I am not a preacher. I do not claim to be wise, but I can recognize and celebrate wisdom, humility, and compassion in those who are servant leaders
There has come an arctic cold that sweeps across the screen, the confident weather lady conducting blue into orange and red, no green this time of year in Abilene
“Is it I who have come to this age
or is it the age that has come to me
which one has brought along all these
silent images on their shadowy river”
He is, I think, his own angel, or mine,
not winged or gifted with a voice of annunciation–
Blessed are you of all–or wielding a double-edged sword
May no possums caution their ugly selves
along the top of your backyard fence,
just out of reach.
Even here a new star
has risen above
the city underpass,
“. . . it is the going we remember
it is the way that comes along with us”
W. S. Merwin, “Only Now”
A voice whispering rise and walk to the table at the window, the page, the pencil, and record the favor of men lost in crowds, displaced outside of family–the darkness not only of this night, shepherds tending to lambs fallen into gullies, tangled in briars
“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1: 5 (ESV)
The man said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10: 29-30 (The Jerusalem Bible)
I don’t know why “No” was my thoughtless, truthful answer to Louise’s asking if I would like to take a thirty-minute prayer slot.
“. . . without vulnerability
there can be no relationship.”
David Brooks *
I don’t know what losses, what anguish, may have led New York Times opinion writer David Brooks to this consolation, maybe his brick wall of certainty, of control, of this is me, crumbled, reality gone, the reality we walk hand in hand with until the hand drops, and we are left staring into the void. So now Who am I? Who can I turn to?
This morning, I’m nostalgic (no, Bob, be honest–weepy) for friends past and present. Of course it’s 4:00 a.m. again. Again I’m at my writing table, a cup of dark-roast coffee, a square of dark chocolate, the smooth touch of this Blackwing 602 pencil leading me across the pages of my Moleskine notebook and, oh yes, Beegie Adair’s jazz trio playing Always On My Mind as in you were always on my mind.
“Words save our lives, sometimes.” Neil Gaiman.
I understand. Lil comes late to the noonday meal at the City Light Mission.
Lynn, the angel of City Light Mission, turns to me arranging the counter-top crocks of Robert’s homemade ranch salad dressing and the sliced jalapeños, my assignment today with which to greet the first-name only patrons filling their paper plates with the plenty promised by Jesus
“Who would you call in the middle of the night
if you were sick or afraid?” *
Shankar Vedantam’s question is mostly responsible for my mood this morning.
Not political. Not tightfisted, pursed lips, finger-wagging shame on you for not being me. No, I mean a song on a city bus, a hug brushing aside a handshake, a laugh sudden and unafraid.
A young woman with a baby cuddled to her breast but not nursing, being carried in a kind of papoose pouch, climbing all the way up the narrow concrete steps spaced too close for my comfort having caught my toe and stumbled more than once, so I am afraid for her—she could fall.
It began, I think, with losing everything–his college degree in biology, environmental science, National Park management, a Park ranger, like the romance of joining the French Foreign Legion, the girl in that song–Laura–“the face in the misty light . . . only a dream” lost and himself as well
“Milkflower petals on the street
like pieces of a girl’s dress.
May your days be merry and bright. . .
He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.
Open, he says.”
“Aubade with Burning City”*
“What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.
I’m saying: What if that is joy?”
So here’s a question for you, Reinhold Niebuhr: Did you ever take this sinful world as it is, not as you, and I, would have it? And here’s another: In the dark of a deep night, humming your mantra like counting sheep—“Serenity come! Serenity, come.”—did you feel the twelve dance steps of heavy-footed men clutching a bottle like a lithe partner not wincing when they mashed her toe or miss-stepped against her shin, laughing their song from a throat thrown back, a kind of fire swallowed, and she whispering how serene they might be spinning her away for God, and they turned little one, the child they maybe never got to be?
Holidays are the worst, families gathered around dining-room tables passed down from parents, someone blessing the turkey, the brisket, the sweet potatoes and three-bean salad, thick-sliced bread just out of the oven, an expectation of pecan pie.
What rescues this smile from the beginning-to-curl-down corners of my mouth is my remembering the mother wolf in the Fort Worth Zoo when Katrina and I were young and students with twin babies in special take-your-baby-everywhere-you-adventure backpacks, . . .
“I said to Michael, Jr, last night, ‘let’s go cruising.’” This is the opening sentence of the email my daughter-in-law Tiffany Haggard Fink sent Thursday morning. It’s a wonderful email celebrating the love she and her brother Michael have for their father, Michael C. Haggard, Sr., who passed away Sunday, August 11. His memorial service was Wednesday, August 14. Mike loved street rods, muscle cars—the faster and louder the better. He also loved the blues, that music in the growl of a V8 engine at a stop sign, a long stretch of blacktop road.
It was a Lucy dog, Australian shepherd,
not German, not even that American
of all herding dogs, rescuer of Timmy
from the well, a bearded collie,
but Lucy diamonded from the sky–
I’ll be all around in the dog park—I’ll be everywhere—
wherever you look. Wherever there’s a poet can’t nudge the word
from the tip of a Blackwing 602 pencil, I’ll be there
to whisper ineffable.
For the past forty-two years I have been eighteen years old. Sometimes seventeen; sometimes nineteen, twenty, twenty-one or twenty-two. Never over thirty—the age Mick Jagger told my generation should not be trusted, and certainly not seventy-three, an age when the only names you can recall are those of your family physician, surgeons, and physical therapists. The Age of Retirement! The age I never expected.
The words descending to my fingers
following the soft lead of the Blackwing pencil
still available to a penitent rising in the dark
of 4:00 a.m., transcribing a path
from the woman stirring to hum my name
and ask what is always rising on her breath
to hover at my ear—Are you all right?—
This has been a year. A year for taking the long look back, forty-two years that seem a day—what my friend Donald Hall called the one day, every other day too frantic to recognize this day Henry David Thoreau knew we will each come to, asking have we lived, been attentive to what each day has to discover.
This is how it started. Rising at 4:00 a.m. Dark chocolate. Lucy came much later, after Susie, Chelsea, Bosco, Kita, Kianna, and Wrangler. Lucy does not get the dark chocolate and coffee.