Within and Around
A note: Sometimes, an answer can appear prior to the question. This was such an occasion. I noodled with this piece for a few weeks before having the slightest idea what it was all about. It was finally revealed online, in a "Question for the Road" posed by a friend. The way it appeared to me in accordance with my current interior life was this: In the coming transition from winter to spring, what is being offered from the spirit of nature within and around me to gently suggest that within is also around? It was a beginning...
Here in Connecticut, the winter now just departing was uniquely mild. Disquietingly so. There was little snow until the very end, and was rarely cold. The nearby lake never froze over. No ice boats. No ice fishing. Late autumn simply lingered until spring ̶ ̶ winter mostly went missing. Disturbance was in the air. It was enough to make me wonder about the world I thought I’d come to know. The photo above of warmly lit homes across a frozen cove at dusk was taken a couple of years ago, during a deep winter long since given over to all the seasons which followed. But it’s not the winter just passed that has me wondering. Not really. More lately, it’s the giving over, the ever-changing face of temporal life, the fusion of appearances and what is true. During such consideration, I lean toward recollection.
During the warm days of summer, I walk beneath a canopy of untouchable, deep forest green in the cool of its shade. Soft ground cushions my steps, and maybe there is even an easy breeze. But it’s the canopy high above and beyond reach that is the truth of summer for me. In it lies its wisdom. Shadow offsets light. Green is the color of my summer thoughts. And then gradually, the days begin to shorten. Light yields to an earlier dusk, warmth eases, and come August the first colors of autumn begin to appear in the green above. The air just begins to dry and clear. In the clearing air a surrender whispers and the canopy’s wisdom is revealed, for it's always known what is to come of it.
Soon, the colors turn away from green, anything but green, and leaves rain onto the soft ground, no longer out of reach, leaves now offered to the fall, and mild summer breezes are given to crisp winds. Now, I walk on the leaves I could never have touched, so I come to love them even more. The coming and going, the all-falling-down.
The exacting wind and rain of November strips the tree limbs clean, every single one. Leaves them all barren-gray and brown. Unforgivable. Until the late autumn sunsets backlight those bare limbs, and in blazing smears of salmon, orange, and crimson, a God so beautiful is revealed that I still sink into my heart every time, and a held breath escapes and makes a noise that almost sounds like, Oh. Mere seconds pass, and the sky’s colors wane quickly in the fading glow, given to the night until dawn. How soft and perfect.
I remember sitting on a beach in Spain one late spring at the end of an arduous, weeks-long walk, contemplating the violence of big waves as they crashed against rocks and cliffs in a merciless repetition. I imagined them then as voices, each one unique with its own message to be heard. Much harder to hear was the hiss of the foamy backwash, the waves returning to the sea, the crashing answered. It was the first time I came to know of this returning as a giving over, the forgiveness of a wave completed. Exhaled. Inhaled. The broader implications have haunted me ever since.
Farther up the coast from that beach and for several days that followed, I walked on paths carved through scrub brush on the rugged moors atop tall cliffs, always within earshot of the surf below. Some days were summer-warm, sunlit, clear and breezy; others were overcast and gloomy with a windblown chill that foretold of the time beyond summer. And in the midst of this, random, confusing memories of the longer walk kept arriving as if from out of the world itself. The temptation was to press in, to resolve what could have become a great anxiety. But the less I tried to understand, the more I understood, and with the accompanying silence came a wisdom shared by the green summer canopy and those backlit sunsets. For the slightest measures of time, these worldly things and I were one thing, held in a common hand and cherished.
So it is in the making way, the yielding, the acquiescence that makes it all so impeccable and so incomprehensible; one thing following another and precisely as it must, devoid of any resistance, yet each new thing loaded with the potential of great meaning. The seasons, the violent waves, seem to agree. So does the light and dark, the warmth, the cold, all the love and all the fear, human desire and soul’s grace, the great confusion and deep understanding.
Breathing in. Breathing out. Listening closely now in a season to give over.
In Search of Simple...Now Available
This gem of a book is now available from the Publisher (Wayfarer Books), Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or by ordering from your favorite local bookseller (tell them, “It’s on Ingram” ̶ ̶ they’ll know what to do). There is such great wisdom to be found on these pages about the high art of keeping it simple. I hope you will consider reading it.
My own modest contribution to this beautiful collection of voices speaks of experiences that today seem as though they happened a lifetime ago. Perhaps this is actually so. Though it recalls a difficult time, it was magical as well and it seemed to me then that everything rising before me was a miracle. This is, perhaps, one of the gifts of difficult times. The simpler life which I began long ago continues today. It was a prayer then. It remains so now. Maybe especially now.
New From Author Heidi Barr
One of the great perks of having a writing life is that I’m sometimes able to have an early read of a yet-to-be-published work. This one from writing pal Heidi Barr was a real treat. Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:
“With pristine, warm language, Heidi Barr creates an opportunity to fall into the depth of ourselves and our world. Here we may find that the earth and sky and us are woven into a single cloth, beyond the possibility of fraying despite appearances that surround us; that we can come to experience our world and fellow beings not as an “other,” but as ourselves. The takeaway for me? Compassion. Good reason to dive in to this beautiful book.”
Available from the Publisher (Broadleaf Books), through your favorite bookseller, or Amazon (which includes the "Look Inside" feature).
A Bag of Rags
Many years ago, I had a conversation with a man who often found himself homeless due mostly to severe addiction. He said the very worst times were during the winter. Being on the streets of a New England city at that time of year was almost unbearable. He would feel the biting cold to be sure, but would also feel as if he was invisible to everyone. It was one thing to sense the pain of judgmental stares, but aversion could sting even more. It seems few can bear to view such suffering as they walk along the city streets.
You Never Can Tell
We are the only beings on earth who intrinsically wonder about our own end. But is there a way to elicit more elegant, gentle questions? Maybe something finer can be imparted, a way to bring the inevitable grief this life holds, into the love it really is.
In this lyrical essay, poetry and the beauty of dreams mingle with remembrance. Journey from a child’s view of life’s end to a perspective in time much closer to that end, and something as familiar as an old friend comes into focus, greets us, and teaches us its ways.
I thought I’d finished this book. Really did. Then the discomfort set-in. There was a sense that I’d called it too early, that perhaps some things had been left unwritten. Fair enough, I thought. I’ll just write some more. Sometimes the muse doesn’t play by our rules. Only problem was I had made a commitment. The publisher had already produced a beautiful book cover along with a great interior design. Things were moving along to a publication date at the end of August, 2022 as I had previously posted. I was beginning to lose sleep because my word matters to me. But so does “the work.” Hence, the tension.
Fortunately, I have a publisher who truly gets it. The book is expanding (though remains true to its original description) and will be along in Spring, 2023. Promise. I’ll keep you posted.
My relationship with Homebound Publications is such that I am a member of a writing community. Please click here to peruse the fiction, non-fiction, and poetry offerings by my fellow authors. It’s well worth the browse.
David K. Leff
David Leff was the first author I ever met. I’d just been signed by Homebound Publications for my first book, when I ran into him while at The Hickory Stick Bookshop for an open mic event. Because many of David’s books were also published by them and I recognized him from his bio on Homebound’s website, I rather timidly introduced myself before the proceedings began. It struck me as a good omen to find him there. It was my first open mic, and I was more than a little anxious about reading my work in front of an audience consisting almost entirely of poets and writers. He could not have been more kind, welcoming, and gracious as he congratulated me on being published.
He was there to read from his soon-to-be-published book, The Breach. It is a book that stands among my favorites of his, and there have been many, for to describe him as prolific is an understatement. His reading that night was typical of David...energetic, engaging, and perfect. He showed me how it was done; how to stand in front of people and read what I’ve written. It’s not an easy thing to do. David made it look easy. I paid attention.
But his book...
Written in that Voice of his, The Breach is an intriguing novel set in an old New England factory town curiously reminiscent of his beloved Collinsville, CT; a novel written, true to his poetic sensibilities, in verse, and where the voices speaking these verses belong to inanimate objects scattered about the town. The walls have ears...and can speak. So does the barber’s chair, an umbrella, a typewriter, and over 130 other items. I was then, and remain, blown away by his mind, his insatiable curiosity, his muse.
I became friendly with him, though to be closer than that would have been a far better thing. We met at more open mics, as well as his monthly Sunday night poetry readings in Collinsville. I’d read. He’d read...always better. Twice I asked him to “blurb” my work, and twice he did so, promptly, graciously, and generously. Again, he showed me how it’s done. How to go about being a writer in every sense of that high station. I watched him from afar, but deeply. He mentored me without even knowing it.
David died early Sunday morning (5/29/2022). There are some who leave a great space behind, whose remaining, enduring presence extends through many circles, many circles that really are only one. I am quietly devasted by his leaving...this humble, voraciously curious, dear sweet man who showed me the way. Rest well, brother. And thanks for some really great sentences. Deep bow.
You can peruse David's website here...worth the look.
A Beautiful Surprise
Not long after sharing my previous journal post on Facebook, I received a thoughtful invitation from Dan Mullins, a musician, songwriter, and performer based in Sydney, Australia. He also happens to be the legendary and prolific podcaster of all-things-Camino at My Camino - The Podcast.
You can listen to my conversation with this gifted interviewer here. Please do visit Dan at danmullinsmusic.com to learn more about him and his work.
A Pilgrim's Way To A New Life
I had to sit with this one for a couple of days...
It had begun with a notion that perhaps I could offer something. The catch was that instead of writing at my desk, my comfortable place, I’d be required to stand before a crowd and speak; an act that despite much experience, remains, well...counterintuitive. Because this would take place in a theater venue, it would also require me to participate in a measure of promotion ̶̶ in this case, social media, newspaper exposure, and live radio. Still, there are times when one must transcend, and seeing this as yet another opportunity to move beyond ego, submitted a proposal to contribute as part of the Waterbury Palace Theater’s speaker series, 2nd Act. As the name implies, it involves the telling of stories about how life evolves in new and unexpected ways. They said yes.
I’d done this kind of thing before. Since my first book, Into the Thin published, there had been book talks, pilgrimage talks, podcast appearances, and interviews. And yet I’d never had the opportunity to tell this particular story (other than on the pages of the book itself), to describe the experience of Grace as it moves across a landscape of life. This was what I felt might be helpful...the aforementioned offering. These are, after all, troubled times when a certain darkness hovers about us. Maybe I could offer another way to see that darkness. Altruism tends to create opportunities for Spirit to make itself known, but it’s always the bank shot...never straight-on.
An audience member arrives to an event like this with only a vague idea of what is to follow. In a way, they surrender to this by simply arriving. What actually brings them through the door takes on many appearances, but it is unique to each. The speaker, on the other hand, knows precisely what they are about to hear and see. This is assumed by all. Unless...
I arrived early to set up and get wired for sound, and chatted with the audio engineer and my theater host as I awaited my audience. Curiously though, instead of the usual anticipatory anxiety (that counterintuitive thing), I found myself oddly at peace and rest. This should have been my first clue. Folks began to drift in, and as they did, I wandered around to greet them and thank them for attending. It was during this time when things got interesting, for many of them were arriving not from their homes or work, but out of my own past. And they arrived in remarkable ways that defied understanding...to join friends who’d suggested attending, yet not even knowing who I was until they got there. They arrived on the heels of a randomly heard radio program they never would have otherwise been listening to. Some had been unsuspecting angels who’d first arrived to me years before under the pretense of seeking my assistance, yet in this time were living miracles of survival. Some even had unexpected connections to each other. Yet none of them could have possibly seen the extent of each other's connection to me.
During times like these, one can only wonder and stand in awe of that which could make such a thing happen. When I took the stage, I looked out and saw something remarkable, yet something so essential. I saw the one of us, living compassion, utter Truth waiting to hear of something from its holy self. The audience take away? Completely and wholly one with the speaker’s.
A perfect evening. God is great.
A Pilgrim Walks Again
Once again, a pilgrim takes to the Camino de Santiago on a walk of faith and surrender to the road. Bill Ludwig (pictured here with me after our recent scamper up Mt. Washington) will be walking this time along the Portuguese Route from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela and on to the Atlantic coast of Spain at Finisterre and Muxia. As in 2017 when he walked the Frances Route from Lourdes, the outer expression of his pilgrimage will benefit the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation (link here to donate), but of course, the true call to pilgrimage is a deeply interior, personal matter. The Camino teaches us the way of intuitive living, a lesson he has learned well. Good for the soul. Good for the world. Click here to follow along on Bill's blog, Spiritual Hat Trick.
Buen Camino, mi amigo. Ultreia Y Suseia!
From a Wooden Box
Atop the armoire in my bedroom sits a wooden box about nine inches square, with an ornamental brass latch and a church-key lock. It is a worthy looking box made of oak with a rustic yet elegant finish, and clearly intended to last for a long time. Because the armoire is across from my bed, it and the box are often the first things I see when waking.
I placed it there a little over ten years ago when I first moved-in. Life (and I) had just officially changed forever, and this quiet, simple home suited my new circumstances perfectly. Weekly since, I've moved the box for dusting, and though I've changed the placement of other items, it has always returned to the same spot (on the right side, close to the front, angled slightly toward the center). Its specific positioning speaks of ritual. I have rarely opened it. So rarely, in fact, that at any given moment I'm unsure of the specific contents. Lately though, for some reason I've been drawn to the box for I think it may contain something sacred, something of time, as if it was a tabernacle. My previous diffidence has given me pause, and the other day I finally did open it.
As I lifted its lid at last, I almost expected to hear a slight hiss of air. The first object I saw was a rolled Boy Scout neckerchief threaded through a dark metal clasp, then another unthreaded Cub Scout clasp. There was a school photo of my boy as a happy, innocent, handsome 11-year-old, taken in that blessed and beautiful time before the storms gathered, long before the day he ended his earthly life, the day when everything changed. Lying with these items was my credencial, my pilgrim passport from the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Talk about poetic. How to move among these things without hearing the songs of memory? How to close the space between them all? How to not call love by its new name?
These objects were arranged almost in a circle as the significant things in life seem to be. Start at any point in the circle, the pain will come, the pain will bring change, and so on. It’s certainly nothing personal. A crucifixion, a pause, a resurrection, and back again...the mystical ways of being in time for a while.
Perhaps a kind of magic lies in that pause, though. Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday was a very quiet Saturday. I would suggest it is there the world beneath appearance exerts its exquisitely subtle influence. Nothing in that world is obvious, but here in time it can be a mighty long day indeed. Things need to be gathered, lives arranged, circumstances developed, paths crossed, patience and faith required throughout. Then slowly, even glacially, something wonderful begins to flicker and the rising stirs. Love’s new name becomes clearer in the holy pause as the heart-now-ripened softens and opens into compassion it could not have otherwise known. Maybe sometimes in a flash but more often not, it’s revealed at last that it all belonged. It couldn’t have been a circle otherwise. Turns out a long, thin road in Spain has no real end after all in spite of what those many passport stamps would suggest.
Talismans found in a wooden box compel a walk through time and remembrance that bears down hard on the soul and begs to be known more deeply, yet always remains just-shy of real understanding. So much needs to be taken on faith. But from this box, love’s new name is finally revealed as grief. It’s time at last for grief to go on pilgrimage, to go forth and do some good in the world, to meet others, to serve them, and to let go of the suffering. For now, this is enough to understand.
As always, love, by any name, is the answer.