Heaps of masks in stages of production; pleats, pins, patterns
Teachers’ voices in my home, made small by laptop speakers, children fidgeting in chairs they sit in to eat and play board games
Context all askew and no one can find the good pencils with intact erasers.
The heroes brave the front and we rally around them by being not around
Dodge an enemy we can’t see
Stare down graphs and projections and curves
And count the rolls of toilet paper and wonder.
Placed in the center of my heart are those dear ones who cannot weather such a viral blow. I keep looking in on them, in my heart; are you yet well?
I am not afraid, I lift my head to you to say; I am not afraid to die
I look back into my heart, I would not have them die, not because of idiocy and obstinacy; not so very unnecessarily.
My heart bearing them, I go to cook; everyone seems doubly hungry and Lenten fare does not settle heavy in restless and unsorted bellies.
Prayer as I breathe.
If you’ve made a friend of a constellation, then we need not bother to say much; you know what it is to scan the night’s sky for the telltale groupings of ancient light that have accompanied all of your stories.
If you haven’t had the pleasure, well, there is still time. Or, maybe that is promising too much, but you could still look up and lay bare your heart, drowning it with awe.
I remember Orion peering at me over the edge of a snowbank, the cold seeping steadily through my snow pants, my breath obscuring him; his light and the light of the moon making luminous the quiet snow. The snow below, the stars above, held between, Orion looking, steady and silent; “I will always have you, Orion.”
He is used to me coming to him with all of my tears. I don’t like to cry with people, nor indoors, but with my Orion as that imperturbable anchor that he is, I could endeavor to grieve bodily, loudly. Frustrated, hurt, jealous, furious, despairing, overwhelmed, I again and again sought the comfort of his easily found shape. “Did Homer speak with you too, Orion?”
I walked endlessly tonight; there was never enough sidewalk for my strides to devour. St. Paul’s stained glass windows caused me pause. On the front of the church they depicted Christ the Good Shepherd, and on the side Christ in Gethsemane. He who holds us also prayed with tears; He too asked to be delivered. I took hold of that and I walked on.
My feet relinquished the sidewalks, relinquished their ceaseless pounding forward and I stretched out on my back to find my friend Orion. He looked at me, and I looked at him, pinprick of light by pinprick of light. “Hello, Orion.”
Untimely: coming, said, done, etc. before the usual or proper time; premature, unseasonable (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language)
It is a perfect storm of reading:
There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda McGurk
The Hurried Child by psychologist David Elkind
The creamy white wool blanket I found in the Goodwill bargain bins last week is still airing out on the wash line. It takes a good while for the moth ball smell to fade. Some dedicated person embroidered their initials on it, and trimmed the edges in blanket stitch, in red. Every time I go to a thrift store I find hand-embroidered table linens, handkerchiefs, and table runners. There is pain and beauty in that; beauty in the handiwork and pain in the likelihood that the one who stitched it has passed, their careful, skillful work donated by family who didn’t appreciate it.
There was fine Irish table linen; the tablecloth and eight napkins in fine brocade. It still had the noble, ornate label on each piece. It sat among the broken laundry baskets, hangers, shoes, and textbooks like a queen atop a trash heap. It was over fifty years old, but never once used. Always saved for the most special occasion? An occasion that never came? It reminded me of a character in a book I read long ago, which I’ve failed to track down. She lay dying in her bed, and went on and on about her best sheets and linens being in the bureau; that she’d never used them; that they were in some way markers of her worth and good repute. That to die without fine linen that had never been used would be shameful.
We were given a piece of blue and white china by a great aunt. She explained that it had always been in her corner cupboard, with the other pieces of the set, never used. Her mother had kept them in the same way, in another corner cupboard on the farm, only taking them out for a dusting once a year. Beautiful dishes that never once held food, nor served at a meal. This was strange to me.
One Christmas I was gifted a collectible Holiday Barbie. She was magnificent, in a white sparkling ballgown, her blonde hair cascading in perfect curls. I had asked for her, so earnestly, and there she was! I went to open the box and was told not to; it was explained that she wouldn’t be worth anything if I took her out and played with her; that she was an investment of sorts. I stared through the shiny plastic window at a toy I’d never get to play with and was perfectly miserable.
It wasn’t too long until I secretly freed her from her packaging and triumphantly (albeit guiltily) played. I promptly lost her shoes, her brush, and her hair bore signs of brushing and handling. My parents felt like it was a loss, but I felt as though it was finally a gain.
Preserve or enjoy? I tend towards enjoy, I tend towards giving things stories and life. I favor the Velveteen rabbit’s snags and bare spots, a loved object is more beautiful to me than a perfect one.
It’s a battle I’m supposed to be fighting, I gather, from the women’s magazines in the checkout lines. The enemy roster is long: wrinkles, cellulite, gray hair, extra weight, saggy skin, drooping eyelids, age spots, untoned muscles.
The weapons of war are proferred up in glossy ads: botox, implants, hair dye, alpha-hydroxy serums, specialized diets, plastic surgery, teeth bleaching, kickboxing.
But, what if I don’t see a battle at all? What if I marvel at how the light reflects from the silver strands in my hair? What if my wrinkles remind me of how many days I’ve spent squinting into the surf, riding waves, and laughing hard, with my whole heart? What if my soft abs remind me of the many babies who lived within me; of being a house for another soul?
Tuesday I’ll turn 40 and I am terribly excited. I never expected to live so long.
My last turn of the decade was celebrated in Peru with a fantastic party put on by my fellow missionaries including dance performances, plays, and a concert by the kids. It was glorious fun. I didn’t mind turning 30; I was excited, even though I only had a few rogue gray hairs and just the hints of wrinkles.
It is okay to be happy in one’s skin; it’s okay not to buy any of the fancy weapons of war, it’s okay to skip on the battlefield and look at the wildflowers.
It could bear any title
As long as it were free
To snap to position all parts
Notch into notch, smooth gears agreeing
Mind the party line.
Well, unwelcome shock
Well, intruding doubt
Well, whole heart half-living
Well, quiet now,
Mind the manual, chapter 14, article 11, clause 3A.
The important thing is to move
Move the machine
The machine deserves
Power, please don’t question
And turn off the light.
Are we making the Kingdom?
Hopeful gears think now and then
To themselves as they fit together
Click, click, click
The main thing is moving intone the machinists
Move your piece, forfeit peace, axel grease.
I cannot wring water from stone
There is no kneading of air to make my bread
And words, like water, must have a source
There has never been a carrot tempting enough, perhaps
To make me pump for water, rather
Than spill what must overflow anyways
A writer…I cannot deny it
But, the joy is all in the spilled writing, see it?
The math of my exultation, thoughts+attention+neural acrobatics=a translation of what is, filtered through one soul, though small, bringing some light, some beauty
Well suited to be a hermit
Lend me a shovel, for I have a talent I’d like buried
Why? It is easier. What if I offered it and they said it had no light, no beauty?
Who can put out their own heart on the auction block?
Tell me, how do you get the hermit
To give her littlest light? To give such small beauty?
It sits, leaden, heavy within me
Haven’t we read in our bloody history
Laden minutes like these, the push at the ledge
The point of pitch
The birth of irretrievable acceleration?
Headlong into war.
A new year, so freshly given and already
We’ve forgotten to live a different story
Egos flex and soldiers bleed, children die
Scars are carved into the earth, into our souls
And mothers, and fathers swallow grief, they eat tears.
-written January 7, 2020, after hearing the news that Iran had retaliated
This is my small record. This moment of time on January 7, 2020, just after hearing that Iran has fired missiles at Iraqi bases where coalition forces are stationed, including American troops.
Tears tipped from my eyes and ran hot and free down my face. War always tastes like this. I look at my sons, curled up together on the couch. I remember 9/11; I had cried in the shower. I had thought of my brother, a soldier. I did not want the story that seemed to rush downhill upon us. He was deployed and for a year it felt like a suspended life; sitting but not sitting, sleeping without sleeping, eating without taste. One feels as though life is held tenuously, so lightly, that a strong wind might carry it away.
How much blood has to spill before we find a different ink, a different story?
In honor of National Adoption Month, I’ve asked a few adoptive parents to share a reflection, something they’d like their communities to see, to know, about their journey in caring for foster and adopted children. A note from the author of this post: Sarah asked me to write for National Adoption Month. The topic turned out to be so painful that I am late.
We have three adopted kids and three kids the old-fashioned way. They are ten years apart. The oldest is 30 years old; the youngest is 20.
My wife and I have vastly different experiences of adoption because we are vastly different people. I will speak only for myself.
At the outset, I considered adoption as some mixture of obeying God (James 1:27) and using the considerable advantages of my life to help someone who is alone in a very cruel world.
And then there was arrogance. When the adoption process began I was in my 40s. I was a tank commander in my 20s, a bicycle racer riding 8,000 miles a year and sure I could be the inspiring kind of dad that would make a difference in the life of a troubled boy.
We planned to adopt boys simply because my wife could handle anything and I thought I would be better with boys. We already had three girls, so it could also have been balance.
At that point in my life I still believed parents had an influence nearly equal to heredity. Say, 50/50 Nature/Nurture. I now believe it’s 90/10. So much of who a child is and what children grow to be is set at birth. Ambition, manual skill, IQ, perseverance, and competitiveness are no more changeable than eye color, height, skin color, or natural hair color.
In the 20 years since we brought our youngest son home, my view of life, the universe and everything in has changed. He had stroke in the birth canal. The doctors said it was just bad luck. We had no idea the extent of the damage or what that would mean. He is blind in his right eye and everything on his right side has nerve-related problems. He has ADHD, dyslexia, learning disabilities and problems that grow from those.
Ten years later we adopted another son. He was 11 at the time. A year older than the first son. Second son was taken from a mother arrested for dealing crack and he was exposed to crack in utero. He had a different set of problems, but the same learning disabilities. Neither boy could or will ever be able to do the single-digit multiplication table.
We attempted and failed to adopt three other boys. One was with us until he went into a rage and threw knives.
Someone could read this and accuse me of focusing on the negative. I admit that. But the process of dealing with the ups and downs of the troubled children we adopted reminded me deeply of my own childhood with a bi-polar mother. Her rages were awful, but equally terrifying to my own little child self was when she was very happy. Nothing predicted a big explosion in mom’s psyche better than the slow burning fuse of happiness.
When the older son got into trouble in high school, I was waiting for the next problem and finally doing my best to keep him out of jail.
When people ask me about adopting, I never recommend it. I imagined I could be a good adoptive father, but I was run over by the wrenching difficulties. And I see neither unicorns nor rainbows in the future. Both boys are troubled in their own ways and I have little hope they can be anything like self-sufficient, independent adults.