly discover who you really are.
  4. You never were. The sooner you let go, the sooner you will be free.
  5. When you accept this, you can stop being a hero and start being a human.

*this list (and the strong influence to write this post) comes from Adam’s Return (Crossroad Publishing, 2004) by Richard Rohr.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Peace of Wild Things
{Wendell Berry}

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


This is a poem I keep coming back to, its invitation and imagery profound and applicable in even the best of times. Right now, it resonates with even greater power because of how much fear and uncertainty is loose and alive in the world, loose in our minds and hearts.

I sometimes wake in the night between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. As I turn restlessly in my bed, thoughts unfold in fearful, fast turning pages. I worry myself, not with those things over which I have control, but with those things over which I do not.

It is wasted energy, spent in the most vulnerable hours of the night, haunting in its purposelessness. Soon enough, I return to sleep but not without the presence of anxious shadows that join me in the light of a new day.

And, as much as I would love to go to “where the wood drake rests in beauty on the water” that’s not an option on most days. Instead, I find alternative ways to experience the freedom of presence and perspective; long walks with the dog, hikes that challenge my heart and legs, laughter around the dinner table, “checking in” calls with friends and colleagues and finding ways to be of use to those who are struggling more than me, more than us.

There is so much peace to be found, so much freedom from despair, but I remind myself that it will not find me, that I must go to it. Over and over, I must go.

Here is Wendell Berry, reading his poem.

depth of field photography of mallard duck on body of water

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#37 – Eat What You Want (It’s your birthday)

Years ago when I was downplaying another birthday as “just another day” and “not a big deal,” a friend suggested otherwise. She said that the day of our birth is inherently important because it is the day we started being us. It matters that we are here and because that wasn’t always so – and will not always be so – it matters when we started!

I haven’t thought about birthdays the same since and I won’t start now because my wife, Theresa’s birthday is today. If she hadn’t shown up on March 9, 1971 the cascade of life events and changes and chance that led us to one another and the life that we have built together as a result, would never have happened.

And for that I know that I am a very lucky guy.

And you’re lucky, too, even if you don’t know her, because the good that she does in small and meaningful ways every day is the kind of good that goes out into the world with quiet potency.

She’ll give you anything you need and help you in any way she can, no questions asked. She gets stuff done. She is loyal. And, no pushover, she is fierce.

On Sunday afternoon she was making crêpes at the stove. She makes the batter from scratch and then, one at a time, turns out a soft, golden brown, perfectly cooked crêpe.

I said, “Why are you making crêpes?”

“Because I want to,” she said. “And I’ll probably eat them on my birthday.”

C’est ma fille!


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#22 – Time Alone

This is #22 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one you might like.


How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.

― Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems


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#20 – It’s ok to be “Good Enough”

This is #20 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one I keep going back to.


The following passage is from an article by Jennifer Kunst in which she provides a compelling interpretation of Donald Winnicott’s theory of the “good enough mother.” As you read it I invite you to do so in a way that allows it to speak to the identity with which you most associate. As needed, replace “mother” with father, boss, leader, teacher, etc.

“What I like about Winnicott’s picture of the good enough mother is that she is a three-dimensional human being. She is a mother under pressure and strain. She is full of ambivalence about being a mother. She is both selfless and self-interested. She turns toward her child and turns away from him. She is capable of great dedication yet she is also prone to resentment. Winnicott even dares to say that the good enough mother loves her child but also has room to hate him. She is not boundless. She is real.”

I cannot read this without being flooded with empathy for all of us who struggle with the pressure to be certain, to be right, to be perfect. We would be better off – far better off – if we were able to collectively let go of the myths that keep us small in favor of a more accurate accounting of the common humanity that serves to enlarge and enliven us.

According to Winnicott’s theory, “The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure” (Winnicott, 1953).

The “good enough mother” creates enough distance from her child, thoughtfully and over time, to allow the child to find its own way. By doing so she creates the conditions for differentiation and independence and problem solving skills and resilience. She creates the conditions in which a child can learn how to be among those who thrive in the face of uncertainty, making meaningful contributions to society squarely in the face of the unknown.

It must be for this reason that James Michener once wrote: “I have recently decided that the constructive work of the world is done by an appallingly small percentage of the population….Those men and women who do have the energy to form new constructs and new ways to implement them must do the work of many. I believe it to be an honorable aspiration to want to be among the creators.”

As mother, father, boss, leader or teacher you have acted on your aspiration to be “among the creators” and you are striving to have lasting impact in the face of challenges and changes too numerous to mention. Your contribution to those you serve, then, will best be measured by the ability you cultivate in them to stand in the midst of uncertainty on their own two feet. Propping them up or protecting them from failure only serves to ensure that they will one day join the large percentage Michener describes instead of being a vital force in the “constructive work of the world.”

“Good enough” is much more than good enough. It is how we equip those we love and those we serve to be a force for good in the world.


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#16 – You’ve Got it Better Than You Think

This is #16 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one that I like a lot.


I can’t remember when it was and I can’t remember who said it but the idea they expressed has served me well every time I’ve allowed my (mostly) “1st world problems” to get me down.

It goes like this: imagine you are standing in a circle large enough to contain everyone you know. And imagine that everyone standing in that circle is able to toss into the middle of it, for everyone to see, every problem they have.

Take a moment to imagine that.

And then imagine yourself surveying all of it, really seeing it and accepting it for what it is and what it must mean to the person who threw it in there.

Seeing it, the crushing reality of it all, allows us a moment to shake ourselves awake and then, as quickly as we can, grab our own problems back from the pile.

My thought is, let’s skip the circle and the pile and the grabbing back of our own stuff and just go with more empathy.

We’ll have really done something when we can do that.


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#15 – You are the one you’ve been waiting for

#15 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.


Love After Love
{Derek Walcott}

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. 


old photos in the wooden box

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