In April I will have been retired from full time ministry for 3 years. How the time flies. But back then, before I retired, I had printouts of several dozen poems on a shelf of a window in the chapel of St. John's. That was because at daily noon day prayers--attended by two or three and sometimes more--we had given up on reading from the daily lectionary and read poems instead. Sometimes from well-known poets--Billy Collins was the favorite--and sometimes from obscure, unknown poets, like me.
When I left, I thought I got them all, but I believe I must have loaned some to people who never brought them back or left some there. For reasons beyond my ken, they all aren't on my computer, so for almost three years, I've been looking for a poem called "The Trouble with Finitude" without success. But then I discovered that I had included it in something else I'd written. I just discovered that today. So, I share it with you with the African saying, "these are my words, if they are a blessing to you, keep them well; and, if not, send them back to me with your blessing please...."
The Trouble with Finitude
I try, from time to time,
usually late at night or after one too many glasses of wind,
to consider my mortality.
(I have been led to believe
that such consideration is valuable
in a spiritual way.
God knows where I got that...
well, of course God knows,
I'm just not sure.)
But try as I might, I'm not adroit at such thoughts.
It seems to me that I have always been alive,
I don't remember not being alive.
I have no personal recollections
of when most of North America was covered by ice
or of the Bronze Age
or of the French Revolution
or the Black Sox scandal.
But I do know about all that through things I've read
and musicals I've see
and the History Channel.
I know intellectually that I';ve not always been alive,
but I don't know it, as they say
"in my gut'.
(What a strange phrase that is,
since I am sure that my 'gut'
is a totally dark part of my body,
awash with digestive fluids
and whatever remains of the chicken and peas
I had for dinner and strange compounds
moving inexorably--I hope--through my large
and small intestines.)
My problem is this:
I have no emotional connection to finitude.
All I know and feel is tangled up with being alive.
Dwelling on the certainty of my own death
is beyond my ken, outside my imagination,
much like trying to imagine
the vast expanse of interstellar space
when I live in Connecticut.
So, whenever someone suggests that
I consider my mortality,
I screw up my face and breathe deeply
pretending I am imagining the world
without me alive in it.
What I'm actually doing is remembering
things I seldom remember...
my father's smell, an old lover's face,
the feel of sand beneath my feet,
the taste of watermelon,
the sound of thunder rolling toward me
from miles away.
Perhaps when I come to die
(perish the thought!)
there will be a moment, an instant,
some flash of knowledge
or a stunning realization:
"Ah," I will say to myself,
just before oblivion sets in,
"this is finitude...."
Just something to ponder as we todder along toward that Mysterious Door that leads to whatever comes next....
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