Reminder

“Love after Love” 
by 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.

“Love after Love” from COLLECTED POEMS 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott. Copyright © 1986 by Derek Walcott. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Evel, again

It’s Evel Knievel Days here in Butte- this is a rerun of something I wrote when he died:

December 10, 2007
Evel Knievel
Today was the funeral of (arguably) Butte Montana’s most famous son. I drove by the Civic Center on my way back from Safeway today- the funeral was going on inside- and there were about six funeral limousines outside- all silver and immaculate (Todd must’ve been working overtime- he’s my friend the undertaker). Matthew McConaughey spoke, apparently, and Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral in LA presided. Dignitaries and lots of rules for parking, viewing, attending the funeral and who was allowed to the cemetery. Weird. I just remember George Hamilton in the movie- I think it was 1973 or something when I saw it (released 1971). The movie was filmed here and I remember seeing it- thinking that Montana wasn’t so out of the way after all- in fact in one scene Evel Knievel wrecked right in front of my aunt’s house on Clear Grit Terrace- falling down the Yellow Hill (no longer there thanks to Superfund). We were all jumping our bikes off of stuff and over stuff and through stuff (I was eight) and I remember my brother (three years younger and probably as close to a daredevil in the making as one could be at that age- my childhood memories of him always involved contusions or bandages) being frustrated by not having a bigger bike- he was four….
Anyway, I just remembered things I had forgotten, and never having met the man or known what kind of a person he was based on personal experience, I can still thank him for giving me a few good moments in my adulthood to remember when life was simpler and simply getting off the (1 foot) ramp meant that it was gonna be a great day.

Traps

There are many ways that I gain insight, some are as simple as noticing a spiderweb, some are as complicated as working through a problem with a friend or patient. Mostly, it happens when I’m talking to myself.

We all do it. Some do it out loud, some keep it silently cerebral, but there’s always some chatter going on. Well, not always. I have had moments of complete quiet- they never last too long- but still…. Anyway, I like to talk to myself, especially when I’m not stressed with worry or fear or anxiety, then it can be fun to throw out ideas and see how I like them. When I am stressed, my voice becomes unreasonable and strange, then it often takes a self-intervention to get me back on track- that’s why I’ve designed my day to hold at least three opportunities for those.

The first one is my walk/shower time. It’s usually when I’m always alone and can check in. I do this thing when the water hits my skin: “I’m clean, and this water is a gift.” Corny? Maybe, but it works for me.

The second is my meditation time in the afternoon- and always before a nap, if I have one (I lived in Italy for five years, and the native habit has sort of stuck with me). If I can calm down and check in with my breath, my first question is “How’s it going?” and then I meditate on my mantra: “nothing can go wrong”.

The third is when I get into bed or just before I get ready to sleep. I make a mental list of three things I’m grateful for that day (sometimes I write it down) mull things over a while and then I say, “Okay God, it’s your world, I’m going to bed.” (Pope John XXIII gets credit for the idea behind that one).

But there are those times when my talking to myself gets out of control with stress, worry, anxiety and fear, sometimes anger. It seems like my safeguards slip easily away and the stress trap is sprung. It seems. Because these daily routines create something- something that kicks in like an extra immune system sensing diphtheria. Organic and instinctual. And because I do these things, my response time is shorter, my time wallowing is lessened, and I’m less convinced I’m crazy for talking to myself. I have learned that when I’m feeling trapped to remember that I built the cage, and, like every architect, I know the secret strengths and weaknesses of my creation- I know how to get out. It just may take some time.

It just doesn’t take as long as it used to.

Confucian

I’ve been in a place where I’m overwhelmed by injustice

and reminded of non-attachment all in the same instance.

It’s that place where deep abiding love

and concern and the desire to protect

comes smacking into conflict with personal spiritual values

of nonviolence and compassion and noninterference.

So what to do?

I waited.

I breathed deliberately and slowly.

I let go of something heavy and familiar,

let it’s generational legacy slip from calloused hands

and then sank  easily back into reality, looking up at the sky and the sun,

feeling it on my face.

And I knew then, again- it’s always again, isn’t it?-

that I can be wrong and it’s just a meaningless judgment

worthy of laughter and delight in the love of the one

I never have to understand to love.

D GS

People come, people go- and some come back….

I had a beautiful experience on Sunday.

It was one of those lazy afternoons that I haven’t gotten to spend with someone else in quite a while. Ken had come over the day before and we’d spent some quality time together as well as with my sibs and their spouses during the Folk Festival. We had also gone to a drag show (Yes, Butte has them- outdoors, no less). The day was slow and peaceful. I was enjoying just having Ken around to talk to and give me a hand with a few things. We had just finished lunch and were laying on my bed thinking about a nap. It was raining, I had everything I thought I wanted- life couldn’t get any better.  Then my phone rang.

I looked at the caller ID- Pat Power! Should I take it? Should I call him back after our nap? Times with Ken are so precious because they’re so few…. What would I say? It had been many years since we’d spoken. Would I have to explain my life and circumstances (which can still be a lot of work sometimes)?  Would he be the same guy? Would he still accept me? My mind was racing.

Then I stopped. I took a breath. I knew this guy. I had trusted him completely at several key moments in my life. I answered.

I had a 45 minute-long conversation with my best friend from college that nearly brought me to tears several times- not because it was mushy, but because I forgot how simple it can all be, and how much I missed this man and his family. His oldest, my godson, is now 19!  (and the reason for our re-connection- he’s also on facebook and the spitting image of his father….). We reminisced, got caught up, laughed, remembered, and (for me) seemed to fall right back into something familiar and satisfying. I loved every minute of it. Ken laid right next to me and slept softly. I felt happy. My trust was not misplaced. My fears (as usual) were ridiculous, and life got better.

One of my teachers says “Just when you think life can’t get any better, it has to. It’s a Universal Law.”

The whole thing caused me to reflect on the people who’ve come into my life, some who have gone out again, and some who have come back. That’s the nature of friendship. People come and go. Pat and I have come back around. So have a few others in my life. In my quiet times, I have realized I missed certain people from my life, and I took the responsibility to reach out and find them. Some have stayed, some have kept minimal contact. I’ve also missed some who no longer want to be around. Sometimes I’ve received an explanation, sometimes I haven’t. I’ve realized that I have also moved in and out of other people’s lives- sometimes deliberately, sometimes just naturally and sometimes a little recklessly. It helps me to understand and judge more gently the actions of others when I’ve done it myself….

I’ve noticed that most of the pain in my relationships comes not from the people moving in or out, but in my fighting that movement. This person shouldn’t go- I need them! That person needs to go, they offended me- why are they sticking around? I’ve been guilty of holding on too tightly to what I think should be- instead of what is. That’s just a recipe for suffering.

I actually had this poster on my wall in junior high:

A deep blue sky with a few far-off clouds, and a seagull or tern flying poignantly across some wispy letters: “If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you it is yours, if it doesn’t it never was.”

If I had to design a poster that reflects my feelings about relationships at this stage of my life, I would keep the bird and the background, but the text would be:

“If you love something, don’t cage it in the first place.”

For Warmth

This poem has made an incredible impression on me. I have made it part of my daily practice, and I wanted to share it with you….

For Warmth
by Thich Nhat Hanh

I hold my face between my hands
no I am not crying
I hold my face between my hands
to keep my loneliness warm
two hands protecting
two hands nourishing
two hands to prevent
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

From: Call Me By My True Names- a collection of poems by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1999, Parallax Press.

If Wishes were Horses, I’d be handed a shovel…

I spent a fantastic weekend with my partner and a good friend roadtripping to Seattle- It was ostensibly for The Ken to run the RocknRoll 1/2 Marathon, but I also needed to have blood work done, pick up my meds, AND it was Pride week in Seattle. So much to accomplish and so many cool and remarkable things happened on the trip that I found myself wishing- mostly about writing.

“I wish I had a smartphone and could blog on the bus, or update my Facebook.” “I wish I could express exactly how I felt in the moment of seeing Ken’s face as he rounded the last bend to finish the race.” “I wish I had the nerve to describe in detail all the rotten emotions I feel when I see a bunch of carefree half (or 3/4) naked boys running around like life’s one big carefree frickin’ party.” “I wish I hadn’t run into that particular person at the Pride Festival.” “I wish I knew what to say when something goes wrong.” “I wish I had told my family and friends more often how important they are to me.” “I wish I was quicker with my words- that aging hadn’t slowed down my vocabulary.” “I wish I could make everything better all the time for everybody.” “I wish I wasn’t so bad at updating my blog.”

And so it goes.

I am actually quite happy in my life, and I don’t really spend that much time wishing for anything different, but last week, I did. After some thoughtful self-examination and a few walks with Curly, my spiritual director, I came to the conclusion that these wishes weren’t dissatisfaction, really. They were honest hopes and desires to more fully be me. They were conscious efforts to see and experience my life, my world and my people more honestly and accurately.
And it was also a great moral corrective to my sometimes gritty, sometimes cynical and often blunt assessment of reality.

It was a fantastic trip- exhausting, but fantastic. I saw people I loved; I was with Ken for 5 whole days at once (a record); I was useful; I was supportive; I had fun; I took care of myself and most of all, I questioned my perceptions. Not bad for a wisher.