Friday, December 31, 2010

8 minutes before midnight

It is almost 2011. Bern and I didn't go anywhere. We hate going anywhere on New Year's Eve.

There's so much to say about a new year--possibilities, promises, resolutions, all that.

But I noticed a piece of paper Bern had put on her little computer space. It was about a lost dog.

LOST DOG! (it said) REWARD

on it went:

SADIE, a blond, 40 pound Lab mix, escaped from...

on and on it went. Bern took this down from somewhere because the picture of the dog was so similar to our dog Sadie, BB before Bela, who was a Lab mix--Lab and cockier spaniel, go figure and ponder that--who we loved, loved, so profoundly loved. And our Sadie was dead and some other person's Sadie was missing. Painful it was, but she kept it.

So the new year will begin and there will be lost dogs.

Maybe that is how we should approach this new year--knowing there will be 'lost dogs', lost love, lost loved ones, lost stuff, lost and not forgotten, lost and forgotten, lost things.....Like the sheep and the coin and the son from the Gospels, like that.

2011, like any other year, will be a year of loss.

Loss is, it seems to me, a part of life and reality and 'what IS'.

So celebrate and rejoice.

And ponder what last year's losses were. And what this new year's losses might be.

it's now 12:05, my computer tells me.

Happy New Year to you all. It is now 1-1-11. What a remarkable moment.

Watch out for lost things in 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The $9 two dollar bill

I just saw an ad on TV, during the UConn Women/Stanford game--Go Stanford!...except I wanted WVU's women to end the streak in Feb....

Oh, well.

Anyhow, you can, for a short time, get a $2 bill for only $9 if you call right away. The regular price is $30 for a 2$ bill, so, what a deal....

Bern has a theory that I can't fault--we are being sold stuff we either already have or don't want.

And we keep buying.

and buying...

and buying...

Well, maybe we'll restart the economy and lower the national debt by buying $2 bills for $9, plus shipping and handling.

Who knows? Something to ponder....

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

5th day of Christmas

The Christmas Cards I've used for several years are from Michael Podesta in Carrolton, VA.

They say the following:

"If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things and again with things. if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action. When will we have time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? For each one of us there is a desert to travel, a star to discover, and a being within ourselves to bring to life."

Instead of Five Gold Rings, I give you that to ponder on this 5th day of Christmas.

Happy Christmas--5 of 12 days in.....

five golden rings

It's the fifth day of Christmas--happy 5th Day of Christmas.

I've been taking a few days off from writing anything--including the Castor Oil Tree.

I'm at a hard point in my writing about my priesthood. It's a chapter about some very nasty things that happened at St. James in Charleston WV. I just don't want it to be too judgmental. So, it is slow going.

On the Canal today a guy stopped me because I had on my West Virginia University jacket. A guy from the Soup Kitchen gave it to me because he knew I went there. He told me he bought it at the Mall. I'm sure he stole it somewhere. But it is very warm, so I wear it walking the dog on the Canal.

The guy saw my jacket and asked if I was from WV. Well, of course I am. Wearing that jacket makes that clear, I think. (You may not know it, but advertising that you're from WV isn't easy--just like it took me 30 years to admit how much I like country music....)

The guy told me about his grandson (8), who is quite an athlete and his granddaughter (11) who is musically talented. The boy's parents want to keep him from playing football, though he wants to. The guy said, "I told him, wouldn't it be great if the first day you played 2nd base for the Red Sox, your sister sang the National Anthem?"

"No," his grandson said, "what I imagine is when the New England Patriots choose, in the first round, Jake, the running back from West Virginia University."

He told me Jake liked the Mountaineers' uniforms. I had to admit I'm a long time Chicago Bears fan because I love their home uniforms--black helmets and jerseys and white pants with orange and white numbers.

So, what do you know. WVU may have a running back in 10 years or so from Cheshire. I'd like that.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas memories

Since I don't have any Christmas Eve services this year--which feels odd--I've been sitting around, looking at the tree and remembering.

Two things my mother always did:

She would buy small, impersonal gifts--salt and pepper shakers (a big deal in my family, several people collected them), towels, a box of candy, stuff like that--and wrap them with a blank name tag (everyone used name tags then). If someone brought her a present she hadn't expected, she'd go into the bed room and write their name on one of the tags.

She would try to save the Christmas wrapping paper for next year. That was maddening to a child, having to unwrap carefully, but she was way ahead of the recycling awareness of today.

Have a great Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


It's the eve of the eve. I'm really remarkably ready for Christmas this year.

For the first time in decades, I'm not worrying about the Christmas services. I have a bit of nostalgia about it--there was a real 'rush' about those Eucharists and a real commitment to making them special, wondrous, unforgettable.

I never fretted much about the C&E crowd--"Christmas and Easter" parishioners or visitors. In fact, since they wouldn't be there much at other times, I always wanted to make Christmas and Easter astonishing for them.

But this year, I'm not fretting at all.

In fact, I'm wondering where to go to church or if I will go to church at all.

If it weren't for John's dinner party, I'd go to St. Peter's in Cheshire, probably to the second of the three services. In the early evening using Rite One. That might be soothing.

But my friend, John, has a dinner party on Christmas Eve. I've never gone to it and this year we can. His plot is to make people go to Midnight Mass with him at Christ Church, New Haven, the best Anglo-Catholic parish in the diocese. I probably will. It will be a show of great proportions with incomparable music and lots of incense.

Christmas on Saturday was always my greatest nightmare as a parish priest. It meant having two or three services on Friday, a Christmas Mass (hence the word: "Christ-Mass") and two services on Sunday with only the most committed 'church rats' there. Lots of work and no time to really celebrate for me.

This year I don't have all that. I truly look forward to it.

Our trees are trimmed. There are gifts (Bern and I only give each other things we've made--she does some remarkable arty thing for me and I write her a poem or a story. This year, not worrying about 'churchy stuff', I wrote her two stories and bound them in the kind of book you use for photographs. They are a little hokey--since Christmas is, after all, the permission to be hokey and sentimental. But they are good, I think. I hope she loves them.

For the last week and a half I've been barred from the TV room on our second floor because she was working on my present. I don't watch morning TV anyway so it was no problem, especially since the things she's made for me in the last five years (since we've been doing this 'make something Christmas') are all now hanging on the walls of our house. She may have missed her calling. Or, perhaps, found her calling in the things she makes for me in multi-media forms.

Josh and Cathy and the girls won't be here for Christmas. They came here for Thanksgiving and alternate years. But since Cathy's parents live in Baltimore, Josh's family is having its first "family Christmas". They have a tree and 3 girls and we sent them some of the family ornaments. We'll go down on Jan 6--take care of Tegan on Fri (Cathy will give the nannie the day off) and have a second Christmas with them.

Here in Cheshire it will be quiet and sweet. Mimi will be here, but not Tim (her partner) since his parents are moving to Florida and he promised to help them pack over Christmas. The only other person with us will be John, my friend. He always comes for Christmas dinner.

It will be quiet and sweet. Since Mimi is the introvert of our two kids, we'll be able to be with her completely, though she can stay only a little over a day. She works for the American Ballet Theater and they're in the midst of a performance run. But it will be lovely, quiet and sweet.

May I wish you that, more than that, of course, but at least that--May your Christmas be lovely, quiet and sweet.

And may Santa and the Christ Child bring you gifts you didn't expect or knew you wanted....


And, as my friend, Ann's card said this year: "Lang may yer lum reek."

That is, the card says, an old Scottish New Year's greeting: "Long may your chimney smoke...."

Not a bad wish in this weather.

Merry Christmas. May Light and Joy be your companions this Christmastide....

hat hair

If hat hair were fatal, I'd be a dead man.

The first mistake was a haircut. I had a hair cut a couple of weeks ago since not having one for seven months or so. My hair was down to my shoulders but too heavy to curl. So, on a whim, I had it cut.

I had forgotten something I learned long ago: No Good Can Come Of Haircuts.

(The truth is: really long hair is great to grow but not so great to have.)

Whatever the hair cutter did--and she did what I told her, leave it just over my ears and long enough to curl in the back. She did that. And the first day I really liked it. Then the terminal hat hair sat in. With my long hair, most of it wasn't under the hat and stayed normal. Now, after the hair cut, my hair is immediately transformed into little, hair sized worms, that lay close to my scalp and (I believe) are sucking out what is left of my brain.

So, I decided to wear my cap everywhere, inside and out. Which, oh, by the way, made the hat hair even worse.

I am pondering all this because I just took a shower and my hair is full and wild and out of control, moving away from my head as hard as it can. But as soon as I put on my hat, I know I'll have worms on my head....sucking brain matter that I actually need....

So, I think I'll grow my hair really long again. By the time its a good length, I won't have to wear a hat. That will be good.

I do love a healthy head of hair....

Monday, December 20, 2010

the moon, the moon....

Tomorrow is the longest night of the year. Then the light begins again to grow daily. Tonight we are almost as far tilted from the sun as we can be, save tomorrow night.

Light and darkness are the metaphors and images that have filled the imagination of human beings for as long as there have been human beings. Powerful they are, more than we know or could realize.

The moon tonight is shining, full and wondrous, through a covering of clouds. I've been watching it since it rose.

There is a full eclipse tomorrow night, though I'm not sure we can see it here. And I won't anyway since it starts at 1:30 a.m. or so.

God of Darkness, we have known you,
as the Light more dimly came.
And the 'morrow is your apex,
from then on your power's wane.
The Light grows stronger every morning,
leaves us later, when day is done.
Your hold upon us now is lifted
and we lean into the sun.
Darkness powerful loses hold
and the Light begins to run.
The chill you leave behind you
will continue to endure
but Spring will follow winter
and the Light will make that sure.
The Dark that held us all in thrall,
weakens now, cannot endure.
Light that lightens, illumines all.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

talkin' Appalachian

My friend, John, emailed me the other day to ask if I knew what 'tetched' meant. Of course I did since that is part of the Appalachian language and John is from WV too.

Since then I've been thinking about other words that might not be in everyone's vocabulary since they are probably Appalachian speak.

"Bide"--when you ask someone to spend time with you ("come on up on the porch and 'bide' a spell").

"Fetch you come a wharp"--what you'd say to a child who is annoying you to death, 'beat you into an inch of your life'--("Johnnie if you don't put that shotgun down rite now I'm going to 'fetch you come a wharp'!")

"Igit"--someone not quite a moron, but close ("That Johnnie is an 'igit'.") But then, I've heard the Irish say that too.

"Pon my swanee"--what you'd say if something surprised, delighted or confused you. ("'Pon my swanee' that idgit Johnnie is playing with the shotgun again." or "'Pon my swanee', Doris, I never heard such a thing....") {Actually, as an English major, I found the Elizabethan root of that term: it is 'Upon my Swan Lea', an oath, promise, or mild profanity.}

"That dog won't hunt"--Bill Clinton actually said that once, confusing the press corps, but I knew just what he meant: "That's something that isn't possible, a failed idea...."

"Snake doctors"--what Yankees call 'dragon flies'. ("I saw a whole swarm of 'snake doctors' down by the creek.")

"Tetched" came in two forms where I grew up: simply "tetched" meant 'dody' (confused, a tad senile) while 'tetched in the head' meant certifiably crazy ("That idgit Johnnie is teched in the head to be playin' with a shotgun.")

I thought of a couple more but can't bring them up right now. I am, after all, a little tetched. I'll talk to John and my cousin Mejol and add to the list.

Appalachian ISN'T Southern. Remember that.

We all said "AppaLATCHian" until John F. Kennedy visited the West Virginia (to see if a Roman Catholic could beat HHH there) and he pronounced it "AppaLAchian"--lone A as in 'cake'. Well, we thought if that smart fellow from up north said it that way, it must be right....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Trees

We have two...Christmas Trees, I mean.

A huge, 8 foot white pine in the living room and a small, 5 foot spruce in the dining room. The white pine is for me--I grew up with white pine Christmas Trees. The spruce is for Bern, what she grew up with.

We started having two trees several years ago. First because we got tired of alternating white pine and spruce and secondly because we have so many ornaments, after 40 Christmas' together, that one tree wouldn't hold them. This year, some are missing. We both know of some we don't have. But search the attic, basement, closets, cabinets, 'under the piano', where a multitude of things live, we can't find the final container. Josh's first ornament--a strawberry he was given in day care when all the other kids got toys in their draw names gifts (no wonder he became a lawyer, to right the wrongs of life)--is with whatever ornaments, like the balloon lady that is my favorite--are. Maybe we'll find them in Epiphany.

Any way, the spruce is decorated with blue and white lights and has only ornaments that are "flying things" on it. We have dozens and dozens of birds and angels and some butterflies and a winged elephant and fairies and such. Only flying things on the spruce.

The white pine has the other, non-flying ornaments. Lots of lions, I realized this year, from my years of being an Aslan freak. Some balls and ice cycles from my childhood trees, ornaments bought and given when children were born, gifts from dear friends. There are very few of them I can't put in historic context and explain. And those I can't, Bern can. (I'd have no memory at all if it weren't for Bern!)

I love them. I sit each night before bed in each room with only the tree lights on and simply visit with the trees and all those memories.

Not a bad thing to ponder--your Christmas tree.

where I've been and what I've been doing

I haven't been faithful in writing here every day as I told myself I would.

Well, it's not the first time I haven't kept a promise to myself.

I've been doing a lot of writing--or editing, I guess. I've been working on the manuscript I've entitled "Farther Along...memories of priesthood". I have a final draft of the first four chapters.

There is a method and order to what I'm doing--there are some 12 chapters left, all but one in draft form--and I know what order they're going in as I edit and retype them. However, though I know the order, I've forgotten the method that got them in that order! I feel a bit like Robert Browning was asked by a lady (women were 'ladies' back then) what a line in one of his poems meant.

Browning considered for a long moment and said, "Madam" (men called women 'Madam" back then) "when I wrote that line only Robert Browning and God knew what it meant. And now, only God knows."

So--there is a method to the madness of the chapter order, but I don't remember now what it was!

The first chapter is called "The Archangel Mariah" and is about my 'call' (whatever that means). It's about why I decided I wanted to be a priest.

The second chapter is "Job Descriptions" and is about my view of what 'priesthood' is 'about'. It isn't everyone's view, Lord knows, but it is mine.

"In the Beginning" is the third chapter and is about how I got from being a mountain boy longing to be a college professor to Harvard Divinity School and then Virginia Seminary and a life as a parish priest.

Humility is the subject of the fourth chapter, called "Fr. Dodge and Hot Stuff". It's about the beginning of my ministry at St. James Church in Charleston, WV and how an elderly priest and an astonishing parishioner taught me what was necessary--really necessary--to be a priest.

If anyone would like to read those first four chapters, send me an email at and I'll email them to you. I warn you, it's over 80 pages and, if I were you, I'd print it out and read a hard copy. But then, I'm not you, so you can do what you want....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Memories, the sequal

Speaking of memories, I'm still sifting through all the writings Bern found in a drawer that I haven't looked at for 25 years or more.

I found a three-act play called "Reindeer Fair".. . A neat title but some of the pages are missing, though that doesn't matter much since I don't think it would be any more intelligible with all the pages there. I actually remember writing it, thinking it was so avantgard (not in my spell check, but you can sound it out) so post-modern, so existential, so 'absurdist'. It didn't age well. But it is absurd if not absurdist.

Then I found a little Xeroxed (though it may have actually been mimeographed!) booklet called "Offerings 71"--a student publication of writings from the members of Harvard Divinity School. I had two pieces of short fiction in it. "Glad for Gladys" was the first. And then there was this one:


I had hundreds--two shoe boxes full. One shoebox said NUNN-BRUSH on the end. The other said BOSTONIAN. They both said 9 1/2 C on the end, which, though I never thought of it then, must have been my father's shoe size. Not all my little men were soldiers, though most were. I had a few baseball players on little platforms with names on them: Granny Hamner, I remember, and Billy Pierce, and Ray Boone with his glove hand high above his head. And there were bright colored cowboys and brighter colored Indians. A knight or two, with their legs spread for either some sex act or for horses that I didn't have. I didn't have horses for my knights, but I had a statue of George Washington that I found in a cereal box I thought was going to have a little race car in it.

But most were soldiers in various positions of war: throwing grenades, crawling under non-existent bob-wire, shooting from their knee, marching, things like that. They were mostly hard plastic that felt good to bite and so many of my men had at least an arm missing, or a foot, long chewed up and spit out, or else swallowed to keep peas and carrots company in my stomach. My toy soldiers were an all-alone-time toy. I shared them with no one--except my mother. I guess I didn't trust anyone else to know about them, but I would talk about them with my mother for hours it seemed, though I'm sure, looking back, it was only a few minutes each time.

She even remembered their names. I had named them from a box of books I found in the attic. From this perspective in time, I realize they must have been her college books. So their names were Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Will Durant, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, Shelly and Keats, names like that.

My soldiers never played soldier. I didn't play war much with them because somebody had to die and when they died, I'd have to go to the attic and find and new name for them. That was a lot of trouble and I'd sometimes forget the new name and wouldn't know who I was playing with--so, anyway, war was out.

Sometimes I'd take a piece of clay and shape it like a tiny football and divide my men and play a game of football with them. Clay, if touched with the tip of the tongue, will stick to plastic toy soldiers, just as if they were carrying it and running for a touchdown. Those who were throwing grenades were quarterbacks since they looked as if they could easily be throwing a football instead. Those who were marching were ends because they looked like they were about to break into a Z-out pattern. And those who were crawling under imaginary bob wire could just as easily be trying to crawl under guards and tackles and get the halfback. After every game, I'd talk to my mother--sort of a post-game wrap-up--and tell her what had happened. Slashing Sam Johnson was the leading rusher and Bullet Lord Byron was close behind. She seemed interested in their rivalry, but her favorite was Spinoza. Benedict Spinoza, as they say in the game, 'did it all'. He was quarterback, fullback and middle linebacker. He was the most charismatic of all my men since he stood nearly a sixteenth of an inch taller than any and was carrying a short machine gun--a pose that reminded one of strength, character and leadership. He was made of metal instead of plastic. Instead of being olive green, his uniform was painted brown and his soldier helmet was black. He just stood out.

After a long game on a raining afternoon, she'd ask me, "How did Benny do?" and I would tell her about her hero. Sometimes I even exaggerated--told her he caught a pass when it was really Thomas More. Or I'd make up an interception that belonged instead to George Eliot. But it made her smile to hear of Spinoza's feats, so I didn't thing it mattered to lie a little.

And because she liked him, I liked Benny too. I would carry him around in my pocket and more than once he went through the washing machine so the barrel of his machine gun broke off and the flesh colored paint on his face got chipped off. Once, I remember, I thought he was gone forever. He wasn't in my pocket when I got home from playing tag with Herbie Lowman and Billy Michaels. I finally got up the nerve to tell my mother and then burst into tears, thinking she would be angry that I lost her favorite. But the next day he was on my dresser and she claimed no knowledge of how he got there though I heard my father ask her why Mrs. Lowman had seen her in the vacant lot on her hands and knees. My mother said, 'Shhh!', which she said a lot when she wanted to wait until they were in bed at night to talk about something. I could hear them whispering through the wall and many was the night that their soft music put me to sleep.

But the whole point to all this is that when I got the call to come home from college and they told me what had happened, I just had to be alone, away from all the neighbors and relatives downstairs. Before I knew it, I was up in the little attic, sitting on the floor in the dark. I moved to lay down and my hand touched a shoe box. I turned on the 40 watt light and sat for a long time, taking each man out and looking at him, trying to remember his name, trying to remember something we had done together.

Suddenly, paint-chipped but still strong, Benny was in my hand. I didn't remember a lot after that, but I know when my cousin Lizzy embraced me after the funeral, she felt something in my shirt pocket and it was Spinoza. I suppose I had somehow thought he would want to say good-bye too. And I guess he did, in his own way. I wonder if she ever thought of him after I quit playing with them, if she ever explained why she was in the vacant on all fours, if my father understood, if they shared that in their whispers?


Memories are odd things--wispy, wraith-like, shadowy creatures of the cracks and convolutions of the mind.

I sometimes tell people that if Bern wasn't around I wouldn't remember anything.

Other times I say, "If it weren't for faulty memory, I'd have no memory at all...."

Yet other times some ghostly image or sound comes into consciousness for no discernible reason at all. Like this morning. Walking downstairs to have breakfast, suddenly, out of nowhere, came this song:
"Would you like to swing on a star,
Carry moonbeams home in a jar,
And be better off than you are,
Or would you rather be a pig?
A pig is an animal with dirt on its face
Ta-da--da--da--da-da-da ta"

That's where memory fails. So all morning I've been trying to remember the rest of the song, who performed it, when it came from....Don't bother telling me I could Google it. I know, I know.

One of the things that is good about the internet is being able to find the poem that one remembered couplet came from...the capitol of some obscure country...the Latin name for Primrose--stuff like that. But sometimes, it seems to me at any rate, it is instructive to merely ponder lost memories, see if you can tease or entice them out of their hiding place in the unconscious mind, be bothered by not being able to remember....

(Isn't it amazing how "Google"--the name of a company--a noun--has become a verb. "Google it", we say all the time.

Several years ago WVU had a basketball player named Potsnagle--something like that, I don't remember exactly. He was a 6'11" center. But he was also a wonderful three point shooter. He would slip out of the post to above the foul line, take a pass and drop in a long jump shot. The announcer on TV would say, "Villanova's been Potsnagled..."

That and 'googled' are my two favorite nouns misused.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Seminary final paper

Ok, another gem from the treasure trove of old writings Bern found.

This one is a 'gem' because it shows what a arrogant, self-serving, know-it-all jerk I was in seminary. It is, fortunately, the only seminary paper in the archive because if I was thinking and writing like this back then, I simply want no evidence available.

The Title of this final paper is "STANDING UNDER/TWICE BEYOND (an experiencing of Daly and Skinner)".

What a pretentious title!

I wrote it for David Scott, an Ethics professor and one of the most conservative members of the faculty. (Back when I was at Virginia Seminary, the student body was much more liberal than the faculty and we weren't all that liberal. So to say Dr. Scott was 'one of the most conservative' makes him quite conservative. The last time I was down at VTS, six or seven years ago, the Dean told me the Faculty--people my age--were more liberal than the student body. Go figure.)

Anyway, what I want to share about this paper, which was a discussion of Mary Daly, the feminist theologian and B.F. Skinner, the behaviorist psychologist (I have no idea any more what I was thinking when I wrote this. We must have read Skinner and Daly in the class, I guess.)

What I want to share with you was a footnote I wrote about the sentence: "But this is an attempt to understand.*" Seems harmless enough, right? But this is the footnote I wrote.

"The roots of my thinking about what is involved in 'understanding' and much of what I say about 'the Other' from a Christian perspective come from the memory of a class called "A Christian looks at other men's (sic) religiosity" at Harvard in the fall of 1970 by the Rev. Dr. R. Panikkar, a Hindu and a Christian.
The following discussion of 'understanding'--to laborious to put in the body of this paper--depends to a great extent of my memory of how Dr. Panikkar analysed the word."

OK, I've already demonstrated my acute 'political correctness by putting the (sic) after 'men's' in this footnote. I've also alluded to my powers of intellect by warning Dr. Scott that this 'discussion' is 'laborious'--i.e. very scholarly and too complicated to comprehend by people not as brilliant as Dr. Scott and ME. And, honestly, to refer to "the roots of my thinking" is beyond forgiving and unintelligible to boot. But, back to the footnote. I shall return.

"I understand. I understand myself. I have self-understanding. The self I understand is the I.
When I say what I mean...what I mean to say is.... Meaning and saying are different. There is a meaning/saying dichotomy implicit in the sentence above. And, on consideration, it is obvious that I cannot say what I mean because meaning is not saying. But through my saying you can 'understand' what I mean--the meaning of my saying--if my saying reveals to you the presupposition in which my meaning is contained.
We under-stand by pre-sup(b)-posing--by being under the position of the Other's position. In a real way, to under-stand the Other we must share the Other's position.
But if the Other is 'totally Other'--that is, does not share the presuppositions which allow understanding to occur, in the saying of the meaning--we must seek another method of encounter. Such is always the case when a Christian seeks to under-stand a non-Christian. The two do not 'stand' in the same place so that 'under' where the Christian 'stands' is not the same place as 'under' where the non-Christian 'stands'. In order to under-stand, then, we must get under-understanding and seek to transend the saying and the meaning to find 'the un-understandable place...the ground where we meet. Under-standing necessitates making an existential encounter possible by risking our own 'standing-place' to meet the Other under where he stands. That is, to meet the Other as he meets himself. That is, to BE the Other as we are ourselves. Only then, by a merging of beings, do we know the Other."


I must have gotten a lot less brilliant in the 40 years since I wrote that. Or maybe Bob Dylan was right: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now...."

David Scott, when I went to him with an independent study project--another way of saying, "I don't want to go to class"--about "The Theology of Kurt Vonnegut" agreed to let me do it and even read five of Vonnegut's books (who David had never heard of before) and took my forty page paper on that and gave me credits to graduate. I never told him five other professors had turned down the proposal, not because they'd never heard of Kurt Vonnegut, but because they thought it was a stupid idea.

That self-same Dr. David Scott gave me an A on the Skinner/Daly paper, which was, I must implore you to realize, was all as bad as that unforgivable footnote. I had a sense of something that might be interesting but I was too self-aggrandizing, too know it all to write it in some way that might make a difference to someone reading it. What a jerk I was.

Perhaps growing older is a process of 'unknowing', of leaving behind our so misplaced ideas that we are somehow smarter, more insightful, more complex, more ironic than the rest of the Human population. Perhaps growing older is coming to grips in a way that matters with the reality that 'folks are folks' and being a tree in the forest is truly good enough, good enough, better than good enough, about the best it can be.

Ponder that. I wish you would find a paper you wrote in college or grad school so you could realize what a prig you were then and then embrace what a joy you are now....

That's what I wish.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Walking Melvin home

I found another poem in the archival stash Bern found in a drawer. This one I wrote when I was in college. One night, after a movie, a friend and I discovered a little boy who had was at the movie alone. We bought him ice cream and walked him home.


The line at the ice-cream stand
was long and very adult
and Melvin showed off.
But when my friend asked him
what was the most important
thing in the world,
he only answered--

The chocolate stuck to his mouth
and he was our leader:
"a little child shall lead".
And then he said you should
always be nice and sweet
to girls for if you weren't
sure to be they might
hit you.

His mother probably couldn't
make it to the theater
at ten o'clock, he said.
Or maybe she forgot the time.
So she didn't meet her little boy
who was seven years old
and walking home alone
except for

But when she met us on the street
near their apartment
going the other way
and when she only stopped long enough
to kiss him right on
his chocolate mouth
and didn't ask who we were,
we knew.

And bad words and drinking
according to Melvin
will make the Devil
get you
even though his parents
did it a lot
before daddy left
and took Melvin's
brother and left behind

And he said good-by three times
and even kissed my friend
and left us alone
on the sidewalk.
And I can't help thinking about Melvin
and Jesus and girls
and chocolate ice cream
and a mother who passed
her son at night
with two strangers and only

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

World AIDS Day

I remember Bill. He was not the first person I knew who died from AIDS, but it is him I remember.

Bill grew up just outside of Prospect, CT and when he could he fled, going to the west coast and getting involved in movie work.

He was as gay as the day is long in mid-summer. And, he got AIDS.

His sister got it all wrong (she was a nurse I came to love as I loved Bill, but she got it wrong).

She thought he had died of AIDS, but when he showed up, fully alive and in Connecticut, she had to take back what she told people.

He started coming to St. John's. He had helpers since his disease was taking a toll on him. Jim and Lou were his helpers. They're both dead now, but not from AIDS. They were lovers from high school on, back when it was the 'love that dare not speak its name". They never had sex with anyone but each other. No AIDS for them.

At first they dropped Bill off in the parking lot and went for breakfast. Later they walked him inside and waited in the hallway for the Eucharist to end. Finally, when he needed more help, they started coming to church with him and became members until they died--Jim first, then Lou.

Evangelism, St. John's way....

Bill was so sophisticated and kind and sweet that all the older women of the parish adopted him as their son. And he was glad to be so adopted. He worried and fretted about them, called them constantly, gave back the affection they gave to him two fold.

I once asked him to speak on AIDS Sunday. I kept waiting for him to give me what he was going to say and he never did. When he got in the pulpit he said something like this: "I have AIDS and am dying slowly. But I want to clear some things up. You can't catch my disease by sharing the communion cup. You can't catch it by hugging me. You can't catch it by kissing me. We could have sex in the right way and you wouldn't catch it...."

At that point I nearly fainted.

He went on, "But I don't want to have sex with you or anybody. I just want you to know I'm safe and won't kill you and that I love you. Abide with me and I will abide with you."

I wept, so did most of the people there. What a gift he gave us. What wisdom, what Gospel he taught us.

When he finally died, it was difficult and drawn out. I'd go see him at the Hospice in Branford and beg him to die. I think he wanted to but just couldn't, not without a knock down, dragged out fight with Death.

At his funeral some friend of his were upstairs fulfilling his wishes. He wanted a little of his ashes put inside each of the white helium balloons that we would release at the end of the Eucharist.

I think he probably knew how difficult it would be to put ashes in balloons. When I went up to check, Bill was scattered all over the room and his friends were both exasperated and laughing like idiots.

"This is his last joke," one of them said, dropping Bill all over the table, the rug, into the ether.

When we released the balloons, the ashes held them down. They floated against the parish house and then rested on the roof for a long time.

We all laughed. He had taught us irony. He had taught us humor. He had taught us to laugh at the ridiculous and painful realities of life.

I love him still.

going with the dogs

Bern and I went to Ikea and bought a new bed for one of our guest rooms. Bern, as always, is rearranging our house, our space, our lives.

In that room there was a large, two-drawer chest that came with us from Charleston to New Haven to Cheshire. Bern found all this stuff I wrote some 40 years ago in it. I'm still sifting through the stuff and realize a lot of it is melodramatic and lame. But I've come across some gems.

This poem I wrote, probably as a Sophomore in college after a visit home at Easter and a conversation with a high school friend who went into the coal mines after high school. He told me about his beagle's litter of pups and how he loved them so. They kept three of the six, selling the others to people they knew. My friend, unlike me, was an avid hunter. But his story about the puppies moved me to write this poem. It had no title then but I now call it "Going with the dogs"

I must now go down and see the swollen stream
and watch the waters rush down and down again.
And I'll loose my dogs--the three of them
and watch them run free as I sit on
the hilly knoll and look down to the thicket
and then to the swollen stream.

Perhaps there will be ants in the grass
and I will watch them too,
and dread the day that comes so surely
when the dogs will be hunters and their eyes will change.

For now they are like the swollen stream,
like Spring rain, like the grass--
free and wild and in their eyes I see no fear.

But the day comes surely when the older dogs
will teach them to be hunters
and their eyes will change.

That is the worst thing about the world--
the eyes. The eyes must change--
they must see life and hold tears
and be full of fear.

But today, the day that comes surely is not yet.
So I shall look at the swollen stream
and hide my eyes from the dogs as they play
for my eyes have changed already
and have had tears
and are afraid.

Blog Archive

About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.