Beauty As it was described to me Is that thing Which in its presence Awakens something inside And makes me In that moment A little more alive And undeniably more human With each glimpse Each sip Touch and smell
In apt response There is beautiful laughter Coupled with Beautiful tears Both are a sure and certain sign That I am indeed alive And bestow honor To Beauty And just how magnificent She truly is.
I lost another friend last week. I received the sad news as I sat at a lonely table in the Newark airport, waiting for my flight back home from Ireland. As the word of loss took hold, some of the most recent memories showed up to be accounted for.
Right before I left on the trip, he and a couple of guys from church helped me spread about 8 yards of mulch around the perennial garden beds that surround my yard. As if that wasn’t enough, as the four of us stood around talking after the work was done, he asked if I wanted some help raking the remaining leaves in my yard. I told him I wouldn’t dare ask, but neither would I refuse the assistance. Thirty minutes and a half a dozen paper bags later, the yard was clean and clear. That’s the kind of friend he was. Always looking for a way to make sure I was taken care of.
I recall the long conversations over all things food, especially our fascination with fermentation. One night in particular, sitting out back for hours, until we both realized it was 11:30pm on a Tuesday and we should probably call it a night.
Loss is a thief, and I despise thieves. It’s the same feeling that came over me when I discovered my truck had been broken into. Passenger side window smashed, power tools taken, leaving me with nothing but damage to clean up and repair. I had just been robbed and I had very little recourse.
The work of loss is permanent. It ensures there will be no more “next time.” I don’t ever plan to get accustomed to it.
As I am learning to hold Grief separately from loss, I view Grief as my process of dealing with the pitiless work of loss. It helps me think of them as two very different entities.
Loss is brutal. Grief doesn’t have to be.
Grief is my assistant. It’s there to help me sort through the havoc that loss just discharged.
But Grief can be swayed, akin to a politician being lobbied by a special interest. And bitterness seems to want to be first in line for that campaign.
Bitterness tried several times to pressure me during my trip. The married couple my age holding hands two rows over on the airplane. The couple much older than me enjoying a nice dinner together, and obviously enjoying the company of one another. Or the folks celebrating their 65th anniversary by visiting Ireland for the first time.
“That could have been you…”
“You’ll never know that same feeling again…”
“Don’t you feel robbed…”
Bitterness likes to set the tone and take over that conversation. And I find the best way to end the conversation with bitterness is not to ignore it, but tell it to go back to hell and leave me alone. I find that pretty effective.
I’m wise enough to know that bitterness won’t ever lead to Healing from loss. Only Hope can get me there.
Any Fruit worth picking Any that draws the eye and the hand To pluck from its branch The beautiful Fruit Ideal and perfect for the hunger The need of the moment And the urge to savor This sweet Produce
If you look down to see the trunk And the ground into which its roots sink You will always find unfavorable dirt This Fruit that you seek Luscious on the branch Is always grown in bad soil
The Fruit of Peace Is not nurtured on peaceful ground The roots of Kindness defy the Surrounding earth of unkindness And its grapes are among the Sweetest in the garden Bury a sapling of Patience In a compost of hurry, rush and anxiety And you Along with others close to you Will Rest in its shade And feast from its branch.
Bloom where you are planted And bear this Fruit in season The more rocky the soil The more bountiful the harvest.
Just like the annual Prairie fires of Kansas Wafting north Each Spring The acrid smoke signals An arrival of disruption A minor irritation For those like me But a grave threat To the vulnerable Who can’t take respiration for granted.
I could sense it as soon as I opened my phone this morning. It’s a very distinct aroma, unmistakable actually, especially if you’ve ever found yourself surrounded by it. It was immediately suffocating. Some of you know firsthand what I’m talking about.
The smell of fear.
It’s starting to set in. Losing a job. A severe drop in income. The tension is rising in your home. Fear turns minor annoyances into massive detonations. All the while, the looming question won’t leave the forefront of your mind.
What am I going to do now?
My advice is this. Find someone who is Hopeful. They will know what to do.
To you who are full of Hope right now. Your job might not be threatened and your economic viability might be secure regardless. This is good news. Whatever reason for your Hope, make sure you don’t treat it like toilet paper.
Don’t hoard it. Don’t stockpile it. Give it away in mass quantities.
Wealth and prosperity are not limited to money. In fact, an abundance of money can create its own fearfulness. Having the means to ride out this crisis could eventually backfire. Money is good, but it doesn’t create Hope.
The war against fear isn’t funded by monetary means. Money follows Hope into battle. It never leads the charge against fear. Money is always important. It just can’t be in command of the army.
Become generous in Hope and you’ll find you also possess the know-how to be generous with money. I speak this from recent experience when I was wrecked with inner poverty. The words and presence of the Hopeful led me through the flames of fear and out into fresh air where I could breathe again.
If you are Hopeful today, give Hope away in record donations to those who need it. Don’t be stingy. It will do much for your heart as well as toward those you are blessing.
I decided to cut my Ireland trip short by four days. Forgoing the remaining historic destinations were an easy trade off for the assurance of getting home. Being stranded abroad will be the fate for many travelers in the coming days. That was an experience on which I wanted to miss out.
Already this morning, it’s painfully striking the number of tempers flaring and accompanying complaints that their owners feel the need to broadcast audibly as we stood in multiple queues for immigration and security. Impulse is rarely a good idea, unless it’s jumping out of the way of an oncoming truck.
The slag of all that negativity that was splashed on me without my permission needed to get washed off. I sit on the tarmac with other grumbling passengers, waiting for the others to make it through security. But I don’t care to complain, even though there is plenty to stew on. I don’t want to be wealthy in complaint. I’d rather be rich in Gratitude.
Complaining is just like Twitter. There is no upside to using it, and I’m better off by staying far away. One ill-timed, 140-character sucker punch can damage a career, a relationship or suddenly spoil a good mood. All this because of a reaction that could have been avoided by someone taking a deep breath and hitting delete.
The uncertainty of these days led me to be on the move while I can. This is less about fear and more about prudence. If it’s slow and frustrating today and the travel ban goes into effect tomorrow, I can only imagine it getting worse before it gets better.
I can’t fathom the multiple tremors that are going to ripple out across the future of every social and economic circle imaginable because of this disruption. That makes today a great time to move in the opposite spirit of the circumstances of the day. Now is the time to oppose scarcity with abundance. Tackle frustration with peacefulness. Go up against cynicism with vulnerable kindness. Watch who wins.
Negativity is always easier because it cooperates with gravity. Drop one thoughtless complaint and it will sink to the bottom quickly, and bring you and others down with it.
On the other hand, this airplane on which I sit, also cooperates with gravity. In doing so, it takes me in another direction. It moves me upward, not down. This flying machine can lift lots of people off the ground and safely carry us for a very long distance. But it does so by design, not by accident. And that’s a key difference.
Doomsday headlines are already reading like this: PANDEMIC RISKS BRINGING OUT THE WORST IN HUMANITY. I’m going to stand on the other street corner and shout the opposite. THIS PANDEMIC RISKS BRINGING OUT THE BEST IN HUMANITY. There’s no reason it can’t. All it will take are enough people who chose to respond intentionally, thoughtfully and beautifully rather than negatively and impulsively.
Malcom Gladwell coined the term, tipping point, as the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.
The pandemic of sickness has tipped the whole world. I believe the pandemic of generosity and kindness can tip it back over, right side up.
2020 will be marked as the year I found the writings of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue and the impact they have had on me. I brought a book of his with me and cannot get past page 27. He writes in his introduction:
“What is nearest to the heart is often farthest from the word.”
This is the description of what I feel most of the time here in Ireland. I can’t describe it adequately. There is a vibration deep inside me that feels like it is searching for a song to allow it to escape. It resonates when I unintentionally found the old graveyard, when I chatted with the old shepherd and when the elder Irish woman convinced me to sing a song last night in the pub. It is impossible to describe, but it is as real and tangible nonetheless.
David Whyte puts it this way:
“The language we possess is not large enough for the territory we’ve entered.”
The pathway of loss has led me into a place where I have crossed its borders a few times, but I now find myself in a region that I am fumbling to communicate, even to myself, what I am seeing, feeling and discovering. I think that’s why O’Donahue’s poems are so critical. Poetry is a language against which I have no defenses.
Negotiating With Being Alone
The awareness of being alone Is easily transacted For a lesser companion One that fills a void But brings no color No brushes And no mind To paint a pretty landscape
Reason tends Time will not allow The ache of longing Adequate space For love to satiate Hunger that isn’t sensible
But a choice to settle Is still a decision To find an answer And resolve a riddle That has more than one solution.
I went to dinner at a local restaurant in Waterford Sunday night. The music in the pub didn’t show till 10pm, so I had a little time to kill. The barman recommended a spot just off the square, so I made my way down there.
It was a lively joint, with the buzzy kind of energy I like about a place. It was loud and crowded and since I was by myself, I had no one to hear. So I turned my attention to watching the clientele.
The host seated me on a banquette along the wall. As the night unfolded, I was eventually flanked by two couples, one on my right and the other at the table to my left. I tried to not be obvious, but their countenance and mannerisms were hard to ignore. All four seemed to be near my age, and all were wearing rings on the appropriate finger to indicate the nature of their relationship.
All seemed distant and disinterested in one another.
One woman was checking her phone regularly. The couple on the other side hardly said a word to each other. I started getting annoyed. But I kept quiet and paid attention.
I kept to my rule of not speaking against that which I don’t understand. And this helped me change my point of view.
I didn’t know the backstory of each of these couples. Maybe one of them just got some bad news and was in no mood for conversation, or the woman might have kept checking her phone because her daughter was about to go into labor and mom wanted to know the progress. Everything isn’t as it seems. There’s always more than meets the eye.
I wish it was easier to make gracious assumptions. I guess it’s just like developing an accent. I mimic the people I listen to. And there are so many negative voices to hear, it’s no wonder there is an absence in the sound of kindness.
Loss has heightened my senses. I look at folks on the train, bus or airplane differently now. What’s going on in their mind? What does it feel like to be that person? Does anyone know?
I’m planning to slow down my posts for a bit now on this next leg of the journey. I won’t keep up the same daily pace in writing as I’ve done recently. I’m on the rail toward Dingle peninsula this morning and am intent on doing what I came here to do. I may never pass this way again, and I have a feeling there are lots of roses to stop and smell.
I’m not sure what it is about this place, but the grief and sense of loss has surged since landing here. I didn’t come here to feel worse. I thought I was coming for something charming and alluring. It must be the sudden encounter of that very thing I have been looking forward to experiencing. Beauty has a tendency to unsettle the soul.
Beauty is fleeting, therefore it creates in me the need to archive it. Beauty does not demand it. Beauty is simply being itself. Like the prolific gorse brush that blankets the Irish countryside. Each Spring it sets its delicate yellow flowers amid prickly and disagreeable thorns. They bloom whether I see them or not. But once my eyes get a glimpse, the clock starts ticking. How can I ever possibly capture this beauty and the feeling that goes along with it?
Thankfully we now have the camera to assist the task. But It’s not enough to take a picture of an inspiring setting and never show it to anyone. The impulse to put images on social media is proof of this. Regardless of how blurry the shot of that sunset that you saw on vacation, the urge to invite us into your experience supersedes the quality of the photo.
I have a closet full of photograph albums from years of memories. But what good are they without someone to enter into the memory together? My pictures are not a part of your story. They are of no use to you.
I’m traveling alone. I’ve done so by choice because I know I still have a lot more grieving to work through. There are times the road is only wide enough for single file. That’s my current path. I know that I won’t always feel this way, and wise enough believe that this, too, shall pass. In the meantime, I keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I have nearly 30 years of archived memories and the one I cataloged and referenced them with is no longer here to recount them with me. That’s another reason this trip feels so different than others in the past. I’m starting my new library.
I love certain linguistic accents. I could listen to Saoirse Ronan and Fiona Ritchie all day. I enjoy how their articulation sounds to my ear. The lilt, the cadence, the emphasis on certain syllables. Could it be because the way they sound seems more exotic and attractive to me? Or maybe it’s because it makes me feel like my Okie elocution sounds pedestrian. Don’t be surprised if this immersion among the Irish these next two weeks has me sounding like Liam Neeson when I get back.
How does an accent develop? Why do Midwesterners think they don’t have an accent? Who taught the Irish how to sound Irish? Or who showed a child in Alabama how to sound different than a kid from Boston?
We learned it from each other.
From an early age, we instinctively repeat what we hear. In both language and accent, the words formed and the particular way they sound are an imitation of those we learn from. I could try to sound Irish, but at my age, it would be a difficult conversion.
Already, a few times on this trip, I’ve been asked where I’m from after I’ve opened my mouth to speak. To some, it’s obvious because they predict I’m from the U.S. How I sound is an indication of where I live.
The dialect of social media has a predominant accent. So does our current political discourse. It sounds like dismissive annoyance and rage. I spend less and less time there because of that. I don’t want to pick up that accent. It really doesn’t matter what side of the aisle or point of view, if it ends up being delivered in the same patois, everyone sounds alike.
Here in Ireland, I’m a little self-conscious about sounding different, but in the realm of social media and politics, I don’t mind standing out from the crowd. I hope my voice sounds like it was raised in another Kingdom.