On the first day of class, the Dean of Students at the theological school I attended in Northern California gave a very important introduction. I still remember it very clearly 33 years later. He made a statement that made some students very upset. I know better now what he meant and why he said it.
He said, “Some of you aren’t going to survive this class, and I need you to know that’s OK.”
He proceeded to describe the toll that theological studies can have on a person’s faith. It’s intended to do that. It is designed to challenge belief. And some aren’t meant to go down that road.
And he was right. After that class, some took offense to what he said. Those were the same students that went back home mid semester. Their faith was not in a condition to explore this new territory. And there is no shame in that realization.
Dean Cate was gracious in describing a very harsh world we were all about to enter. He was a wise man and one of my favorite instructors in my two and a half years there. It was a profound experience for me. I’m still connected to most of the life-long friends I met there. I’m grateful for the testing of my faith that began at that time.
I’ve found that faith is a very personal possession. When I was a young man, I took my cues from older folks to help me sort out what I felt I should believe. Over time, as my discernment deepend. I started to toss overboard the flotsam and jetsam that slowed me down and would prove useless the further I explored my life of faith.
I like where I am today. Sometimes I go back in my mind to that young man sitting in Dean Cate’s classroom and remember his earnestness. I tell him thank you for enduring those days. I’m convinced that the work he did then prepared me for the difficulties of my recent past. He made me a better man today.
I made this song to remind me of those days and to look forward to what will unfold ahead
Warrior recently reminded me that part of the pain of my grief is like physical therapy. I’m not just dealing with loss. I’m also pulling on the scar tissue of past wounds that may have healed improperly having been joined as one flesh for so long.
Loss isn’t just caused by death. A partner can go missing in other ways. The pain of life can prevent one from showing up, leaving the other to ponder, “where did they go?” Death finalizes that question and renders it moot.
All loss isn’t equal. But all loss must be grieved.
As I mentioned yesterday, this stage in my process has me contemplating who I am now that I no longer am intertwined with another person. I am coming to some significant conclusions.
Since I am stuck at home, being out of work for almost a year, I don’t have a job telling me who I am. A profession is a safe way to describe to others my place in this world. I still tell folks I’m a chef when asked in conversation what my line of work is. Mainly because it’s easier and I was one for a long time and I may still return to that work once the country opens back up.
But what I do does not define who I am.
I am known by many names; chef, baker, author, gardener, musician, poet, caregiver, etc. All are descriptors of things I do that would make that name line up. I built a restaurant and worked in its kitchen for 10 years, therefore I am a chef. I love baking bread. Calling me a baker isn’t a stretch. A distinction I am learning to make with my grief counselor is this; I define these titles. They don’t define me.
I don’t know how long I’ve got til the Number of My Days is complete. My dad passed when he was 75. Using that as a benchmark, I’ve got 19 left to go. I don’t want to waste a single one.
There is a central reason I am known as chef, baker, author and so on. These are correct because they are planted, rooted in and grown out of my truest identity. I am a Creator. I have an obsessive drive to build and make things that did not exist previously. Food gave me an ideal workshop for this identity to flourish. It was extremely rewarding to take a wagon full of raw vegetables, and with the help of a few others, create a menu and dining experience unique to that one Saturday in time. That was more than the act as a chef. I was a Creator.
Another way this identity is manifested now is through my writing. I have been given some type of gift to create new thoughts with words that grow out of feelings and experiences. Based on your comments and feedback, what is very natural and second nature to me is received by you as deeply kind and profoundly reassuring. This is more than being an author. I’m continuing to create something that would not exist without me.
I’ve got some gas left in the tank, and I plan to ride hard til The Number of My Days says I’m done.
This is the force that is shaping me today. It is why I am compelled to get up and write something daily. It’s not my job. I don’t get paid to do this. I’m at this keyboard this morning because of who I am. I’m creating Hope.
It’s not enough for a Creator to merely create. That’s the easy part. The risk comes in the act of sharing that creation. Any artist knows this trepidation. I’ll admit every time, without fail, I hit “publish” on the WordPress tab, self-doubt is lurking nearby. I wish I could eradicate it. I just don’t let it keep me from posting.
I’ve started creating music again, and I am in this same dilemma. Why am I exterting this effort if it’s just to stay on the hard drive? Creators don’t build to hide. We do it to bless. So here’s a new creation I will offer. As a person of faith, this coronavirus circumstance is testing that faith. What do I believe? Will I allow these circumstances to hinder me, or is there Substance on which I can actually rely?
In this time of scarcity, I choose to live and create abundantly.
A few years ago I went to see my doctor about my right ear. It appeared to be blocked and I could tell it had influenced my hearing. She took a look and right away saw the problem. There was a big blob of earwax impacted. “It’s an easy fix” she said. Then proceeded to irrigate the ear canal and remove the obstruction.
When she did, the pop of air and sound startled me. I could hear vividly out of that ear. As I left the office and drove away in my car, I noticed how much more clear everything was out of that side of my head. Sound was no longer muted, but sharp and bright. So much so that I had to turn the music down because that ear began to hurt.
She explained that the nerves had gotten accustomed to the obstruction and they compensated for it. Now that there was a clear path for sound to reach my inner ear, it would take a few days for them to readjust.
I thought about that story yesterday as I was outside painting my house. Painting is a great project for my mind to explore because much of the work is repetitive and rhythmic. The figure-8 movement of the brush strokes back and forth provide a calming sense of accomplishment. However, there was a feeling attached to it that I couldn’t identify. As is my regular practice, I love to ask why.
I’m doing my entire house by myself, by hand, with a brush. No roller or sprayer. The paint I am using has the viscosity of cake batter, so it actually goes on better with a brush and it’s easier to get up under the laps of the original wood siding this way.
Intermixed in my internal conversation was how different this project is now that I live alone. I chose the colors. I set the schedule and go at my own pace. If she was still here, the whole house would have been done by now. I’m on day 7 and a third of the way complete.
This is a huge project now that I’m on my own. I don’t have another to consider, or one whose opinion I need to accommodate. Relational partnership is a continual process of learning and deferring, of give and take. I can do this paint project how I would like to do it, at a slow and methodical speed. I am careful to get it done without drip marks or thin places. I get to take my time and do it how I want it.
But I’m alone.
And therein lies a dilemma of my grief. It’s the pain of hearing again. My soul is asking what is this new sound? And why does it hurt?
This new sound I detect is music that was overpowered by other vibrations. I can hear me again. I can hear my desires and preferences. The craftsman in me that gave way to the goal-oriented partner can now return to work and paint the house accordingly.
This was an epiphany for me. This is my new normal. I am free to learn to hear my heart again in ways I never could before. But it is both agonizing and liberating. The sting of loss mixed with the discovery of new possibilities is a bittersweet song.
It’s impossible to escape the myriad of opinions about this Coronavirus situation and what should or should not have been done. Much of it is only rooted in anger, which is understandable. But these are not the voices to pay attention to.
Listen for the prophets.
A prophet is one who has a timely message for a specific moment in time. They are recognized by the witness that is borne inside. You hear their words and something in you resonates with what is being said. It’s a call to action, not an invitation to complain. They might be angry, but they also have something to say.
A very good recent example of a prophetic voice is from Julio Vincent Gambuto in an article titled, Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting. It’s a call to consider how this health crisis has damaged our social world and the choices that we each have in the process of rebuilding it.
“From one citizen to another, I beg of you: take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life.”
Julio Vincent Gambuto, Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting.
The problem with prophets today has been true throughout time. Their message isn’t for everyone. It never has, and never will be. Because it’s usually disruptive.
But for those who have the ears to hear the meaning, those are the ones who stand to benefit from their words.
Our world as we once knew has severely changed. The prophets are here to say it can keep changing.
I’ve said that many times recently, cautiously I must add. I feel the need to explain what these words mean to me.
In the midst of lawsuits and bankruptcy, The Admiral gave me these words and I recall them very clearly. He said, “We’re gonna get through this. Trust me. I’ve done over 1500 of these in my career. They all made it. And we’re gonna have a beer together sometime down the road and be able to laugh about it.”
He was right. We had that beer. And we laughed.
But it wasn’t without grief, because I was entering into a territory for which I had no map, no coordinates, no GPS. It was terra incognita. Uncharted territory.
Such are the days we are living in. Unprecedented in my lifetime. Life as I’ve known it is gone and the signs of it returning to any sense of normalcy are vague at best. Are The Admiral’s words still true?
Will we get through this?
Here’s my perspective from the place on the wall where I stand and watch.
What The Admiral didn’t mean was life will go back to looking like it did as before. I lost my business. I lost everything I had worked for. I lost my dream. And since then, I lost my wife. I’ve lost friends. None of these are coming back in the same way I experienced them in the past. Life will not return to this kind of normal that I once knew.
My heart is tender toward my colleagues who are in the restaurant business. I would be in the same boat if I hadn’t lost mine. I would be dealing with the same pain of letting employees go, and watching an entire industry collapse with no recourse. Some have been able to pivot and retool their operation. But it’s not the same as before.
Here’s what The Admiral’s words meant to me:
Yes, we’ll get through this. Repeat. We. You’re not alone. I’m with you.
No, Life won’t look the same as before. But that’s OK. Life changes regardless.
Yes, you can survive, because Hope is here to ensure that.
No, you can’t get her back.
Yes, you can grieve, and you must.
No, you couldn’t have done anything to prevent it.
Yes, you will get through this.
No, you don’t want to live backward.
Yes, keep moving forward. That’s where Hope lives.
No, She doesn’t call you to stay in your past.
Yes, I believe in you.
I hope you have an Admiral in your life. I am forever grateful and indebted to his friendship.
My life-long love of gardening has taught me much about perspective in life. I learned early on that there is something personally instructive about planning, planting, tending and harvesting an annual garden. The earliest lesson on the farm it taught me was the importance of having something that required care and attention from me only. It wasn’t going to happen unless I planted it. It would not succeed unless I watered and weeded it. No one else was going to do it for me. It was a simple lesson that started a course that I would enjoy studying many years later.
Because of gardening, I know what it takes to put food on the table. Because of my small backyard economy, I don’t take the national supply chain for granted. If the grackles decimate the onion tops, I won’t have any come summertime. They’re done, over. I have to wait again til next year.
The work of gardening is seasonal, and there is specific work to do in all four seasons. I like the old proverb that reinforces this
He who gathers crops in summer is one that acts wisely, but he who sleeps during harvest is disgraceful.
There is work to do in every season. Even today, stuck at home under Shelter in Place, Social Distancing, there are things I wish I could be doing. And the key word is Wish. I have no control of so much that I wish for, and it will do me no good to spend energy complaining and fretting about those things beyond my reach. I can wish for my sweet tomatoes in April, but if I don’t do the work in the meantime, I won’t have a harvest in July.
I approach my days in quarantine like I would a job. I build in a routine. I have a schedule. I shower and get dressed like I would in going work every day. I don’t lounge around in shorts. I need some semblance of order that I am in charge of.
And a big part of the day is to create. I write. I work out. I cook. I plan my garden. And most recently, I’ve started recording again. I took advantage of the time to upgrade my home audio studio and return to a long lost love that has been absent for 17 years; making music.
Here is a recording of a poem titled, Broken Down Shack, that I posted back in November. I recorded it this morning as a part of my decision to make each day count.
My words are resonating with you. Something I’m saying is connecting but you’re not sure why.
I don’t put a lot of stock in coincidence. Instead, I believe in Faith, Hope and Love
One other thing I believe.
Someone is trying to get your attention.
I believe this because a crisis is an ample opportunity to garner it.
Faith isn’t for everyone. I mean, it’s freely and readily available, but it’s heard and discovered by those who have ears to hear it.
It’s for those who don’t know how to pay rent in a few days.
It’s for those who can’t sleep at night because the business is not going to survive.
It’s for those wrecked with anxiety by all the uncertainty of these times.
Some gave up on faith because it never seemed to do any good or make any difference. I’m not trying to persuade or sell something. I’m just a voice, speaking of what I have discovered in my most recent dark days.
There is Hope.
Some of you need a miracle, literally.
You may have lost your job and there is no money left in the account.
Some are contemplating the ultimate decision to escape and leave it all behind. It’s a choice that makes sense to the one making it. It’s hell for those left in its wake.
Desperation creates its own momentum.
I don’t know your story. I only know mine, and here is what I have come to believe.
Of the One Who Is Getting My Attention, I must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
That’s my faith. Plain. Simple.
I recorded a reflection on the Lord’s Prayer. It’s about 5 min long. If you don’t know how to pray, or if Hope exists, follow along and borrow some of mine.
I encourage you to listen, as Faith always starts by hearing.
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.