these noble souls
upon the wind
Be of courage,
hold the line,
these noble souls
upon the wind
Be of courage,
hold the line,
Do not say, too late
to heal from the deepest
gash within your heart, nor
to wash your anger with the
cool grace of forgiveness,
nor for laughter with an old friend;
Do not say, too late
to know the gentle touch of love,
nor to find the way from darkness,
nor help another find his way
into the light;
Do not say, too late
to change this world
or at least your small
corner of it,
nor to dance,
or play or sing;
Do not say, too late
to leave disappointment
and fear and pride behind
to walk in the peace
of letting go;
Do not say, too late
to peer deep within your soul,
tarnished though it be,
and to see yourself
completely and learn to
cherish all that you are
and will become;
Do not say, too late
too late for hope,
too late for adventure
too late for comfort,
nor too late for joy;
Do not say, too late.
Did you get my message?” she asked.
I had turned off the ringer on my digital leash—phone, I mean—so I hadn’t realized she had called.
“Everything is okay, but…”
We’ve all felt the ache in our stomach and racing of our hearts when the phone rings late at night. If you’ve raised a child, worried about an ill family member, or have someone you love going through a challenge, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’ve had calls like that from my daughter,” I’m okay but, I’ve had a wreck.”
And from my son, “I’m okay but there’s someone pounding on my door.
But when you get that kind of call from your Mother, knowing that she and your Dad live an hour and a half away, well, it kind of makes your mouth go dry.
This time my 83-year-old father had attempted a full gainer off the high dive—no that’s not right—wait. It was his night at Fight Club. Nope. Not that’s not right either. Ah, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that a quick trip to the ER and about 30 stitches later, he was raring to go again. Well, maybe not raring.
When he called me from the car, doing his best Indian accent, he told me he was wearing his turban; a gauze bandage wrapped around his head. I told him I was going to buy him a helmet and some shoulder pads. He laughed, told me he was pretty banged up, but was gonna live. But I digress.
When we swapped texts last night, he told me he appreciated me coming down to check on him. He told me that he loved me and knew how much I care about him and Mom that he would be okay. He told me Mom was taking good care of him. He told me not to worry. And I thought how about how much both of them inspire me.
Life takes courage. It takes determination. It takes a sense of humor. And the people I call Mom and Dad are full of all three. Lord, they raised me. Just feeding me and keeping me in shoes that fit took all three. And it has taken them all for both of them as they have dealt with the unexpected challenges and opportunities of life; moving across country, career changes, family stuff, and some bad news from the doctor from time to time. Plus, there was the whole Jimmy Carter Presidency. But they keep going. They keep laughing. They keep staring into the face of difficult things and smiling. As my Mother says, “you just do what you gotta do.”
I’m sure they’ve had their moments of fear, those moments in the middle of the night when you wonder how things are going to turn out. I’m sure they’ve shed some tears I’ll never know about. And I’m sure they worry about me more than they worry about themselves. They are indeed made of stern stuff. I hope I’m made of some of that too.
Now lest I end this little tome a maudlin note, you should know I’ve given up on the notion of a helmet and shoulder pads. I told Dad bubble wrap would be easier and cheaper so the next time he rides his skateboard, he’ll be ready. And that scar over his left eye is just gonna make him even sexier with the eye patch and the pirate hat he’s getting for Father’s Day. He’ll probably wear them while he’s running the chain saw I gave him a few years ago.
And Mom, if you’re reading this don’t cry.
time just erases
the ragged dark traces,
these wide open spaces
and seeing new faces
carry such fresh little graces;
fire’s molten white dross
that’s refining some loss
or bearing some cross
over stones damp with moss
such pains you must toss;
though some surely leer
whilst straining to hear
heart’s voice speaking clear
there’s no more to fear
whatever comes near
these breakers might roll
yet this virtue extol
to be finally whole
and release all control
if you’d quiet your soul.
I got one of those emails today. You know, the kind you really want to open, hoping it contains good news; the kind that may be full of promise, yet causes you to hesitate because it may be full of disappointment.
News like that used to come addressed in bold face type on a #10 envelope. Sometimes they were metered with the correct postage; sometimes they actually had a stamp on them. No more. Now the twin imposters of glory and despair arrive in digital format, decrypted zeroes and ones, coming from the strange and mystical world of cyberspace.
These letters, well, emails I mean, they arrive with the appropriate salutation, Dear Mr. Owens, and are always followed by either, we are pleased to inform you, or, we regret to inform you. They can be communications about a dream job, admission to a graduate program, or, in my case, to a writer’s conference at a “prestigious” university. And though the language and means of communication may be different, the same cocktails of hope and despair can be mixed from something as serious as a medical test or as seemingly trivial whether we match with someone on a dating site. Every day is full of opportunities to choose hope and despair, or peace and anxiety.
For this recovering Type A, my practice of meditation and mindfulness has helped me begin to stay in the middle path of my emotions. The middle of the river, the main channel, is where the deep water is. Most of the snags and rocks of pride and humiliation, ecstasy and disappointment, ambition and sloth, those are near the edges. Knowing they are there, giving them a name, it helps me. That way I can keep a closer eye on them.
You’re probably wondering what I found in my letter this morning. But you’ll have to wait a bit longer. Some really profound bullet pointed wisdom is about to follow. Be patient. Wait. Check that. Don’t be patient, choose patience. Choose. It’s a powerful word. It really is the essence of mindful living.
Choosing is simple. It just isn’t easy.
The chattering voice of self-imposed expectations, our belief about how the world should be or how people should behave, they make our choosing difficult sometimes. Choosing to reset our expectations or how we will respond to our gloriously messy lives is a practice. It takes a little work. But it’s well worth the effort.
So back to my email.
Mine was one of those that began, we regret to inform you. My application has been declined. Truth is, I really wanted to go. But when I chose to apply, to take the risk of disappointment, I decided choose to accept whatever decision without regret, without disappointment or to give up. I decided I would stay in the middle of the channel, away for the rocks. I like it here. The water’s nice. Come on in.
“I don’t know what else to do,” Grayson said.
He looked at the face of the man to whom he had always turned in times like this, waiting for reassurance. The deep furrows of life, plowed by both joy and sorrow, stretched across the man’s forehead, fading into wisps of thinning gray hair. Grayson’s father had always been a man of few words, always pausing before he spoke, as if he were listening for some metaphysical prompting.
Though most of his father’s eyesight had been stolen by time, the man’s vision was still piercing. And though his work had robbed him of most of his hearing, the man often claimed it was the best thing that had ever happened to him. “Turn these damn hearing aids off and the noise and distractions of life fade into a kind of white noise that will let a man think.”
Grayson waited as long as he could and finally prompted his father. “What do you think I should do, Dad?”
Jack Johnson had always been a man of action. A man who set goals and made lists and achieved things that had seemed effortless to his son and just about everyone else. His insights were keen, his solutions pragmatic. So when he finally spoke, Grayson felt like he was getting very bad news from his doctor.
“There’s nothing to more to be done.”
Grayson was desperate. Aching. Even angry. He wanted answers. He needed answers. There had to be some way to fix this, bend things to his own will, some path out of this wilderness. Now he was even more bewildered, thought maybe if he just explained the situation better his father would understand and then offer some morsel of wisdom that would set his world right again. But before he could speak his father continued.
“Sometimes, you’ve just done all you can do. And you have to let go. You have to stop striving to fix everything. You gotta realize you can actually make things worse if you don’t. Doesn’t mean you won’t be hurt, or angry, or confused about it still. It just means you accept things as they are. Even accept the fact that you’re hurt or angry or confused sometimes. That’s where the peace is.”
Grayson’s shoulders sagged and he blew out a long deep breath, thick with exhaustion.
“People have a lot of buts in their lives when they should have more ands.”
“What the hell does that mean, Dad?”
“It means that its possible to feel two things at the same time. You can let something go and be hurt. You can be disappointed, even be betrayed, and still let it go. You can’t always hurry peace. You have to keep acknowledging the pain, make friends with it, to really let it go.”
Grayson thought he was beginning to understand. A little.
“When your Momma got sick, I was angry. Scared. Wondered how I would live without her. She knew she was going to die and so did I. There was nothing to be done. We could have chosen anger and argued, but she took care of herself or, but it’s not fair. Truth is, we did some of that. Somehow we figured out all that we needed to say was she was sick and we were hurt; and scared and that somehow we were going to live while she was dying. We let go of struggling to keep her alive. There were times when we were good at it and there were times when we weren’t. Struggling against the reality of things just made things more difficult.”
Grayson always felt comforted by his father’s words. They had always been a calm harbor in the rough seas of life. He felt better for having told the man about his struggle, but was still longing for a solution.
“I’m gonna have to think about this, Dad. I think I see what you mean. But I’m still confused.”
His father smiled.
“You mean you think you see what I mean and you’re still confused. They’re both true, son. Nothing wrong with that, just the way things are sometimes.”
Generally, I rarely write about politics here. Truth is, I don’t think I’ve written a single essay about politics since about 1980. (Well, maybe one.) I was twenty years old then and full of myself, proud and unaware of how good I had it being born white, male and middle class. So while this little tome won’t be about specific political candidates or their proposed policies (well, maybe a little), I feel compelled to make a few observations about how abysmally bad our choices for POTUS seem to be this election year. More importantly, I want to address the people who are to blame for it. More on this later.
For the moment, let’s talk about policies. Here’s what I think I know.
One guy running wants to build a wall. He’s a deal maker and I suspect that’s as much a straw man as anything else. But it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt given he is willing to allege just about anything about his political opponents. He campaigns on style over substance. He wants to make other people pay for the wall he would build and I wonder how he plans to do that. And I also wonder what unintended consequences such an attempt might have? I wonder about the consequences of his bombast on the world stage. Pointing fingers and poking people in the eye may be good for a campaign, but I’m not sure it’s good for governing. I’m also leery of anyone who doesn’t immediately dismiss the Klan when he has an opportunity. How is that even possible? I don’t think he’s a racist; not really. But at best, it shows how poor his “heat of the moment” skills are.
There is one candidate whose policies I think I actually understand. I think he’s probably genuine in his beliefs; but beliefs lead to actions and I fear he believes too many things are free. He seems to see certain types of people and corporations as the manifestation of evil. He’s actually managed some restraint as he campaigns and has deftly avoided, for the most part, attacking his only opponent on personal grounds. I find this is refreshing. But nothing is free and at some point just taking something from one person to give to another seems only to perpetuate dependency, entitlement, and the probability of even more class envy. Sure, there are people who genuinely need help. And I think we should try to give it. But there are no panaceas. Take a look at Europe. We’ve been trying to build the Great Society since Johnson was president. As Doctor Phil would ask, “How’s that workin’ for you?”
There’s also a guy from Texas. He’s really smart, no doubt. He went to great schools and from what I can tell, worked really hard there. I suspect he’s genuine in his beliefs too. He’s part of the crowd that invokes the name of “the founders,” and I think he believes in a kind of Manifest Destiny or Divine Providence that troubles me. I admire him standing on his principles and fighting for what he believes is right in the Senate. I’m just not sure he realizes we are a nation of varied beliefs. I think he understands the American Dream in some ways, especially given his heritage. But I wonder if he realizes that our form of government, republican democracy, was founded to protect the rights of the minority, protecting them from the potential tyranny of the majority, rather than to foist his beliefs on all of us. I wonder if he recognizes that “the founders” were flawed men whose world views were influenced by the times in which they lived. Our times are far more complex and while the founders did create something remarkable in giving birth to our nation, I’m not prepared to grant them deference as demi-gods.
There is also a candidate who would be our first woman President. I think she is probably very bright. I’m not always sure about her motives and I don’t really understand much of what she is for or against. I’m sure she would like to see our nation’s healthcare system become something close to single payer than we have now. I think she understands the world is complex and that what you say publicly and how you say it matters. But she’s part of a political class of which I have grown weary. There are those like her on the other side of the political aisle. I’m not wild about them either. Worse, she may have made some grave errors in judgment about how to protect our bravest serving abroad; and in how she’s handled herself with regard to a particular email server. Truth is, I don’t know. Best case, it just feels icky. I know she’s for women. I am too. My mom is a woman. My daughter is a woman. They should be treated with respect, recognized for their contributions to society, and paid fairly. But I wonder about how this candidate has treated other woman sometimes too.
So what’s a boy to do? Not vote? That’s not an option. Hold my nose and vote for the least offensive candidate? I’ll black out if I pinch that hard. Move to Canada? Too cold. I’m still sorting it all out. But I have a few more thoughts, now that I’ve made managed to make everyone angry.
As a nation, I fear we are getting what we deserve, that we are all to blame for slate of Presidential candidates from which we may choose this year. I fear that we’ve forgotten that we are all Americans. Black and White. Rich and Poor. Male and Female. All of us. Together. Gay and Straight. Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Some of us are good. Some of us are bad. And if those of us who are good allow the current slate of candidates to divide us further, to appeal to our inner two-year-old, then shame on us. It’s time to demand candidates who deal with substantive matters of policy rather than treat the process as if it were some bad reality television show. We’ve got to stop accusing one another all the time. It has to become possible to have legitimate differences of opinion and still treat one another with respect—and act with a little humility for a change. All of us. It’s not too late.