Friday, August 30, 2013

Beach Magic

Oak Island, NC Friday

Last day at the beach. We'll start home tomorrow before noon--Tim and Mimi to Raleigh to catch their flight to NYC; Bern, John, Sherry and I in the Land Rover going to x-143 off I 95 to spend the night just north of Fredricksburg, VA. Last day is quiet, people feverishly finishing books, trying to eat everything in the refrigerator, feeling wistful. I remember spending three weeks and a couple of times a month on this island. My dream would be two weeks next year. Maybe Jack, Sherry's husband will be retired by then and can come with us. Even if Tim and Mimi could only stay one week, it would be great. Maybe even Josh, Cathy and our granddaughters could come for part of the first week and Mimi and Tim for the second. That's what I'd like anyway, but the girls would have to come the first week so we'd have a week to rest up and recover!

This morning there was a moment of beach magic.

Tim and Mimi were out in the calm ocean (yesterday afternoon it was knocking people down but this morning it was like a big lake) when one of the ubiquitous pelicans came crash diving not 5 feet from them. When it bobbed to the surface it looked at Tim and Mimi and Tim and Mimi looked at it.

The huge bird came nearer and stopped, then Tim and Mimi moved toward the bird.

John and I were in the gazebo, watching.

The meet and greet went on for over five minutes until Mimi started to try to get on the ocean side of the bird and it flew away, flapping its wondrous wings.

You don't get close to pelicans, they being to noble to traffic with humans. But there for over 5 minutes, Mimi and Tim could have reached out and touched the bird (though they had better sense that to try that!) Tim was who called it 'beach magic'. Mimi just was amazed at how wierd pelicans are up close.

At one point John picked up one of the dozen or so devices we have with us that will take a picture.

Then he put it down.

"This will be much better in our memories than in a photograph," he said.

And he was right.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Still there

Today, the next to last day, things get fragmented. Tim took Mimi to Yoga and then they bought the 'big fish'--two red snappers. John drove his Land Rover around for an hour or so. Bern made the stuffing for the snappers. I read and read. Sherry's niece and grand-niece came to pick her up and she went to Southport with them for several hours. Tim and Mimi and Sherry got into the roughest surf we've had and Tim helped Sherry avoid drowning. Then we ate the big fish and now everyone but Bern and I am watching Family Guy in the living room while Bern watches the US Open Tennis in our bedroom and I type this.

The problem is this: a week is not enough. When Josh and Mimi were young we'd come to Oak Island for at least three weeks and several times for a month. That's enough time to get into Beach Time and stay on it, lost in linear time, often not knowing what day it is, or what week.

But just a week means by Thursday people are dreading going home--or longing too (like Bern and I longing to get home to our Puli)--so we start to fragment. Just protecting our identity and longing to keep the community together.

Tim and I had a late night conversation about 'belief' vs. 'practice', which I'll write a lot about when I get home and have the time and have my Puli dog with me....

One more day and then the drive home for Sherry, John, Bern and me. Tim and Mimi will fly our of Raleigh to NYC on Saturday. We'll all be home on Sunday, hopefully early enough to get Bela out of the kennel....

See you later.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

being there

It's 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Tim is reading on a chair in the living room. Sherry was on the couch reading until just now when she went to check on the butter beans she grew in New Haven and brought to the beach for us to eat. We won't eat them tonight. John is cooking tonight, something involving ham and beans and yellow grits. Mimi and Bern are down in the Gazebo, reading. I was reading until I took out this laptop John gave me and began writing this blog. John, who read most of the day, is taking a nap. There is ice-tea, gin and tonics and white wine being consumed as people read.

Not much going on. And that is pretty much what is going on in the house with the amusing name 'Andromeda Strand' on East Beach Road on Long Beach on Oak Island. Five of us went into Southport for lunch at the Southport Provision Company which has a boat charter service and 'advise' as well as a restaurant right on the water in open air. Conch fritters, onion rings, tuna sandwiches, crab cake sandwiches, steamed clams, potato salad and cucumber salad were consumed along with John's incongruous hamburger, along with beer. Mimi, Sherry  and Bern went to Yoga this morning and John and I went to breakfast--biscuits and sausage gravy and grits for me. Tim slept in.

Other than that, reading and conversation and laughter and irony and humor and a great deal of silence when people are reading, which is almost constantly. I'm on my 4th book in 4 days--The Cuckoo's Calling which J.K. Rowling (think Harry Potter) wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Very good. People occasionally go bob in the surf or look for shells or don't.

Not a lot of 'doing' going on.

The ocean waxes and wanes and purrs. The birds fly up and down and stop to eat. We can see a mile in either direction and right now, in that two miles, there are maybe 30 people to be seen. On the beach, not much going on....At the Andromeda Stand, more 'being' than 'doing'....

"Being" is what makes it 'being there...'

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


We arrived (John, Sherry, Bern and me) on  Saturday (after the two days in Travel Hell and John's Land Rover) about 4 pm, Mimi and Tim flew to Raleigh and got here about 5.

Since then (it's Tuesday noon now) it's pretty much what I said it would be: lots of laughter and the gentle teasing of love; lots and lots of good food and great weather; white wine, boutique beer and white wine; all of us sleeping well and reading at least a book a day; and birds, lots and lots of birds.

I watched this morning from the gazebo half-way between the deck and the steps down to beach level while 60 or70 gulls of several types lined up in double file to stare out to sea from the water's edge. They're still there several hours later, patient and hopeful as early Christians facing into the rising sun to see if today is the day the Lord returns. I don't know what they're doing. I may go down to the ocean in a while to see if they fly away and then come back for whatever conference or meeting or workshop they are attending.

Besides several species of gulls, there are grackles, sandpipers, swirling terns, tiny seabirds that feed on the cochinos the waves bring in and run back to dry when the next wave arrives. And pigeons, I don't remember so many pigeons on Oak Island before. They seem to be nesting in the roof of the gazebo. If you're quiet you can hear the young pigeons rustling above your head. (Pigeons, I happen to know, stay in the nest months longer than any other bird--until they're almost grown. Which, by the way, is why you never see baby pigeons....)

In the marshes north of the beach--Long Beach is a south facing beach, so if you're staring out to sea you should imagine the Caribbean rather than Europe--there are the herons and other long-legged, long-necked, graceful birds.

And then there are the pelicans, confederation after confederation of them. Oak Island is a major breeding ground for Brown Pelicans and they soar and dive and fly in breathless formations up and down the beach with what seems to be some Grand Purpose in mind. I love the pelicans, so grave and serious, so acrobatic and adept--their shadows proceeding or following them up the beach in their group flights. (Since it is a south facing beach the sun moves down the beach from east to west, never shining in your face as you look toward the Bahamas.)

Tim, Mimi and Sherry just got back from buying shrimp, fish (and if I correctly identify the other bags from Fruit and Brew) an abundance of alcoholic items.

I best go, since the quiet time always ends when people return from foraging (hunter-gatherers with credit cards are we....)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Almost there...

On the morning after next, Bern and I will drive Bela to the kennel and then go to New Haven where we'll meet John Anderson and Sherry Ellis and start driving toward Oak Island, North Carolina. We take two days down and two days back. On Saturday afternoon, Mimi and Tim will arrive in the car they rented in Raleigh after flying from NYC. Then will come, arguably, my favorite 7 days of the year. With those folks in a beach front house on an island off the coast of Southport, NC. Some of my favorite people in the whole world, together for a whole week, on a beach, with nothing we 'need' to do or 'have' to do. Just being together with salt and sea and sand and pelicans and lots of good food.

I think I've told you Bern and I went to Oak Island for the first time in either 1975 or 76. And we went every year for about 20 years after that until our children rebelled that it was 'too boring'. But we've gone back, thanks to Mimi and Tim, who re-discovered it 5 years ago. Mimi, Tim, John, Bern and I are constant. This is Sherry's third year. We're staying in a house named The Andromeda Strain--for some reason.

It will be wondrous and good. It will be hot during the day--and if the air is 87, the ocean will be 85--the Gulf Stream runs around Oak Island. And it will be cooler at night and the sky will be amazing, even with the ambient light from Southport off to the left. you can see the Milky Way, which you can't see in Cheshire.

And these wondrous people will read and be quiet most of the time, and cook incredible meals and we will drink wine and sleep deeply and wake each morning to be present to 'family', though John and Sherry and Tim aren't really blood.

The only thing missing will be the other 6 people who are my family: Josh and Cathy and the three granddaughters--Emma, Morgan and Tegan--and Jack Ellis, Sherry's husband, who has to work and can't come to Oak Island.

That makes, finally 12 people, exactly the only 12 people Bela, our Puli, loves. But Bela can't come to the beach since he travels badly and barks most of the time he's in a car. For a two day trip both ways, that would get real old, real fast.

But that's where we'll be. I'll try to use someone's laptop to add to Under the Castor Oil Tree if I can. But if I'm not here for 10 days or so, know this, I am with people I love profoundly in a place I've loved for much of my life and we are eating well. And being happy just to be in the same space, whether we talk or not.

Perfect vacation is what I call that....

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I saw you standing alone....

I just went out to look at it--the 'blue moon'. A tad disappointing, not blue at all. But it is a deal of some significance.

A 'blue moon', in case you wondered, is the third full moon during a season. Most seasons (winter, spring, etc.) have only three new moons. Why it is the third of four and not the fourth, I can't tell you. I never said I was an expert in moons.

When it happens in August it has lots of other names--some from Native Americans and some from ancient cultures elsewhere. A blue moon during the harvest is a big time deal apparently.

But the thing is this: it isn't 'blue' at all.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Dr. Dolittle and me

It just occurred to me today that since I retired I talk to animals more than anyone than Bern--and perhaps even more than I talk to her. We've been married 43 years come September 5th and have know each other since 1964--that's 49 years, so we can communicate without words much of the time.

Someone once asked me--7 or 8 years ago, when I was still Rector of St. John's in Waterbury, 'what I did." And when I thought about it I realized 'what I did' was "walk around and talk a lot".

I talked to dozens, sometimes hundreds of people a day. That was 'what I did'--I talked to parishioners and folks in the soup kitchen and folks there for 12 step groups and folks passing through and folks using the building and folks inside the building and folks on the street. What I DID was walk around and talk a lot.

Since I retired, I don't talk to people that much. I seldom get calls. I call Bea at the Cluster office a couple of times a week, I talk (not enough) to Josh and Mimi, our children, I talk to clerks in the stores and my clergy group on Tuesday morning and to people at church on Sundays. And to Bern.

But mostly I talk to Bela and Luke and Maggie, our dog, cat and parakeet. I talk to them from the time I get up until I go to bed. They are all good listeners, being creatures. And I mostly praise them for being 'good dog' or 'good cat' or 'good bird'. Maggie used to fly away when I talked to her and cling to the far side of her cage. But now I talk to her and even when she's eating, she doesn't fly away. Granted, most of what I say to her has to do with her singing--which she does constantly and sometimes at such a pitch it is painful to human ears--and about the music she listens to on the public radio station from Sacred Heart University that mostly plays classical music and on weekends modern music. The radio in the kitchen is beside Maggie's cage and always on from when Bern or I get up until the last one of us goes to bed. Maggie loves classical music and I must say. since we tuned into WSHU instead of WNPR (though I still listen to that in my car) the music rather than a day full of talk and news, has made us all calmer and more content. I thank Maggie for that.

My monologues with Bela and Luke go on all day. I tell them things about themselves (Good cat, big boy, buddy, best friend) and about what to do (eat your breakfast/lunch, let's go out, go to the 'big bed', go upstairs, find the woman....stuff like that). And often I simply ponder things with them about politics, philosophy and religion.

They're good listeners. It's a joy to talk with them and I do it all day.

I'm about to go ask Bela if he wants to go pee--which he does, I already know--but it seems polite and right to ask him. And when he does I'll tell him what a big boy he is and when we come back in I'll ask him if he'd like a treat (why ask? But I do and give him one) and not much later, since it's 10:40 p.m., I'll suggest we 'go upstairs' to the 'big bed', and we will. Then I'll talk to him a bit more and kiss Bern good-night if she's still awake or just touch her softly if she's already asleep and Bela and I will settle down for a good night's sleep. I'll even tell him 'good night', though it's probably not necessary.

Talking to creatures is much of my life. And I love that....

Dumb phones

I had a dumb phone until Saturday. All you could do on it was receive calls and make them. (Though I did get a text message from time to time which I had no idea how to return....) Then I tripped over my own feet and it fell out of my pocket and broke in two. The keys still worked but the screen was dead.

My phone  company is Consumer Cellular--which I found in an AARP ad. I'm not sure if anyone under 50 can have Consumer Cellular. But maybe.

I went on line and discovered that Sears carried Consumer Cellular phones so I wouldn't have to have one shipped to me. Since we're leaving Friday for North Carolina, that's an important thing. On Sunday, after church, I went to Sears in Waterbury's mall. I asked two employees about Consumer Cellular and got blank stares. But the third person told me to go to 'electronics' and I did and there were all these Consumer Cellular phones. Apparently you have to have one of their phones to use their service.

So I bought the cheapest of them all--$39.95--plus $5.25 for a two year plan if I break it...which I do a lot...that would give me a new phone for free.

I got it home and charged it Sunday night--at least 6 hours, the book said. And this morning got it activated and got my phone number transferred to this new phone. The woman, India was her name, did all that by typing on a computer. I asked her if she understood how that happened and she, honestly, admitted she had no idea whatsoever...she just hit the keys and my new phone came to life and now contained my voice message from the old phone and I could use it right away.

Here's the problem: how can a phone that costs only $40 have a camera and internet access? Ridiculous. But apparently my phone does. So I now am obligated to learn how to use those two things which I never wanted, not ever.

I didn't think there was a camera or an internet device that cost only $40. Now I have both and a new not-so-dumb phone. It's not a 'smart phone' by any degree since I can't get 'aps' whatever the hell they are. It's sort of an 'average' phone I guess. But it isn't dumb. Which is what I wanted.

Oh my God, a camera and internet on my phone!!!

I've obviously lived too long....

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Something Silent, something sweet...

GW and Eleanor were part of my life for only two years. Members of St. James in Higganum and part of the Transfiguration community that is part of the Cluster of three churches, I came to know them well. And now they are moving to Costa Rica for the interim, forever.

So, I wrote them a poem that I think captures our relationship...and several relationships I have had. The touching of 'souls', not people so much.

Something silent, something sweet

When souls meet, something silent passes by.

Not like when 'people' meet.
People ask questions,
seek to find connections,
fall in love,
battle with each other,
reunite or part in anger and regret.

When souls meet, none of that matters.

When souls meet, something silent passes by
and they travel together—side by side--
or one behind the other, or the other way around--
until they part.

And when souls part, something sweet passes by.
Gratitude, people might call it,
or even Joy.
But it is sweet to travel on

Silence and sweetness:
what could be better?

What could be more right?


Friday, August 16, 2013

This gentle weather

I once wrote two very bad lines of an equally bad poem that went like this:

   "When comes a misplac'ed Spring afternoon
      on such a Winter's day, so out of tune...."

Mercifully, I've forgotten the rest of the poem though it may be lurking to haunt me in the boxes full of long ago written things I've not gone through for decades.

It's the (') to insure your pronounce it mis-place-ED rather that 'misplaced' that makes the line so regrettable.

I had a bishop once who always began the service in ordinary time with, "Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

I've always said that "Bless-ED" be God and so forth.

I've always thought that God should be 'Bless-ED' rather than merely 'blessed'. I've always thought that 'blessed' was an adjective about God rather than a verb about God.

Which brings me to the gentle weather we've had for a couple of weeks now in Connecticut. After a record-breaking heat wave in July, August has been gentle and warm and even cool at night. We haven't turned on an air-conditioner or even a fan for over a week.

We have been 'blessed' by such weather. But the weather itself, I would suggest, has been 'bless-ED'. "So out of tune with the expected heat..." I still think in iambic pentameter.

But the recent August weather has been both unexpected and bless-ED.

I stand by that pronunciation though 'misplace-ED' is a mistake....

Sleep well this wondrous cool night....

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


"Good things come in threes," Lina Manona Sadler Jones, my grandmother, used to say.

...Well, actually what she used to say was "deaths come in threes..." Not quite so optimistic.

But there is the Trinity, after all, to hint that threes are a good thing.

So, in the past month, I've seen 3 of the funniest movies I've ever seen and read three of the best novels I've ever read.

I don't do reviews here, but I do want to share my bounty with you.

Movies: The Heat (course, I've always loved Sandra Bullock); Red 2 (which has a cast you could only dream of and is the only 'comic book' movie that was really like a comic book) and RIPD (panned by most critics and already pretty much out of theatres but I've always loved Jeff Bridges and I thought it was hilarious, with  some hysterical special effects). An unusual 'buddy' movie, a strange 'action' movie and an unconventional 'sci-fi' movie. I'd see any of them a couple of more times.

Books: three times in a month I've had to rearrange my Top 10 novels of all time.

The Hunger Angel by German writer, Herta Muller (the u needs one of those two dot diacritical marks over it that my keyboard cannot make). It is a troubling read, about a ethnic German living in Romania who is sent to a forced labor camp after WW II. While I was reading it, I heard an interview with a historian who has written a book about all the removals and displacements that took place in Europe after the second World War, which made the story even more moving and troubling. A hard read but well worth it (I think I read at least two murder mysteries, my genre of choice, while slogging through The Hunger Angel, but the slog was well worth it.

The Uninvited by Liz Jenson, a British novelist. It is also disturbing but compelling. It is a distopian novel that you never saw coming. The most troubling total eclipse of  'life as we know it' I've ever read. Beautifully written. The narrator has Asbergerer's Syndrome and besides being a fascinating 'teller of the tale' helped me finally have some rational understanding of that disorder. Don't read this to you young children.

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, who is one of my favorite mystery writers (Case Histories--now a made-for-TV movie and Left Early, Took my Dog, which I just read again after Life after Life reminded me how good she is. LaL, if I might abbreviate (and why not?) is, if I can spell it, one of the tour de forces of modern literature. I wouldn't dare spoil it for you by telling you anything about what it is about. But it is about something I've never (and I bet you've never) imagined. But once the author makes you imagine it, you can't stop imagining it. The main character, Ursala, "little bear", her father calls her, is the recipient of 'life' after 'life'. 'Nough said.

Atkinson writes the best dialog (and inner dialog) I've ever read. Anywhere. And this story is haunting and lovely and in ways I can't (and couldn't!) explain, so life affirming and hopeful and breathtakingly wondrous that this novel is now up there edging even Moby Dick and The Tale of Two Cities at the top, the very top, of novels I've read.

I'll read it again in a month or so--if I can get on the 'hold list' at the Cheshire Library.

All three are wondrous and making havoc in my Top Ten Of All Time--but Life after Life is something beyond explaining....

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bonny Bobby Shafto

Tomorrow is my son, Joshua Dylan (for Bob not Thomas) Bradley's 38th birthday.

We used to croon to him a nursery rhyme that goes like this:

Bobby Safto's gone to sea,
Silver buckle's on his knee
He'll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto'
Bobby Shafto's bright and fair,
Panning out his yellow hair,
He's my love forevermore,
Bonny Bobby Shafto.

And he was a toe-head, though you'd never guess it now as his brown hair, like mine, has hints of grey in it and his beard even moreso.

My beard was grey by 40 and I colored it for several years then gave into time.

I was 28 when he was born. Which makes me 66 now.

When I was 38, my father was 78, having been 40 when I was born. (Stuff like that has come to matter to me as I grow older.)

Our daughter, Jeremy Johanna (forever Mimi) turned 35 last month. I was 31 when she was born. The math doesn't change--I'm still 66.

People told us when we were much younger, that time would fly and to enjoy our children while we could. It would go away faster than we could imagine.

I thought those people were fools. Josh and Mimi's childhood seemed endless and stressful and wondrous at the same time.

But those people were right.

My 'princess' is 35. My Bonny Bobby Shafto is 38 tomorrow.

How in hell did that happen?

They are both amazing people. Mimi and Tim will come with us to an island off the coast of North Carolina in what?--10 days from now. We've been doing it for several years. It's the island we took Josh and Mimi too for much of their pre-adult lives. Mimi renewed it after she and Tim went there one year, reliving childhood or something. I keep hoping we can get Josh and Cathy and the girls down some year soon, before I'm in my dotage. Shortly after we get back we'll go to Baltimore and be with Josh and Cathy and Morgan and Emma and Tegan for a bit.

Sumi--Cathy's pit bull that was then Josh's pit bull and the Morgan and Emma and Tegan's pit bull--and through much of that, Bern and my pit bull, won't be there. At a great age, Sumi died last week. The last 6 months she had to be carried downstairs to go to the bathroom. And she was the sweetest dog I've ever known. Even in her dotage, when she saw Bern and me she would be terribly animated and young again for a while.

We loved her deeply and mourn her greatly.

Which is not just an aside, but the glue of a family relationship. You become attached to your children's pets just as you become attached to your children's mates and your children's children.

I sometimes wonder: how can Josh and Mimi be that old? Which causes me to ponder 'how can I be this old?'

Time flies when you're having fun....

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Flora and Fauna of it all...

Our yards are viral with life these days.

Bern admitted to me today, after she had spent hours extracting a mock orange bush from the side yard, that she had too many plants.

"I never thought I'd say it," she said, her voice full of wonder and amusement. We are so surrounded by living things that I am sometimes washed over by life.

When I gaze at the panoply of plant life that surrounds us, I find it had to imagine that in 4 or 5 months it will all be covered by two feet of snow. But it will...I know that, having lived in New England now for over half of my life. It is that remarkable ying and yang that makes me not want to live anywhere else, ever.

My friends, GW and Eleanor, are moving to Costa Rica in a week or so. They are going to a land of constant late June. I give them traveling blessings but know I couldn't survive in a climate like that. I need the withering and dying of Autumn and the chill and death of Winter. That I need the resurrection of Spring and the lushness of Summer go without saying. But living always in late June--temperature 70-80 during the day and 60-70 at night might sound inviting in the depths of February, but there is no April without February. I love the turn of the seasons.

But nature is 'red in tooth and claw...and vines...."

We have a vine on our back deck that lives inside in the winter that has, amazingly, reached out to ensnare a limb of a Hemlock tree and the leaves of a Rhodendrum. I don't stand too close to it because it weirds me out and I imagine it wrapping around my throat and choking the life out of me. It also has the most incredible blossoms--blood red and seductive in their beauty--and it attracts hummingbirds, so what could be wrong with that except it could strangle me if I stood too close for too long.

A morning glory vine in the front yard wrestled down a yard long Lilly stalk to the ground. I imagined Bern's plants were turning on each other in some apocalyptic kind of endgame. I told Bern about it and this afternoon she freed the Lilly by unwinding the vine. The Lilly is standing up again, but I don't trust plants as much as I used to before I was so surrounded by them.

But this I know and know fair well, they will wither in the Fall and be covered by a couple of feet of snow in the Winter--only to return in Spring again. I like the life-cycle-ness of plants. That would never happen in Costa Rica. Plants live year round there.

That would make me very anxious since I don't completely trust them....

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The insect from hell

I went out on the back porch and a huge insect like nothing I've ever seen, smashed into my glasses and fell near the dog, who immediately ran out into the darkness of the deck. (Knowing, better than me, it seems, that the insect was drawn by the porch light.)

I, on the other hand, stayed put and had this monstrous creature with four wings and about 5 inches long swirl around my head. Finally, it landed on the wall and I got the terrified dog to come in with the terrified man.

I went upstairs and tried to describe the whole ordeal to Bern, who didn't seem to think it was so big a deal, so I kept enhancing the story, relying on the dog to back me up, and before I was through, the mystery insect had scales, teeth, a two inch stinger and the mystic ability to read my mind.

Bern still wasn't impressed. But then, she isn't scared of moths either, though their little hairy bodies drive me to the edge of horror.

(I heard on radio today that people in Australia eat locusts--they call them flying prawns. There are places where the farm insects the way they farm fish because they are becoming a more important form of protein.)

Our daughter Mimi used to eat ball-bugs when she was small. I don't know their real name but when you touch them they roll up into a ball. 'Crunch, crunch' would be the sound of Mimi eating ball bugs she found beneath rocks.

That creature on the back porch is now morphed into a Pterodactyl in my mind. 'Crunch, crunch' would have been the sound of it eating me and the Puli.

Yet, Bern is not appreciative of my terror...or the dog's....

Friday, August 9, 2013

Death from the sky...

This morning an airplane, scheduled to land at Tweed/New Haven airport, instead crashed into two houses in East Haven killing as yet an unknown number but at least 3 and probably a 13 year old and 1 year old in one of the houses. The report on radio said, 'the children's mother survived....' Newscaster, you may think so but I guarantee that the woman she was yesterday most certainly 'did not survive', will never be the same, may not be able to get over this at all.

Death fell from the sky for those two suburban children. What are the odds? Why does it matter? The House, as always, won.

The next report, without missing a beat, was about Senator Ted Cruz calling the President 'dangerous'--I kid you not, right there on radio--and repeating his threat to shut down the government if the Affordable Health Care Act (passed by Congress, signed by the President, judged Constitutional by the Supreme Court) was not de-funded. As if keeping 30,000,000 Americans (it's more jarring to write it out than say 30 million) were a good reason to bring the government of the United States to a halt. Really, that's what Cruz wants to do--deny 30,000,000 Americans the health care the act gives them that they don't now have.

And two kids are dead in East Haven when Death fell from the sky.

Well, since it was a working class neighborhood of East Haven, those two kids might not have had health insurance. So Sen. Cruz now only has to deprive 29,999,998 Americans of health care. Who knows.

After that was a report on how many 'growth enhancing drugs' American farmers are giving to their animals--so much, in fact, that Europe, Russia and China are considering not importing American meat since all those folks don't want chickens and cows that were injected with the stuff Lance Armstrong and A-Rod took but in much higher doses. ( Well, I'm sure Lance had more than a chicken but not nearly as much as a cow.)

At least those two kids in that fireball in East Haven didn't grow up to die of disease caused by eating Growth Hormone or Genetically Altered food. They went quick and, as the radio guy said, quoting a neighbor, 'they didn't know what hit them.'

I'm always confused by the 'didn't know what hit them' argument that something was ok and even good about Death falling from the sky.

It still HIT THEM and they still died, it seems to me.

I almost hope they did know what hit them so the 13 year old could have picked up the baby and they could have held each other as they died.

I hope to God Ted Cruz eats stuff with Growth Hormone that has been Genetically Altered. He undoubtedly believes in all that. I stop much short of wishing a plane to fall on him.

I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Life is hard enough without being engulfed in a fireball when a plane crashes on you.

(God help us: the news should shut down and take a minute of silence after announcing the insanity of two children dying because a plane fell on them. We should be given some spiritual and psychic recovery time before we have to endure the asshole from Texas....)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Something gentle

Something gentle moves me always.

Something soft and loving.

Something that comes out of nowhere and ends up in the moment where I'm living.

It can really be no more than a smile from an old woman in a parking lot,
or someone holding open the door of the library for me,
or Bern touching my face when I'm not expecting it,
or our neighbor, across the street, waving a greeting as he goes by with his beagle,
or someone letting me into traffic,
or the woman at the bank remembering my name,
or Luke, our cat rubbing against my bare leg (since I'm wearing shorts),
or my daughter Mimi calling just to talk,
or almost anything.

And all that happened today, just in one day.

We should notice the tiny little things more.
The things that brush against us from time to time,
and use those to memories to measure how wondrous life is,
rather than watching cable TV.


Ponder that.


Pretty please with sugar on it.....

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Another found poem

Looking through these papers is like experiencing deyavu "all over again" as someone wise (I've narrowed it down to William James, Mark Twain and Yogi Berra) once said.

Marion Cleo Jones Bradley was my mother. God bless her for that. She grew up during the depression and had a hard life. She somehow, climbing out of poverty and ignorance, became a teacher and taught 1st or 2nd grade for years, decades.

I found this poem about her. It seems a bit harsh, but I wrote it over seven years ago and who knows (certainly not me!) what I was thinking when I wrote it. But it was like meeting an old friend in Grand Central Station to find it. And I share it with you.

As the Africans say, 'this is my story, receive it with a blessing and send the blessing back to me...."


Well, every day is 'mother's day',
if we are to acknowledge the broad, inclusive
knowledge of our best friend, Dr. Freud.

Who among us can disentangle from the clever, ubiquitous web
of deceit, devotion and dread she wove around us?

"Step on a crack and break your mother's back."
She didn't make that up,
but she would have, given the choice.
Control, control and more control:
that is the currency of Mother Love.

However, this is about my mother 
(write your own poem about yours!)

My mother made a mistake in timing.
She died the week of my 25th birthday.
Elsie, her younger sister, my aunt,
put her hand on my shoulder as I sat
by my mother's death bed, feeding her vanilla ice cream
from a little paper cup with a weird wooden spoon
as if it were exactly what she would want
as she lay dying--which is True as True can be.

"Happy birthday, Jimmy", my aunt Elsie said,
(though she may have said "Jimmie"--the spelling
of my nickname was almost Shakespeareanly varied)--
"did anyone else remember?" she continued,
into more ice cream I was feeding to an almost dead woman.
No one else had--not even my father,
not even me--I'd forgotten my own birthday,
twenty and five: a Big One.

He, at least, could be forgiven.
His wife, after all, was dying.
But why did I forget such an auspicious date?
Because 'mommy' was more important?
Of course she was--she'd made it so
through innocence and guile
and the web she'd woven around me
in all the years before.

She never hit me--not once--I swear it is true;
except with guilt and 'responsibility' and the sticky
lace of Mother Love.

I've lived a life-time since she finally died,
sated on ice cream from my hand.
I only remember her face from photographs
and remember her voice not at all.
She was a good mother--believe you me.
She did all she knew to do and more besides.
And she loved me. She did--she did.
And would love me more if she knew
the man I am today.

Yet, over three decades later, I remember this:
my father and I standing on the loading dock
of Bluefield's hospital, watching the dawn.
Nurses were unhooking all the lines that had held my mom
to this life. I expected some tender moment,
sleep deprived as we both were.

What I got was this: my father looked down at my shoes
and handed me thirty dollars--a twenty and two fives.
"Buy some new shoes for her funeral," he said.
And I said, holding the bills in my hand,
"this isn't enough...."

Although, in those days, it really was.



A poem I found

So, I was looking through some old papers and came across a poem I wrote on the Feast of St. Hugh (google it) at Holy Cross Monastery in 1999.

It's obvious from the poem that I had gone to Holy Cross by myself because something was heavy on my heart. I have absolutely no idea (though I've pondered it since I found the poem) what that heaviness was or was about.

Perhaps the healing the poem is about really happened. Or, just perhaps, it is my capacity, whether it is genetic or learned, to absolutely 'forget' bad experiences. I remember most of the things that made me joyful and fulfilled. The things that weighed heavy on my heart at the time...I simply don't remember.

Anyway, here's the poem.

On the back porch of a monastery deep in the night

I smoke rapidly against the chill and to ward off the haunting,
    near-by moaning of a coyote for the moon.

Then I notice: the Hudson is as dark and smooth
    as a chapel floor.

I brought grave burdens to this Holy Place
to offer to the God
      of Confusion and Pain;
and have prayed all that away,
      emptying my gunny sack of

Then I notice: the windows of the house on the far side
      of the river
      glimmer like votive candles 
      in the crypt.

Without knowing why, the Darkness Inside
       my Soul has become the Darkness
       of this night.
And I am not afraid.

Then I notice: the clouds hang low
       in the frigid air,
       like incense above an altar.
       Leaves, dry and wind-pushed,
       shutter along
       the pathway below like
       ghostly footsteps
       of long dead monks.
(Somewhere an exhaust fan
        wheezes and rattles.
        A novice at his prayers.)

I did not expect such sudden, sweet relief.
I expected to howl at the moon of Pain,
        with stiff hairs on the back of my neck.

Then I notice: the wind through the trees
        the clickity-clack of the Albany train
        across the river.
        If I listen--really listen--like a creature
        unafraid of Darkness....
        Everything sounds like chanting.

God is everywhere.
In the Burden.
And in the laying
             of the

Back in my room--St. Mary's, this time--I have a small bottle of Merlot.

One more cigarette and then I go and drink it
         from my coffee-cup chalice,
         with gratefulness and peace
         before I sleep and dream.

It is then that I notice:
         the Blood of Christ.

(November 17, 1999--the Feast of St. Hugh.
West Park, New York.)
      ---Jim Bradley 


Monday, August 5, 2013

Some People and things that just have to go for always...

There are just some people and things that we would all be better off, happier, more profoundly fulfilled if they just went away. Like for always. And the list, it seems to me, just gets longer.

1. Miley Cyrus: I'm just sick of hearing about her nude photo for charity, the fact that she has dental implants, her ever changing hair style, anything about her. Let's face it, Hanna Montana was not War and Peace. She needs to just go away and take Billy Ray with her--he wasn't that good anyway.

2. Justin Bieber: the monkey thing was reason enough, but now he was involved in a bar brawl that spilled out into the street. Witnesses said his body guards (since when does a 19 year old need body guards or go to bars in the first place?) brutalized several people. I can't judge his singing since I've never heard a single song he sings. But he would do us all a favor by going away...and make Canada a decent country again.

3. Edward Snowden: I have no real opinion about whether he's a whistle blower or a traitor, but I'm just tired of hearing about him. If nothing else, he certainly deserved to live for a month in a Russian airport. How cool that must have been....

4. Back Page: it's been revealed by the FBI that most of the pimps in the recent nation-wide sweeping arrests and liberating of underage girls made their contacts through social media...mostly the website Back Page. (I'd suggest 'social media' needed to go away but I think this blog would be included and I enjoy writing it....)

5. Alex Rodriquez: I'm a huge Yankee fan, but enough is enough. Alex, just go now....

6. Pat Robertson: did you know he just said on his show that transgendered people aren't 'sinners'? It's the first sensible thing he's said in 30 years. Pat, it's time to go....

7. Honey Boo-Boo: no explanation needed--and your stupid red-neck family too. And most all of reality TV except the house finder shows and the cooking shows and even some of them. There is no need for utter stupidity to be on cable TV. Which brings me to,

8. House Republicans: can't we get them a blood transfusion from John McCain for God's sake? I had an aunt--by marriage, not blood--who hated everything and everyone. Today she could be elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican.

9. Energy drinks: I've never had one and never will but what's wrong with coffee? And I would always refuse to pay nearly $2 for something that is hardly a gulp.

10. Kindle and any of the other devices where you can read what once came in pages with a cover: I want to feel a book in my hand, spill soup on it as I read while eating, have pages to fold down to keep my place, go to the library and carry home and carry back, see the author's photo. I pray devoutly that I do not live to see the extinction of books.

That's enough, but there's lots more...the list gets longer and longer....

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A different sermon

I've been posting funeral sermons so I thought I'd give you another kind. This is a sermon I preached at the 'installation' of Deven Hubner as a Rector of a church in upstate New York. Deven had been married to Scott Allen, a long time friend of mine from back in West Virginia and one of the seminarians who worked with me at St. Paul's, New Haven. By the time of this sermon--1997 or '98 or so, they were divorced but still friends--Scott was there for this sermon. 
It was a sermon I greatly enjoyed--not just for Devan, but for my friend Jorge Gutierrez, who was a priest in that diocese at the time and who came to Devan's installation. (Priests are 'installed' as Rectors, much like a major appliance....) I still have a picture of Jorge, Scott and me from that day. We were all close friends. I haven't spoken to either of them for years--yet, we are the kinds of friends who could take up where we left off without a pause or a beat.

God love them. And God love Deven. I haven't seen her for years, but she's a great priest.

D’s Sermon

A hot air balloonist set off one fine May day from just outside London. He expected a calm trip but a sudden storm blew in off the English Channel that took him north for over an hour. When his balloon was deflated, he found himself suspended in a tree beside a small Anglican Church. Looking down from his precarious perch, he saw the Vicar leaving the church and heading for the Vicarage.
“Father, Father,” the balloonist called out, ready to dial his cell phone and tell his friends where to pick him up, “Father, can you tell me where I am?”
The priest looked up and smiled, “Yes, my son,” he said, “you’re stuck in a tree.”
“Just like a priest,” the man muttered to himself, “what they say is often TRUE but it is seldom helpful….”
It is my hope that this sermon will be more “True” than “helpful”. And it is my sincere and devout prayer that Deven’s ministry in your midst will be like that as well—more TRUE than HELPFUL.
Another story.
A group of wealthy Americans are on a safari in Africa. Things are going well except that the natives who are carrying much of the equipment stop every hour or so and sit quietly on the ground for 15 minutes.
Finally, one of the Americans goes to the head guide and says, “look, we’re paying you a great deal for this safari, yet your workers stop too often and rest too long. What do they think they are doing?”
The head guide, being as polite as possible, tells the impatient American this: “Our tribe believes that if you move too quickly you will outrun your soul. So we must sit on a regular basis and let our souls catch up.”
Well, the rich American is outraged. “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” he says.
The head guide nods, “Of course you think that, having long ago left your soul far, far behind. But our souls hover near and we will wait for them to join us again.”
It is humbling to be with you this morning. I thank you for your hospitality. I thank Bishop McKelvy for allowing me to preach in his diocese. There will be some heresy spoken today, Bishop, but not so much or not of any ilk that you will have to report back to Bishop Smith in Connecticut. That is my hope.
Mostly, I thank Deven, your new Rector, for the privilege and honor of “coming north” to celebrate with her and with all of you about this new ministry you have begun. I’ve known Deven longer than either of us wants to admit. She has been an important part of my life and my ministry. And it is with unspeakable joy and not a little trepidation, that I bring to all of you, this morning, the “good news” about this relationship between a Rector and a Parish.
I’ve been a parish priest since 1975. I have served three of the most remarkable congregations in this church—the present one, St. John’s on the Green in Waterbury for 16 years. So, I’m not just a guy you met at a bar when it comes to parish priesthood. I do know what I’m talking about. I only pray that God will give me the grace and the words to speak to your hearts and your souls about this “love affair” you and Deven have begun.

Two things, I hope, she will bring to you as precious gifts and you will accept them in that spirit are these:
I hope she will give you Truth rather than Helpfulness. And, I hope she will make you stop in the midst of your shared ministry and shared lives—as often as necessary…and it may be very often indeed—to let your souls catch up with you.
You see—from one who’s not a guy at a bar—the parish church exists for this and this only: TO FIND AND BE FOUND BY GOD.
That’s all you are here for, that’s all your common life is about. Finding and being found by God is the only reason this church exists. Everything else you do emerges from seeking and being sought by God. So, lean into Truth and make sure you don’t outrun your souls.
A third story, this one told by John Mortimer in his memoir.
It goes like this:
A man with a bristling grey beard came and sat next to me at lunch. He had very pale blue eyes and an aggressive way of speaking.
He began, at once and without any preliminary introductions, to talk about yachting in the North Sea.
“But isn’t it very dangerous, your sport of yachting?” I asked.
“Not dangerous at all, provided you don’t learn to swim. I made up my mind when I bought my first boat, never to learn to swim.”
“Why was that?” I asked.
He told me, “when you’re in a spot of trouble, if you can swim you strike out for the shore. Invariably you drown swimming for safety. As I can’t swim, I cling to the wreckage and they send a helicopter out for me. That’s my tip, if you ever find yourself in trouble, cling to the wreckage.”

I want to suggest to you that there are many worse metaphors for the parish ministry of your Rector and for the parish life of this congregation than “clinging to the wreckage”.
I want to suggest to Deven that her most vital and important role in your midst, as your priest, is to be about her own “soul work”. And “soul work” it seems to me at least, has a lot to do with clinging to the wreckage of life until it becomes, literally, a “life preserver.” It is the wreckage that will save your soul.

And I want—just like a suggestion—to suggest to you, to this parish community, that “clinging to the wreckage” is an apt paradigm for your life together as the Body of Christ. The wreckage of your individual lives will lead you to new life and the wreckage of your common life together will sustain you and support you and give you, in the end, a wholeness and salvation you could not imagine.

Finally, here at the end, I want to turn to scripture.

In John’s Gospel this morning, Jesus says to his friends, “abide in my love.”
Back where I grew up, in the mountains of Southern West Virginia, people actually used the word “abide”. They didn’t pronounce it that way, but if you were walking down the street in front of their house and they were on the front porch in rocking chairs and a swing, they would say to you, “Come on up and bide a spell.”

“Biding a spell” meant simply this: just sit here and “be” with us.

“Abiding” is a passive verb—it implies nothing more and nothing less that simply “being there”.
What I want to suggest to you—to Deven, of course, but to all of you as well and as passionately—is that you have entered into a “love affair” with each other and what you need to do…most need to do…always need to do is this and this only: “Abide” in each other’s love.

There is much to “do” and many “tasks” and lots of “committees” and a multitude of “works”. All that will take care of itself if you simply “abide” in your love of each other and God’s unbridled love for you.

Some advice for the journey:
Long more for Truth than helpfulness,
Stop often and wait for your souls to catch up;
Cling to the wreckage together;
Abide in love; and
Seek always to find and be found by God.
There is nothing else. That is all there is. May your life together in ministry be filled chocked full of Truth and Waiting and Clinging and Abiding and Seeking.
That is enough. That is more than enough.

Amen and amen....

Friday, August 2, 2013

Maybe it's just me....

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that I encounter lots of folks mumbling to themselves these days--mostly in the Stop and Shop in Cheshire.

Look, I spent most of my adult life in or around cities--Boston, Washington, DC, Charleston WV, New Haven and Waterbury, both in CT. I've had plenty of experience with people mumbling to themselves. But most of them were homeless folks with some serious mental illness issues or alcohol issues or drug issues. Now, it seems to me, the mumbling has moved to the suburbs.

I was talking about this to the young woman who works in the package store I frequent. She is very young and thin and fit and, I must say, alluring. I was telling her about the old people in Stop and Shop who were mumbling to themselves while shopping.

"Did you check for a blue-tooth in their ear?" she asked.

"These were not blue-tooth kind of folks," I told her, they were like your grandparents age.

Then we talked about how there ought to be some generally agreed on limits to the use of cell phones in public places.

"Some people talk about really personal things," she told me (though I already knew), "and it's impossible not to listen in." (I already knew that as well--but it was great to hear someone at least 40 years younger than me say it.)

One old mumbling man was behind me in the frozen food aisles. I wanted some frozen raspberries but I almost left without them because he was so disconcerting.

As I was checking out (eggs, turkey sausage, 2 packs of raspberries on sale for 2 for $6--regularly $3.69 each) I was a bit frustrated that Eva, the check out clerk, was so slow and had to call the supervisor to put a key in her register and type something in twice for reasons I neither comprehend nor want to. But then I saw one of the mumbling old women I'd seen before pushing her cart toward the door, mumbling. She had on a hat like you'd see in Australia in a Crocodile Dundee movie except it was the stars and stripes and she was mumbling to beat the band. I was suddenly glad Eva was so slow and I wouldn't have to encounter the flag hat woman. (Actually, I've come to understand, you don't 'encounter' mumblers at all. They are in their own mumbling world and you aren't. It's much akin to a close encounter with some strange and odd being--a fox or a peacock or a penguin, for example, that you didn't expect to walk near but did.)

But Eva wasn't quite slow enough and the supervisor didn't have to be called enough times and as I left Stop and Shop another familiar woman mumbler was right behind me because I was polite enough to let a couple of new shoppers go in front of me with their carts before I left the store.

This woman is quite large and very annoyed. I've seen her several times, almost always at Stop and Shop, and she is seemingly upset with the powers that be or the check out clerk or life in general because her mumbling is quite angry and aggressive though it is so softly spoken that I can't hear it (thought I'm not sure I'd want to and, on the other hand, I want to very much altogether....)

She was walking down the aisle of cars right behind me and I thought of running but didn't and then she went to the right and I went to the left to our cars.

Mumblers driving cars might be as dangerous as people talking on cell phones. I don't know, but I think the mumbling continues when they turn the key and start their cars.

Is it just me? Am I super-sensitive to the odd and quirky folks? Or are the mumblers following me because they know they make me anxious--someone who is seldom anxious is made anxious by folks mumbling to themselves.

Or maybe they are the Cosmos's way of letting me know my future fate--my personal Hell--to endlessly walk the aisles of Stop and Shop mumbling to myself about the prices, the quality, the inequity of being 'old' and having to shop with people so much younger than you and not being able to find the aisle where the jam is....

Thursday, August 1, 2013

dogs and cats

So, several times a day, when I first wake up (which could be between 7 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.--I am retired you know) then in late afternoon and just before I go to bed, I take Bad Dog Bela out to do his business (when did peeing and pooping become 'doing our business'?)

Everyday but Monday, Bern takes him for a long walk on the Canal--about 1.6 miles--where he can do more business but mostly walk. With me, on Mondays, when Bern is 'doing our business' by paying bills and such, I walk him on the canal. He doesn't walk as well with me as he does with Bern. But he does more business when we walk on the canal.

Here's the thing, whenever I come back with Bela from whatever walk we go on--before breakfast, late afternoon, just before be--Luke, our cat is waiting by the door. Luke has always been an indoors cat, which we promised when we adopted him about almost a year old at MEOW. He's outlived the other three cats we had when we brought him home.

We have a dog, a cat (Bern calls him 'our last cat') and a parakeet. That's the fewest animals we've had for several decades of cats, dogs, birds, a rat and lots of guinea pigs stolen from a kill lab at Yale.

But Luke, whose only been outside twice, when he escaped from the dormer door to the basement, where he's not allowed but finds moles to kill and bring upstairs (this is an 1850 house withe some dirt floors in the basement and, unfortunately, moles).

I imagine Luke is imagining some remarkable outdoor adventure when he is waiting for Bela and me when we come back from walks. But when we come back, he moves away from the door and runs deeper into the house. Bela mostly ignores him or chases him and mauls him for a bit until I call him off. (The mauling hardly ever happens...just when it does I get upset a bit.)

Maybe Luke wants to go outdoors. Maybe he just misses Bela and me when we leave.

Who knows what a cat thinks? Who would want to know?

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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.