Poem for a Sunday Morning

from¬†“Vacillation”
{W.B. Yeats}

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.


On Monday, I will celebrate my 50th birthday. Months ago, well before the advent and repercussions of Covid-19, I decided that there were two ways I wanted to mark the occasion. The first, a long and challenging hike and the second, the recitation of this brief poem for a gathering of close friends and family.

The long and challenging hike is for the expression of my physical well-being, to feel and rightly use the body that has faithfully brought me this far and, with good care, will keep me moving and reaching for years to come. I enter my sixth decade with a deep commitment to being outside, to the exploration of trails and mountains and forests and valleys. I am drawn to these places because of their elemental beauty, of course, but even more so because of their gifts of perspective and humility, something I seem increasingly open to receiving!

The recitation of this poem is an opening through which to express my emotional well-being, that reservoir of love and service that has been poured out in my favor by the people who have refused to allow my failings to interrupt the flow. I know what the poet felt because I feel it too; the blaze of gratitude, the shock of unearned grace, the deep happiness of being wholly loved.

I also hear the call to action (“…and could bless”) as an affirmation of the responsibility of a mature person to be of service. While my personal planting will continue – learning, growing, expanding and connecting – it is companioned I now see by an even more robust season of harvest and distribution. Learning becomes teaching. Growing becomes the provision of shade. Expansion becomes an invitation to share abundance. Connection becomes the catalyst for capacity, because there is no such thing as a finite amount of love.

With rain in the forecast the next few days, I took advantage of the favorable spring weather and enjoyed that long, challenging hike first thing this morning. Once at the top of Mt. Woodson, across a broad, flat boulder, I went ahead and recited the poem, too (video below).

It’s important to share it now, knowing it will be some time before that gathering of family and friends, but in a broader sense, too. It’s important to share it now because in this threshold moment we are all experiencing, if only for “twenty minutes more or less” we are compelled to remember whom we are to one another and to amplify it accordingly.


Gifts On the Trail

Last Saturday, on my way up the Mt. Woodson trail, a Buddhist monk passed me heading the other direction.

Later, as I finally made my way back down, I came across a clutch of prayer flags placed atop a boulder. I assume the orange-robed monk left them there, but I can’t be sure. What I have since learned is that prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetan Buddhists believe these prayers will be blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion into the surrounding environment.

I received peace, an appreciation of the rough beauty of my surroundings, my concerns about completing the hike abating with each step down the hill.

I received compassion, for myself and my limitations, and for my dog who was a faithful and willing companion on the trail.

I received strength, both of spirit for having spent the afternoon in a beautiful and challenging place and of body, discovering a small but steady resurgence of my physical well-being as I neared the end.

I received wisdom, having bathed in the humility of my limitations during the final hour of my ascent, a fresh awareness that my core responsibility at all times is to offer the best that I’ve got.

These timely prayers, washing over me as I passed by, were a welcome reminder of the physical and spiritual generosity that always surrounds us. They were freely given and happily received.


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Prayer Flags – Mt. Woodson Trail – Jan. 2020

A Few Steps More

Just a few steps after I wanted to give up, to turn around and head back down the hill, the trail flattened out, an unexpected stretch of grace and ease that allowed me to keep going.

I really wanted to be done, to acquiesce to my limitations, and if not for this change in the landscape, that’s exactly what I would have done. But, right on cue, there it was, the breather I needed to support my flagging confidence.

I kept walking, in no way because of some special resolve, but because the circumstances allowed me to do so. This was a gift, plain and simple.

The lesson is not to grind it out at all cost. The lesson is to appreciate that sometimes, with a few extra steps, we may be lucky enough to discover that the world has turned just slightly in our favor.


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