THIS IS HOW I START MY DAY

Coffee at dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is how I start my days.

At four a.m. I awaken with a start. It isn’t that I wasn’t sleeping well, but this is my witching hour. The first five seconds is the hardest, as in my waking dream, I reach over to gaze upon my wife and instantly realize … she is no longer there. She will never be there again. It is a fleeting and aching “awakening”, but this, too, is part of my healing. The pain dissipates quickly, and I realize that one day I won’t even have this. It’s a cruel way to start each morning, but it is a new morning, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it?

I stretch deeply and take a moment to gaze out the window into the moon-drenched early morning darkness. I am in absolute awe at the beauty of its silence.  This moment belongs to me, alone.

I quietly swing my feet to the floor and sit for a moment. My muse is impatiently pulling me into awakening, but I do my best to resist. I want to sleep just a little bit more, but my eyes have already made out the flashing light on my hibernating computer and just like that, I want to be writing more than I want to be dreaming.

I gently close the bedroom door behind me and make my way into the kitchen. I put water in the kettle, light the stove, and grab my pack of cigarettes. I head out the door, inhaling the wet damp pre-dawn air, thick with the scent of pine and lilacs and the petrichor of moist soil and green grass.  I sit on the second stoop, and light up. The ritual never changes.

Here, beneath the canopy of constellations, I look for my special star. I don’t know what it is called, and I don’t know why it is that star…but I need to start each day in a silent commune before it. Once I find it, I stare at it for a few minutes, emptying my mind of creeping thoughts. I slowly shut my eyes, inhale another drag – and listen. Deeply.

I am listening for the voice of this star. We often converse, as only a man and his star can. I ask this star profound, life-guiding questions. I ask about the width and the depth and the breadth of the “whys” and the “what nows.”  It answers me in a dazzling array of pale blue twinkles.  If I listen hard enough, the answers come.  They always come.

Like little mice on padded feet, words start scampering around my brain. The writing has begun.

I toss the cigarette into the night, watching a spiral of red sparks ascend, then descend, as if to punctuate the purpose of this ritual. From the kitchen, the kettle begins to sing, and I rush in before it hits full crescendo. I pour the steaming water over a cone of coffee grounds and inhale the rising steam. In a seamless arch, I take my cup of coffee to the kitchen table, flip open the lid to my computer, and hit the resume button.

And then I write. And write and write and write.

At this point, what I write is irrelevant. That I write is the point. The wee hours of the morning are not the time to self-critique or to spin a plot. It is the time for the bleeding of words. And in these words, I find my way forward. I find the meaning that often eludes me in spoken words.  I find my healing.

This is how I start my days.

I Bark, Therefore, I Am

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I’m not going to yank your leash – it’s been a busy month. A few weeks ago, my humans took me into the scary place with the man in the white coat. You know the place. It’s where everyone gathers around me as I lay on a cold. steel table and they poke and prod. Seems I had something called cancer and my human’s seemed really, really worried and sad. It couldn’t be all that bad, I thought, as the treats seemed to triple recently… but before I could whimper, “let’s get out of this place”, they left me and went away.

Now, I know I’m a brave boy…at least that’s what they told me as they left. But I certainly didn’t feel brave as the man in the white coat took me into the back room and put me into a deep sleep.

I dreamt of all the eight, wonderful, play-packed years I had spent with my humans. I must have chased ten thousand bouncy things in the park, and they always bought me squeaky things to keep me occupied as they went to work each day. I dreamt of the day they rescued me. I had been kept in a breeders cage since birth, and when I was freed, I had seizures brought on by the new flood of attention and love. But as they said, I’m a brave boy, and I was so happy when they took me home to share their kennel with me. Over the next 8 years, I learned to play and cuddle and found my utmost joy in the little humans that would pet me, cooing, “Oooh..he’s so soft!”

I confess, nothing was as much fun as Christmas at my human’s owners house in Grass Valley when I get my new toys and treats! Didn’t much care for the firecracker day each July, but I found my comfort behind Mama’s legs. Oh, how I dreamed some big dog dreams.

When I woke up, the scary man in the white coat was smiling, and there were my humans!! They had come back (as they always do). My tail thumped as I could see how joyful and happy they were! “I got it all,” beamed the white coated man. “It’s was a low grade cancer and I’d be surprised if it comes back,” he said. I don’t know what all the fuss was about, but my humans were no longer sad, and that was all that mattered to me. I’ve got a lot of living, chasing, and loving to do still yet.

As I left the room, I looked back at the white-coated man and gave a little bark. He wasn’t so scary after all, and I felt I owed him a bark of thanks.

 

Cathedral of Shame

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Alois Ratzinger) becomes final Thursday. After meeting with the cardinals, he departs via helicopter to the papal retreat south of Rome. His abdication of the papacy, however, pales in comparison to his abdication of the truth in the issue of molestation within the church. His legacy will be forever tainted for his abject failure in addressing and attempting to right this terrible wrong.  Shame on him.

My poem below, “The Cathedral of Shame” underscores the lingering pain and shame of those who fell victim to this horrific sexual scourge within the Church.Try as they might, many have tried to return to the fold, but until these crimes are fully owned by the papacy, most of these efforts at reconciliation will become epic and painful fails. Perhaps the next Pope will possess the courage Ratzinger lacked, and will take ownership of the Vatican’s complicity in these sordid crimes against youth. Let’s hope so, because, until they do, the abuse of the body will only be compounded further with the abuse of denial.

The chances are slim, however, that any meaningful redress will arrive with the new pontiff. This is, after all, an institution that took hundreds of years to issue what ultimately amounted to a lukewarm apology for the Great Inquisition, and has yet to take any responsibility for the bloody atrocities of the Crusades. Let’s hope that the addition of the Age of Molestation doesn’t replace the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost with the aforementioned Trinity of Complicity.

Cathedral of Shame

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It was never my intent to return to this place
dark halls of betrayal, and lacking in grace
Lustful intentions, like geysers of steam
scald memories ‘neath mahogany beams

Yet I come on this day to recapture my soul
To quiet the screams now three decades old
Black flowing robes with collars of white
Incensed chambers to the left and the right

The bones of saints litter this brothel of sin
While confessions absolve the evils of men
The innocent novice here silently cries
Behind red velvet ropes of cardinal lies

Like lambs sacrificial to the altar are led
While the pure hearts of angels are quietly bled
I kneel before God, but my prayers silent fall
In the shadow of Christ in this candlelit hall

The peace that I seek here doesn’t exist
Where the holiest men refuse to resist
Hail Virgin Mary, full of sweet grace
Help me to rise and get out of this place

 

Is There Pain After Death: Reflections on the Sandy Hook Tragedy

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Pain that is not relieved in a person’s life continues after they are gone, held as a sordid memory by loved ones.  Just as we retain treasured thoughts of innocence, joy, wisdom and warmth, we preserve images of pain.  We draw a modicum of comfort from the Newtown coroner who reassured us the precious victims of the Sandy Hook massacre did not “suffer long”, but the idea that they suffered at all contaminates memory, preventing healing, healthy grieving and closure. This pain in turn flows across our communities, touching many who may never have met these children and their heroic protectors.

This does not have to be physic discomfort to be treated with pain medication.  The horror of the Sandy Hook shootings, the fear, the fight for survival, the wounds and bleeding, and eventually death, cast intense images that will last more than one lifetime.  Uncontrolled anxiety or fear may contaminate the surviving families, and the community, and corrupt its fiber, as can loss of spiritual path, loneliness, or guilt.  Failure to come to terms with the enormity of this senseless event results in a loss of opportunity, a psychic wound that may never heal.

The death of these children, and the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, will transform families for generations.  I remember the 1989 story of a young man who was shot and killed in a random drive-by in the city of Oakland, CA.  The victim had no relation to his attackers.  No reason could be given by the authorities as to why this random act of violence brought this young man’s life to such a tragic close. But it resulted in his wife becoming chronically depressed and isolated from her family.   She committed suicide, leaving their son a life as an alcoholic and drug addict.  The ripples from that one event spread out and, through the network of that family, caused pain for many more.

When we think of Newtown, we cannot help but focus on those immediate moments for the victims and their family, as well we should.  The opportunity to live one’s life to its fullest, and to its natural end should not be denied, and must be the first goal in treating the survivors.  However, we cannot overstate the need and potential to protect and even nourish future generations by treating pain of all types in the Sandy Hook families sharing that passage and in the community of Newton.

Yes, unfortunately, there is pain after death, and I suspect it is the cause of much waste, anger and tragedy in our society. We must strive to prevent that suffering.  Good things are possible, loved ones can be together, memories shared, and solid foundations laid. Survivors, families, doctors and caregivers must protect and treasure even this difficult time of a person’s life, because as one life ends, others are beginning.