More than once I’ve seen a dog waiting for its owner outside a café practically implode with worry. “Oh, God, what if she doesn’t come back this time? What will I do? Who will take care of me? I loved her so much and now she’s gone and I’m tied to a post surrounded by people who don’t look or smell or sound like her at all.” And when she does come, what a flurry of commotion, what a chorus of yelping and cooing and leaps straight up into the air! It’s almost unbearable, this sudden fullness after such total loss, to see the world made whole again by a hand on the shoulder and a voice like no other. ~John Brehm from “If Feeling Isn’t In It”
We all need to love like this: so binding, so complete, so profoundly filling: its loss empties our world of all meaning as our tears run dry.
So abandoned, we woeful wait, longing for the return of the gentle voice, the familiar smile, the tender touch and encompassing embrace.
With unexpected restoration when we’ve done nothing to deserve it- we leap and shout with unsurpassed joy, the world without form and void made whole again.
Needing them still, I come when I can, this time to the sea where we share a room: their double bed, my single. Morning fog paints the pale scene even paler. Lace curtains breathing, the chenille spread folded back, my father’s feet white sails furled at the edge of blue pajamas. Every child’s dream, a parent in each hand, though this child is fifty. Their bodies fit easily, with room to spare. When did they grow so small? Grow so small— as if it were possible to swell backwards into an earlier self.
One more year, I ask the silence. Last night to launch myself into sleep I counted their breaths, the tidal rise and fall I now put my ear to, the coiled shell of their lives. ~Rebecca McClanahan from “Watching my Parents Sleeping Beside an Open Window Near the Sea” from Deep Light: New and Selected Poems.
My parents have been gone now for some time, my father over 25 years, my mother now over 10 years. Their dying was a long process of counted breaths and pauses. I witnessed their bodies curling into themselves, shrinking smaller, worn down by illness and age.
I still miss them, reminded of them by the events of my own life, still wanting them to take me by the hand as I navigate my own daily path.
After mom’s death, those possessions not distributed to family members have remained packed up and stored in our barn buildings. I know it is well past time to deal with their stuff as I become keenly aware of my own greying and aging.
Untouched in the bookshelf of our bedroom is a sealed box of over 500 letters written by my mother and father between 1941 and 1945. I know the letters began as they were getting to know each other at college, then going from “pinned” to “engaged” and continue for three and a half more years after a hurried wedding Christmas Eve 1942. By mid January 1943 my newly minted Marine officer father shipped out to spend the next three years of his life on the Pacific Ocean, fighting on the battlefields of Saipan, Tinian and Tarawa, not to return again to the states until late summer of 1945. My mother wrote her letters from a rural eastern Washington community, living in a “teachers’ cottage” with other war wives who taught school while waiting for their husbands to return home – or not.
It has taken me a decade to find the courage and time to devote to reading these letters they treasured and never threw away. Yesterday I sorted them unopened by postmark date into some semblance of order and sat down to start at the very beginning, which, of course, is my beginning as well. Only sixty letters in, I open each one with some trepidation and a lump in my throat about what I might find written there. I worry I may find things I don’t want to know. I hope I find things that I desperately need to know.
Most of all I want to understand the two people who became my parents within the coiled shell of their forty years together, though broken by a painful divorce which lasted a decade. Having lived through that awful time with them, I want to understand the origin of a love which mended their cracked shell, glueing them back together for five more years before my father died.
As I read their words over the next few weeks, I hope I too can cross a bridge back to them both.
If you go back to the etymology of the word “threshold,” it comes from “threshing,” which is to separate the grain from the husk. So the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.
There are huge thresholds in every life.
You know that, for instance, if you are in the middle of your life in a busy evening, fifty things to do and you get a phone call that somebody you love has suddenly died, it takes ten seconds to communicate that information.
But when you put the phone down, you are already standing in a different world. Suddenly everything that seems so important before is all gone and now you are thinking of this.
So the given world that we think is there and the solid ground we are on is so tentative. And a threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and very often how we cross is the key thing.
I emerge from the mind’s cave into the worse darkness outside, where things pass and the Lord is in none of them. I have heard the still, small voice and it was that of the bacteria demolishing my cosmos. I have lingered too long on this threshold, but where can I go? To look back is to lose the soul I was leading upwards towards the light. To look forward? Ah, what balance is needed at the edges of such an abyss. I am alone on the surface of a turning planet. What to do but, like Michelangelo’s Adam, put my hand out into unknown space, hoping for the reciprocating touch? ~R.S. Thomas “Threshold”
Yet three more “mass shootings of the week” making it 32 so far this year: -garlic festival attendees, WalMart shoppers, entertainment venues –
so which of us will be next?
We are unwillingly forced to a threshold we must cross over. Yet we stand stubborn defending our second amendment rights, immobilized, frozen to tradition while dying on the spot, peering out in fear but never peering inward in self-examination.
What prevents us from stopping this insanity of violence from continuing?
The answer is not that more of us should bear arms so a shoot-out is possible no matter where we go. Mass shooters choose to die in their most public and heinous act of hatred and nihilism – being shot to death is no disincentive for them.
We sweep people into office from both parties who only voice platitudes in the face of this repetitive tragedy and offer no viable solutions. Yes, victims (including children!) and their families need our prayers, but they should never have become victims in the first place. We have failed them, again and again and again.
So how many more innocents need to perish? When is it our own turn to be gunned down while simply living out our daily routine? Instead of submitting to the necessary threshing- a crushing winnowing to blow away the chaff of our lives- we defend the status quo and somehow convince ourselves the next shooter will not come to our store, our church, our school or our neighborhood.
History will continue to repeat itself as we die every day, by our own hand or by others’. We must cross the threshold to sane policies together, arm in arm, united in the need to move forward beyond this mess we have made for ourselves.
We all need a good threshing, badly. We need to be worthy of our privileges. We need, in our desperation, to reach out our hands into an unknown space, searching for that reciprocating touch, hoping and praying Someone is there to grab hold and lead us across to a better day and a better way.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me. As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, While God is marching on.
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave, He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave, So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave, Our God is marching on.
(Chorus) Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah! While God is marching on. ~Julia Ward Howe — final original verses of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
We are Your lilies, the glory of this Sabbath morning. Consider us, Oh Lord, Consider us the tears borne of love from Your eyes, So brief and so beautiful.
With my arms raised in a vee, I gather the heavens and bring my hands down slow together, press palms and bow my head.
I try to forget the suffering, the wars, the ravage of land that threatens songbirds, butterflies, and pollinators.
The ghosts of their wings flutter past my closed eyes as I breathe the spirit of seasons, the stirrings in soil, trees moving with sap.
With my third eye, I conjure the red fox, its healthy tail, recount the good of this world, the farmer tending her tomatoes, the beans
dazzled green al dente in butter, salt and pepper, cows munching on grass. The orb of sun-gold from which all bounty flows. ~Twyla M. Hansen “Trying to Pray” fromRock. Tree. Bird
There is much to pray about. The list is endless and the need overwhelming.
Where even to begin?
It is for good reason we are advised by Paul to “pray without ceasing” (the word in Greek is adialeiptos or “uninterruptedly”) in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
It is not only when we audibly and in form, address our petitions to the Deity that we pray. We pray without ceasing. Every secret wish is a prayer. Every house is a church; the corner of every street is a closet of devotion. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson in his sermon: Pray Without Ceasing
A farmer may have an addendum: every barn is a church, every moment kneeling and weeding the soil an act of devotion, every moment of care-taking God’s creation an act of sacramental obedience. Praying without ceasing in the course of one’s day.
Yet even before we clasp our hands together, we are told to “Rejoice always.” -Rejoice before complaining. -Rejoice before requesting. -Rejoice before losing heart.
Let me be breathing in the spirit of the seasons, overwhelmed by joy, before I talk with God. He knows which tears are which.
Wait, for now. Distrust everything, if you have to. But trust the hours. Haven’t they carried you everywhere, up to now? Personal events will become interesting again. Hair will become interesting. Pain will become interesting. Buds that open out of season will become lovely again. Second-hand gloves will become lovely again, their memories are what give them the need for other hands. And the desolation of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness carved out of such tiny beings as we are asks to be filled; the need for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Wait. Don’t go too early. You’re tired. But everyone’s tired. But no one is tired enough. Only wait a while and listen. Music of hair, Music of pain, music of looms weaving all our loves again. Be there to hear it, it will be the only time, most of all to hear, the flute of your whole existence, rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion. ~Galway Kinnell “Wait”from A New Selected Poems
If everyone abandons you and even drives you away by force, then when you are left alone fall on the earth and kiss it, water it with your tears, and it will bring forth fruit even though no one has seen or heard you in your solitude. Believe to the end, even if all people went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness. ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky from The Brothers Karamazov
Suicide rates of teenagers in the United States have increased well over 30% since 2009. It is a national epidemic and tragedy.
Based on the anguish of the patients I see every day, one after another and another, over and over again I hear a too-easy contemplation of suicide, from “It would be easier if I were dead” or “no one cares if I live or die”, or “the world would be better off without me”, or “I’m not worthy to be here” to “that is my plan, it is my right and no one can stop me”.
Without us all pledging an oath to live life no matter what, willing to lay ourselves down for one another, to bridge the sorrow and lead the troubled to the light, there will be no slowing of this trend.
…when there is no loyalty to life, as stressful and messy as it can be, …when there is no honoring of the holiness of each created being as weak and frail and prone to helpless hopelessness as we are, …when there is no resistance to the buffeting winds of life~
please just wait a little longer, only a little longer: don’t go too early
Evening, and all the birds In a chorus of shimmering sound Are easing their hearts of joy For miles around.
The air is blue and sweet, The few first stars are white,– Oh let me like the birds Sing before night. ~Sara Teasdale “Dusk in June”
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars. ~James Agee “Sure on this Shining Night”
It is high summer holding the earth now; our hearts whole and healed in a shimmering dusk.
I weep for wonder that we have this time, at this place, singing under these stars.
May we live sure that on another shining night, sometime, we know not when, we know not how, we will all be together again.