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

The Facts of Life

That you were born
and you will die.

That you will sometimes love enough
and sometimes not.

That you will lie
if only to yourself.

That you will get tired.

That you will learn most from the situations
you did not choose.

That there will be some things that move you
more than you can say.

That you will live
that you must be loved.

That you will avoid questions most urgently in need of
your attention.

That you began as the fusion of a sperm and an egg
of two people who once were strangers
and may well still be.

That life isn’t fair.
That life is sometimes good
and sometimes better than good.

That life is often not so good.

That life is real
and if you can survive it, well,
survive it well
with love
and art
and meaning given
where meaning’s scarce.

That you will learn to live with regret.
That you will learn to live with respect.

That the structures that constrict you
may not be permanently constraining.

That you will probably be okay.

That you must accept change
before you die
but you will die anyway.

So you might as well live
and you might as well love.
You might as well love.
You might as well love.

From “Sorry For Your Troubles” by Pádraig Ó Tuama (Canterbury Press Norwich, 2013).


I chose this poem on Mother’s Day because, if I’m honest, with all that I have seen and experienced right up close to the action with my nose pressed against the glass, is that I still have no idea what it means to be a mother.

I only know what I’ve witnessed for 50 years as a son and 25 years as a husband. And that is that motherhood, at its very best, is a marathon of ambivalence. It is a forward march of sky-high expectations, too little recognition, the deepest possible feelings of embodied love and the desperate desire to simply be left alone.

The only reasonable synonym for “mother” is “fighter.” The get knocked down repeatedly and never refuse to quit kind, except in this fight there is no bell to mark the rounds and no time to sit and catch your breath.

Motherhood is resilience, through and through, at least that’s what I’ve seen. It is surviving with a smile, resentments and longings set aside, giving while finding, giving while discovering, giving while making, giving, giving, giving.

How, how do they make it look so easy?

Why, why do they love us so much?


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

blessing the boats
{Lucille Clifton}

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence

sail through this to that


It’s been a hard week.

Everyone I spoke to said the same thing, this week was tough.

Nerves frayed, emotions running high, sluggish, out of sorts and the continuing weight of uncertainty.

Maybe it has to do with the turn of the calendar, the stark reality of April becoming May a reminder that an entire month – over 6 weeks in total now – has been “lost” to this experience.

And maybe it’s this new thing we know as “Zoom fatigue.” So many people, including myself, have described these virtual interactions as more intimate and purposeful and because of that, more taxing also.

But there were highlights, too. Beautiful and revelatory conversations, generous invitations for future points of connection, hard-won insights born of mistakes. And ideas, fresh ideas only noticed because of the stopping.

I choose not to have another “tough” week but to just have a week. I choose to have a week in which I allow all of it to mix together, concentrated though it may feel, into something teachable and generative.

Because the “tide…is entering even now” and once I have sailed “through this to that” how will I account for the journey?


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

At Nightfall
{Ted Kooser}

In feathers the color of dusk, a swallow,
up under the shadowy eaves of the barn,
weaves now, with skillful beak and chitter,
one bright white feather into her nest
to guide her flight home in the darkness.
It has taken a hundred thousand years
for a bird to learn this one trick with a feather,
a simple thing. And the world is alive
with such innocent progress. But to what
safe place shall any of us return
in the last smoky nightfall,
when we in our madness have put the torch
to the hope in every nest and feather?

from One World At a Time


We’re home now. All of us are home. We don’t need the white feather because we know exactly where we are.

But when we no longer have to be home, not in this way, not quite so much, what will we remember?

What will normal induce us to forget?

What white feathers must we memorize now, before time and distance do their merciless work?

What simple truths must we never allow to fall away, the loss of which will put us back to sleep?

What will “home” mean when, once again, we have to find our way back?

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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‘Essential’ is a Choice

Most of us don’t meet the government’s definition of “essential” when it comes to working the front lines of the response to the novel corona virus.

Most of us, that is, are deemed “non-essential.”

And we who are “non-essential” have been given a very short and manageable to-do list: wash your hands, stay at home and/or stay six feet apart.

But none of the “non-essentials” I’ve talked to feel like that’s “enough.” Most of them want to and are doing more.

You’re seeing it everywhere: acts of service, compassion, creativity, problem-solving, and helping hands. Educators, musicians, civil servants, service workers, neighbors, kids, from all walks of life, giving of themselves in innumerable ways and with epic levels of generosity.

These acts and these efforts, in all of their forms, are essential because they lift us up, give us hope, and remind us in tangible ways that we are all connected.

When we get through the worst of this crisis, it will be because the first wave of essential workers fought heroic battles to stem the tide of a terrible virus. It will also be because a second wave of people, those who chose to be essential, contributed their best selves to the effort, reminding all of us just how remarkable and just how powerful it is to be human.

This is the time to be essential.

Being essential is a choice.

Please do what you can.


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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.

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50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

I am happy to share the complete list of my “50 Ideas Fighting For,” that concluded today. I trust that these perspectives will be a valuable resource for you – a spark to inquiry and to conversation – and that you will pass them along to others who might benefit. I am thankful for your readership and very much look forward to remaining connected with you through this format and others as we work together to navigate this extraordinary and very challenging shared experience. 

With deepest gratitude,
David


50 Ideas Worth Fighting For

#1 – Read poetry

#2 – Change starts from within

#3 – Know Your Values

#4 – Know Your Strengths

#5 – Be courageous enough to name your aspirations

#6 – You Are Creative

#7 – Get Moving

#8 – Take a Break

#9 – You Don’t Fit in a Box

#10 – Development is a Verb

#11 – There is no “there”

#12 – Never Be Afraid to Reinvent Yourself

#13 – “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer

#14 – Tell the truth as fast as you can

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

#16 – You’ve got it better than you think

#17 – Root for other people’s success

#18 – Build Capability Before You Need It

#19 – Assume They Didn’t Understand You the First Time

#20 – It’s Ok to be “Good Enough”

#21 – Simplify

#22 – Time Alone

#23 – Get Closer

#24 – Empathy

#25 – Take Responsibility for Your Learning

#26 – Show Up

#27 – Mature Idealism

#28 – Leap

#29 – Little Things are Big Things

#30 – You Can Adjust your Default Setting

#31 – Satisfaction ≠ Engagement

#32 – What Power Is For

#33 – Originality

#34 – The Next Smallest Thing

#35 – Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

#36 – Look to Nature

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

#38 – Competence

#39 – The Real Conversation

#40 – Explain About the Thread

#41 – Be Change Ready

#42 – Common Sense

#43 – Compassion

#44 – The Greater Good

#45 – Integrity

#46 – A Living System is a Learning System

#47 – Readiness

#48 – Letting Go

#49 – Vote

#50 – Forgiveness



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#50 – Forgiveness

The Prodigal’s Mother Speaks to God
{Allison Funk)

the straps of his sandals broken,
his robe stained with wine,

it was not as easy to forgive.

By then his father
was long gone himself,

leaving me with my other son, the sullen one
whose anger is the instrument he tunes
from good morning on.

I know.

There’s no room for a man
in the womb.

But when I saw my youngest coming from far off,
so small he seemed, a kid
unsteady on its legs.

She-goat
what will you do? I thought,
remembering when he learned to walk.

Shape shifter! It’s like looking through water—
the heat bends, it blurs everything: brush, precipice.

A shambles between us.


I am so grateful that #50 landed on a Sunday morning. I am so grateful to close this chapter of my writing with another poem, poetry having become such a profound consolation to me these last many years. I am so grateful to have fallen into the grace of this poem, one that encouraged and allowed me to conclude these “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For” with “forgiveness.”

Could there be an act both more vulnerable and more generous than that of forgiveness? Could there be a time – not in my lifetime – when forgiveness is both more necessary and more challenging? Could there be – might there be – a swelling of vulnerability and compassion that leads to more forgiveness as a result of this extraordinary, frightening time?

We are all connected which means that we, by the very definition of connection, are vulnerable to one another. We go to great lengths pretending that we are not but that is just not so. 

We will continue to trample on one another’s vulnerability, that is the human way. Which means we must continue to rely on forgiveness to restore ourselves into the loving embrace of those on whom we so rightly depend. 

We can begin by forgiving ourselves for whatever ways we feel we have failed, for whatever ways we feel ashamed, for whatever ways we have hurt another. In doing so, we can wrestle with the hard, hard truth that as we travel that inner journey of self-forgiveness we are building the capacity to forgive others and to help them return it. 

Forgiveness is imperfect, always incomplete and always ongoing. It is also the greatest gift we can give or receive.

Please forgive. That is all I ask of you.



To hear the brief and beautiful meditation on this poem that inspired me to share it with you, please visit Poetry Unbound.

 


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