If we want to support each other’s inner lives, we must remember a simple truth: the human soul does not want to be fixed, it wants simply to be seen and heard.
If we want to see and hear a person’s soul, there is another truth we must remember: the soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, and yet shy.
When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself. ~Parker Palmer from The Courage to Teach
I tend to be a crash-through-the-woods kind of person, searching out those in hiding needing help whether they want it or not. Part of this is my medical training: I’m not subtle, I can be brash and bold as I go where no one else wants to go.
Friends have reminded me this actually isn’t helpful much of the time and certainly doesn’t translate well in non-clinical settings. They have a good point. Undoing what I’ve learned isn’t easy, but I’m trying.
Before I trained in clinical medicine, I knew how to blend into my surroundings, to simply wait and listen and take note of what I observe. I never would have been part of a research team observing wild chimpanzee behavior without being born with that skill. The wild and shy around me eventually did show themselves, but it took time and patience and a willingness to let things happen without my making it happen.
I’m trying to relearn what I knew intuitively fifty years ago and unlearn what I was trained to do forty years ago as a “fix-it” clinician. It helps when people remind me to tone it down, back off and simply “be.”
I just might see and hear and understand more than I ever have before.
So, when old hopes that earth was bettering slowly Were dead and damned, there sounded ‘War is done!’ One morrow. Said the bereft, and meek, and lowly, ‘Will men some day be given to grace? yea, wholly, And in good sooth, as our dreams used to run?‘
Aye; all was hushed. The about-to-fire fired not, The aimed-at moved away in trance-lipped song.
Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency; There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
When you go home tell them of us and say – “For your tomorrow we gave our today” ~John Maxwell Edmonds from “The Kohima Epitaph”
I’m unsure why the United States does not call November 11 Remembrance Day as the Commonwealth nations did 102 years ago at the Armistice. This is a day that demands much more than the more passive name Veterans’ Day represents.
This day calls all citizens who appreciate their freedoms to stop what they are doing and disrupt the routine rhythm of their lives. We are to remember in humble thankfulness the generations of military veterans who sacrificed time, resources, sometimes health and well being, and too often their lives in answering the call to defend their countries and ensure tomorrows for all.
Remembrance means ~never forgetting what it costs to defend freedom. ~acknowledging the millions who have given of themselves and continue to do so on our behalf. ~never ceasing to acknowledge the misery endured by soldiers. ~a commitment to provide resources needed for the military to remain strong and supported. ~unending prayers for their safe return home to family and futures. ~teaching the next generation about the sacrifices that have been made by men and women on their behalf.
Remembrance of our veterans should also encourage us as foot soldiers in our current battle with a virus. In this fight, we are called to sacrifice our preferences, our comfort and our personal liberties for the good of the whole.
We have generations of selfless role models to look to for inspiration: we individually endure a measure of misery today in order to preserve countless tomorrows for all.
That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, “a perfect house, whether you liked food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.” Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing! ~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Hobbit
We sleep to time’s hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if ever we wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it’s time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it’s time to break our necks for home. ~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm
Every now and then, I forget to turn off the lights in the barn. I usually notice just before I go to bed, when the farm’s boundaries seem to have drawn in close. That light makes the barn seem farther away than it is — a distance I’m going to have to travel before I sleep. The weather makes no difference. Neither does the time of year.
Usually, after turning out that forgotten barn light, I sit on the edge of the tractor bucket for a few minutes and let my eyes adjust to the night outside. City people always notice the darkness here, but it’s never very dark if you wait till your eyes owl out a little….I’m always glad to have to walk down to the barn in the night, and I always forget that it makes me glad. I heave on my coat, stomp into my barn boots and trudge down toward the barn light, muttering at myself. But then I sit in the dark, and I remember this gladness, and I walk back up to the gleaming house, listening for the horses. ~Verlyn Klinkenborg from A Light in the Barn
I have always been, and always will be a home-body. As a child, I was hopelessly homesick and miserable whenever I visited overnight somewhere else: not my bed, not my window, not anything that was familiar and comfortable. Going away to college was an ordeal and I had to do two runs at it to finally feel at home somewhere else. I traveled plenty during those young adult years and adapted to new and exotic environs, but never easily.
I haven’t changed much in my older years. Even now, travel is fraught with anxiety for me, not anticipation. I secretly had hoped for a prolonged stay-cation for a change rather than rushing about at break-neck speed when we had a few days off from work. I must be careful for what I wish for, as it is now seven months of stay-and-work-at-home with only two brief sojourns to visit out of town children.
It has been blissful — yet I dare not say that out loud as so many people don’t do well staying at home and are kicking the traces to be set free.
Not so me. I am content on our farm, appreciating our “perfect house, whether you liked food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.”
Merely allowed to just be here is my ultimate answer to weariness, fear and sadness.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. ~Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking in Beyond Words
What is it that goes on within the soul, that it takes greater delight if things it loves are found or restored to it than if it had always possessed them? …The storm tosses seafarers about and threatens them with shipwreck: they all grow pale at their coming death. Then the sky and the sea become calm, and they exult exceedingly, just as they had feared exceedingly. Or a dear friend is ill.… All those who long to see him in good health are in mind sick along with him. He gets well again, and although he does not yet walk with his former vigor, there is joy such as did not obtain before when he walked well and strong.…everywhere a great joy is preceded by a greater suffering. ~Augustine of Hippo from Confessions
The ghosts swarm. They speak as one person. Each loves you. Each has left something undone.
Today’s edges are so sharp they might cut anything that moved. ~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”
(written 19 years ago today on the evening of 9/11/01 – with the ongoing events of this year, I find I need to remind myself yet again)
Tonight was a moment of epiphany in my life as a mother and farmer. This world suddenly feels so uncertain after the horrific and tragic events today, yet simple moments of grace-filled routine offer themselves up unexpectedly. I know the Lord is beside us no matter what has happened.
For me, the routine is tucking the horses into bed, almost as important to me as tucking our children into bed. In fact, my family knows I cannot sit down to dinner until the job is done out in the barn–so human dinner waits until the horses are fed and their beds prepared.
My work schedule is usually such that I must take the horses out to their paddocks from their cozy box stalls while the sky is still dark, and then bring them back in later in the day after the sun goes down. We have quite a long driveway from barn to the paddocks which are strategically placed by the road so the horses are exposed to all manner of road noise, vehicles, logging, milk and hay trucks, school buses, and never blink when these zip past their noses. They must learn from weanling stage on to walk politely and respectfully alongside me as I make that trek from the barn in the morning and back to the barn in the evening.
Bringing the horses in tonight was a particular joy because I was a little earlier than usual and not needing to rush: the sun was setting golden orange, the world had a glow, the poplar, chestnut and maple leaves carpeting the driveway and each horse walked with me without challenge, no rushing, pushing, or pulling–just walking alongside me like the partner they have been taught to be.
I enjoy putting each into their own box stall bed at night, with fresh fluffed shavings, a pile of sweet smelling hay and fresh water. I see them breathe a big sigh of relief that they have their own space for the night–no jostling for position or feed, no hierarchy for 12 hours, and then it is back out the next morning to the herd, with all the conflict that can come from coping with other individuals in the same space. My horses love their stalls, because that is their safe sanctuary where peace and calm is restored, that is where they get special scratching and hugs, and visits from a little red haired girl who loves them and sings them songs.
Then comes my own restoration of returning to the sanctuary of our house, feeding my human family and tucking three precious children into bed, even though two are now taller than me. The world feels momentarily predictable within our walls, comforting us in the midst of devastation and tragedy elsewhere. Hugging a favorite pillow and wrapping up in a familiar soft blanket, there is warmth and safety in being tucked in.
I’ll continue to search for these moments of restoration whenever I’m frightened, hurting and unable to cope. I need a quiet routine to help remind me how blessed we are to be here to wake each morning to regroup, renew and restore when it seems even the ground has given way.
My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation. I hear the real, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing It sounds an echo in my soul How can I keep from singing?
While though the tempest round me roars, I know the truth, it liveth. And though the darkness round me close, songs in the night it giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock, I’m clinging Since love prevails in heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?
I Lift my eyes. The cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it. And day by day, this pathway smooths, since first I learned to love it. No storm can shake my inmost calm, I hear the music ringing. It sounds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing? ~Robert Lowry
We are spending a few precious days with our grandson in Colorado before his first birthday. He loves being sung to – he rocks and bops to the melodies and rhythms and then relaxes to sleep listening to us sing the quiet evening hymns we sang to his father at night.
He will see so much in his lifetime that we can’t even imagine. Already in his short time on earth there have been plenty of cataclysmic events, and without a doubt, more are in store.
No matter what comes, we pray he will always hear his parents’ and four grandparents’ voices resounding inside his head when things get rough. The hymns and the prayers said over him will give him calm and confidence in the face of trouble.
God’s reality and truth are shared with him in songs and words every day, and as he someday raises children of his own, how can he keep from singing that out when it is most needed?
What words or harder gift does the light require of me carving from the dark this difficult tree?
What place or farther peace do I almost see emerging from the night and heart of me?
The sky whitens, goes on and on. Fields wrinkle into rows of cotton, go on and on. Night like a fling of crows disperses and is gone.
What song, what home, what calm or one clarity can I not quite come to, never quite see: this field, this sky, this tree. ~Christian Wiman, “Hard Night”
Even the darkest night has a sliver of light left, if only in our memories. We remember how it was and how it can be — the promise of better to come.
While the ever-changing sky swirls as a backdrop, a tree on a hill became the focal point, as it must, like a black hole swallowing up all pain, all suffering, all evil threatening to consume our world.
What clarity, what calm, what peace can be found at the foot of that tree, where our hearts can rest in this knowledge: our sin died there, once and for all and our names are carved into its roots for all time.
Still and calm, In purple robes of kings, The low-lying mountains sleep at the edge of the world. The forests cover them like mantles; Day and night Rise and fall over them like the wash of waves. Asleep, they reign. Silent, they say all. Hush me, O slumbering mountains – Send me dreams. ~Harriet Monroe “The Blue Ridge”
I live where the surrounding hills circle like wagons, strong shoulders promising protection, lying steadfast day after day, while the palette of sky changes with the season.
These are friends in whose shadows I sleep; they will be here long after I take my rest, but I will remember, even in my dreams, I will long remember how light emerges hopeful over the crest at the breaking of dawn.
Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will: Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still! ~William Wordsworth from Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 1802
The world will never starve for want of wonders, but for want of wonder. — G. K. Chesterton
The ending of September is wistful yet expectant. We have not yet had frost but the air has a stark coolness that presages a freeze coming soon. Snow has fallen on the mountain passes and the peaks.
Nothing is really growing any more; there is a settling in, as if going down for a nap–drifting off, comfortable, sinking deep and untroubled under the blankets.
Our long sleep is not yet come but we take our rest at intervals. There is still daylight left though the frenetic season has passed.
We take our calm as it comes, in a serene moment of reflection, looking out from the edge and wondering… pondering what is waiting on the other side.
Broad August burns in milky skies, The world is blanched with hazy heat; The vast green pasture, even, lies Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.
Amid the grassy levels rears The sycamore against the sun The dark boughs of a hundred years, The emerald foliage of one.
Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen, Within the clement twilight thrown By that great cloud of floating green, A horse is standing, still as stone.
He stirs nor head nor hoof, although The grass is fresh beneath the branch; His tail alone swings to and fro In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.
He stands quite lost, indifferent To rack or pasture, trace or rein; He feels the vaguely sweet content Of perfect sloth in limb and brain. ~William Canton “Standing Still”
Sweet contentment is a horse dozing in the summer field, completely sated by grass and clover, tail switching and skin rippling automatically to discourage flies.
I too wish at times for that stillness of mind and body, allowing myself to simply “be” without concern about yesterday’s travails, or what duties await me tomorrow. Sloth and indifference sounds almost inviting. I’m an utter failure at both.
The closest I come to this kind of stillness is my first moments of waking from an afternoon nap. As I slowly surface out of the depths of a few minutes of sound sleep, I lie still as a stone, my eyes open but not yet focused, my brain not yet working overtime.
I simply am.
It doesn’t stay simple for long. But it is good to remember the feeling of becoming aware of living and breathing.
I want to use my days well. I want to be worthy. I want to know there is a reason to be here beyond just warning the flies away.
It is absolutely enough to enjoy the glory of it all.
In the grey summer garden I shall find you With day-break and the morning hills behind you. There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings; And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings. Not from the past you’ll come, but from that deep Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep: And I shall know the sense of life re-born From dreams into the mystery of morn Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there Till that calm song is done, at last we’ll share The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star. ~Siegfried Sassoon “Idyll”
Sixty five years ago today was a difficult day for my mother and me. She remembered it was a particularly hot July 4 with the garden coming on gangbusters and she having quite a time keeping up with summer farm chores. With three weeks to go in her pregnancy, her puffy legs were aching and she wasn’t sleeping well.
She just wanted to be done gestating, with the planned C section scheduled a few days before my due date of August 1.
She and my dad and my sister had waited eight long years for this pregnancy, having given up hope, having already chosen an infant boy to adopt, the papers signed and waiting on the court for the final approval. They were ready to bring him home when she discovered she was pregnant and the adoption agency gave him to another family.
I’ve always wondered where that little boy ended up, his life trajectory suddenly changed by my conception. I feel some accountability.
Every subsequent July 4, my mother would tell me about July 4, 1954 when I was curled upside down inside her impatiently kicking her ribs in my attempts to stretch, hiccuping when she tried to nap, and dozing as she cooked the picnic meal they took to eat while waiting for the local fireworks show to start.
As I grew up, she would remind me when I cringed and covered my ears as fireworks shells boomed overhead, that I leapt startled inside her with each explosion. She wondered if I might jump right out of her, so she held onto her belly tight, trying to calm and reassure me. Perhaps I was justifiably fearful about what chaos was booming on the outside, as I remained inside until the doctor opened Mom up three weeks later.
Now I know I am meant for quieter things, greeting the mystery of each morning with as much calm as I can muster. I still cringe and jump at fireworks and recognize I was blessed to be born to a family who wanted me and waited for me.
May there come a day when every baby knows such a blessing.