There is a quiet place, a secret place, that is yours for restoration. There is a realness in the stillness. Go there, when you can; when you need to. It's safe. For me, it is the Other Side of the Trees.
An art to doing nothing … I’m learning about that art, the kind of nothing that counts for something. A friend from the west stopped by one night, burgers and nocturnal coffee. It was nice to “Be” hanging out, sipping black coffee. My friend’s face transitioned into a mix of contemplation and consternation, confessing that he had spent too much time with “Do”, over the previous two decades.
“I thought that was the only way to be. Dad told me that, ‘Work, son. Just work. Be the first one into the office. Be the last one to leave.’ And that is what I did, for years. Now, I’m so wiped out. I’ve lost my way. I don’t know how … to just be. I don’t know who I am supposed to be.”
It is not always pleasant, moving into stillness. How does one move into stillness? How does one practice the art of doing nothing … the kind of nothing that counts for something?
‘Been a Rembrandt fan for a while … twenty-five years, maybe? Light pulls me into the boat, a beautiful contrast between light and shadow. Colors, I can’t put words to. “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”, I have gravitated towards, over and over (and over). Light … amazingly beautiful … inside and outside of the waves, port side, shadow on the starboard. The story. Story is beautiful; story is jagged, painful; story is redemptive. Guys, in the thick of it, fear intense, emanating beyond the boat. I see myself on the boat, in the storm, terrified. Fortunately, the storms pass, the waters subside. Three hundred years later (1990), art thieves stole the painting from an art museum in Boston, one of many, totaling approximately $500 million dollars in estimated value. It was the most costly theft of art known. “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” has never been recovered. The art thieves, never apprehended. Life, complicated. Beauty in a storm? Art, so sacred … stolen by thieves in the night?
I reflect on the years I’ve accumulated. Of the many vignettes, memories, scenarios, I recall a theme pondered and talked about countless times: men, to do the right thing. Several factors have always traveled along with this issue, through the generations; one of those factors being shorterm gratification compared with longterm gratification; another cause being fatigue (mental and physical); and yet another, problematic rationalization versus clarity of thought connected to good ethics, honorable character. So, the original thought, “Men, To Do The Right Thing”, leads into these factors.
Shorterm gratification. In the realm of relationships and marriage, shorterm gratification can lead to trust broken, betrayal, lies. Sounds harsh, yes? But, not uncommon. Here is a, possibly, oversimplified picture of what this looks like is. Two individuals are in a relationship; they have a few arguments over a short period of time; one of the individuals chooses to experience being with someone (seemingly) immediately fulfilling, no (visible) complications, (all in secrecy). Eventually, the truth comes out and the unfatihful one has a choice to make.
Fatigue and clarity of thought. In the context of a relationship, where a man becomes mentally and physically fatigued over a period of time (caused by any number of catalysts), resulting in his diminishing attention to his wife and her needs. His apathy slowly increases in proportion to his diminishing level of attention to his wife. Here is my question: will this man recognize what is happening and make crucial changes to avoid further pain to his marriage? What makes this a difficult situation is the power of negative momentum. My own paraphrased definition of the Law Inertia is this: “An object in motion will continue unless acted upon by an external force.” So, what will be the external force, for this man, to keep him from going downhill, inevitably crashing with great chaos.
Lastly, I consider rationalization and clarity of thought. By the way, I truly believe that all three of these areas overlap, to differing degrees. Here is where my mind goes, with rationalization. I think about the workplace. A man is intensely pressured by his supervisor to increase his numbers reflecting a higher level of productivity. His coworkers do not seem to be having any difficulty. So, the man in question asks one of his coworkers to help him think through what needs to happen to get his numbers up, where they need to be. The coworker shows him some “shortcuts”, and points out some steps that “the other guys don’t waste their time on. There is some distinction about what is policy and what the rest of the team is doing, he chooses the latter, to get on board with what works, regardless of policy. In this context several factors are at play: rationalization, fatigue, and the shorterm gratification.
When / if a man comes to a fork in the road where he realizes he chose unwisely, either the man fully embraces his mistake, or he glosses over, minimizes, dismisses, rationalizes. The good news is that one can learn from his “bad call”, and then press on, keeping in mind that he does not want to repeat his mistake. The bad news is that one can become, gradually, more submerged in his pattern of bad choices. His conscious becomes a bit more numb, his focus changes towards the shorterm gratification, the rationalization process, moving away from clarity of thought. Some believe that our world is moving faster; not in the sense of physics, but in the way we process information, the higher expectations placed on all of us, and the higher costs for (almost) everything. True, should not go into a rationalization mode, and say there is an excuse for our breakdown in choices. Having said that, I believe the … higher velocity … brings real challenges to howe live, and what we do. I have known too many men over the years who have lost their marriages and/or their careers because of bad choices. This week, I found myself thinking about the pain these men and their wives have gone through, in these situations. My heart, truly goes out for them. It is a wake-up call for, to do my best to make wise choices.
Today March 17, is St Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Many male children born on this day have Patrick as their Christian name. One of those, living in the village that I call home in the north of County Donegal, will mark his 87th birthday today on 17 March 2018.
He is not known as Patrick at all, but as Paddy. Not only Paddy, but for many, many years of my life, he was ‘Young’ Paddy as his father was also Paddy, or ‘Old’ Paddy. ‘Old’ Paddy – or to be more accurate ‘Ould’ Paddy in the Donegal pronunciation – died not long before Christmas in 1967 and I am not sure when ‘Young’ Paddy became known as simply ‘Paddy’ Vaughan.
10 year old Paddy
Paddy was well known for his ‘tall tales’, many of which were totally outrageous, some of which were totally unbelievable and all of which were…
It’s been a good-tough week. From a weathered paperback, essays on spirituality and encouragement, I read in the back, a page I had forgotten about: a few thoughts, a few dates. “October 3rd 1993. Arrived in Antarctica” …
We came on an Air Force cargo jet … equipped with massive skis. (The picture shows a cargo plane with “big skis”, like the ones our cargo jet used). October 3rd of ’93 was the beginning of a five-month season of work for the National Science Foundation. My residence at Willy Field on Ross Ice Shelf, the ice runway for incoming / outgoing planes, was where I cooked breakfast for scientists, US Navy personnel, and support staff (about 8,000 eggs by the time I left). “February 22nd of 1994, last day on the ice.” On that day, I had jumped on a Navy C-130, with those uncomfortable nylon mesh-strap seats, and left Antarctica. Nine hours later, we touched down at a New Zealand Air Force base, Christchurch, New Zealand. For the first time in five months I experienced rain, and nights, and seeing children, older people, dogs, green grass, restaurants, natural fragrances in the air, colors. “March 8th 1994,left New Zealand for Denver” … reluctantly. “March 22nd 1994, left Denver for the South, to see my parents for a bit.” So, it just worked out that way, one month, after my last day on “the Ice” (February 22nd), I flew out of Denver March 22nd, to a small place in the South to spend a week with my parents. “October of 1994, I met my wife to be.”
A year after I got off “the Ice”, February 1995, I proposed to my future bride. “June of 1995, Married a princess.” After all this reflection, I am aware of my presence in the “here-and-now” … the present … today, in fact. And I found my self thinking of two pieces in life we deal with: 1) reflection on our stories / journeys; and 2) where we are at, right now. In my time of working with people, many of whom struggle with these two pieces, I have asked the question, “What do we know to be true?”. I’m throwing that out to any who are visiting the Other Side of the Trees, perusing this post. I believe the answers to “What do we know to be true?” are quite different. Here is what I have come up with.
My story is not yet finished.
My story is still being written.
My story (specific elements) needs to be told (to the right people, at the right time, in the right context).
I need to hear the stories of others.
I have the capacity to love; the choice to love well; and I face the reality that I do not always love well.
I have journeys ahead; or, shall I say … the journey continues.
I need good, encouraging, safe, relationships in my life.
I have hope … but, similar to love, I do not always hope “well”.
I have something to offer; and I have a great amount to learn.
I need vision; I need goals; I need enthusiasm; I need wisdom – – – not just intelligence.
And, lastly for today, I am here.
Well, enough said, for now. I always write more that I should, more than I intended. I hope this finds you all experiencing peace, joy, and good health.
“What she knows of the blue-blood set she learned not through birthright, not even through wealth, but through osmosis.”
“He neverstudiesbutlearns byosmosis.”
“Livingin Paris, helearnedFrenchslangbyosmosis.”
Yes. I have the right word, osmosis. Bookish osmosis brings words, ideas, sentences into the heart and mind, from books, held close (my theory). I am nudged in my psyche and my passion, when I think of writers who may have experienced bookish osmosis: Annie Proulx, Anton Chekov, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, Daniel Silva, Maya Angelou, Tim Cahill, John le Carre, CS Lewis, William Blake, Brad Thor, Douglas Adams, Nelson Demille, Craig Johnson, Vince Flynn … and Keith Richards; George Orwell; Anthony Burgess (see photos, below).
My “book-eyes” are bigger than the hours of the day. My desire for good books, transcendent characters, kick-ass plots, great stories, goes beyond what is realistic. And that, my fellow bloggers, is why I am holding out for bookish osmosis.
I woke up this morning, a good place to start. In my goings, my comings, my interactions, I am asked that profound question that has been lurking close by, since the dinosaurs: “How are you doing today?”
Me: “How ‘you doin’?”
Others: “I’m doin’ good. How you doin’?” (Just like the commercial, with a New York accent – “How You Doin’? I’m Doin’ Good. How You Doin’?”)
Me: “Well, I woke up, this morning. That suggested that it was going to be a good day.”
I have a theory: most people know, that on some level, it is good to wake up. Not everyone wakes up. This morning, when sleep slipped away, I thought of my grieving. Anyone who has (miraculously) read any of my posts might know that my dad finished up his race (a metaphor for his life), last year, 2016, June. The grieving process has, seemingly,not been, successful. Some say that this kind of loss involves a lengthy process, longer than a year and four months. And yet, I’ve been on the other side of the forest from joy, from victory, from strength, from my dreams … Get the picture? The weariness of grief shows up in more ways than one: the darkness, the sadness, lack of motivation, the loss of dreams. Evenings, the fatigue may hit like a freight train. I don’t think this is as simple as I would like it to be. Is your grieving over? To think, that there is more life, a different life, just over the horizon. That is a good thought. Some of you have already reached that point. Don’t stop: I’m right behind you.
Not far from East Texas, even less distance from the Arkansas border, my first birthday happened in a little town, a little home, a little hospital. Quite a shindig, that first birthday. Late night, or early morning, it was dark out. A doctor, some nurses, Mom was there, Dad was in the waiting room. On the outskirts of that little town, logging trucks growled up and down a four-lane Louisiana State highway, east and west, in front of our rural, heavily wooded, place. Our little town’s “downtown” lay three miles west. What was east of us, down that road … I knew nothing about. I asked my dad, once.
“The only people I know who go down that way are these logging trucks you see going back and forth. It’s not a place where you want to go. In fact, I do not want you to go down there … at all.”
I never asked again. This was the “small town” South. Everyone knew your business, to a point; the same “small-town” South where secrets were part of the fabric, an old fabric, passed down through many generations, secrets that would never die. Since my pre-adolescent years, curiosity about the land east of us would not fade, like the secrets. While researching one of my favorite topics, “Fire Towers” / “Watch Towers”, I experienced an unexpected dose of irony, a powerful metaphor. I found out about a fire tower near the little town where I grew up, just east of our home, down that elusive highway, leading into an elusive place. A topographical map showed the symbol for a fire tower there, surrounded by forest, like other fire towers; yet, no picture. It bothered me that I couldn’t find a picture of the fire tower in my little town. I imagined a fire tower, in the midst of a dense wilderness, with a nameless, faceless, man looking out for miles in all directions. And yet, I could not see this fire tower hidden from me. It bothered me that I have not been able to find other pictures of the place where I grew up: the store (the only store in town that sold clothes, and a number of other categories of goods); the drug store; the barber shop; the original library; the cotton gin, the Legion Hall, the grocery store. Instead I found articles of sad things that have happened, and continue to happen. I still refuse to give up my town, but … I must do exactly that. It is no longer there. Yes, it is on the map. It goes by the same name. But it is not the same place. My little home town has died. Some places, you just can’t get to. Some mysteries remain mysteries. Some stories are not meant to be finished. We have our own stories, each playing an intricate role in our larger story, and we are called to live out that story, not the stories of others. We have our grieving that shows up in different ways: the loss of a friend, or a family member; the loss or “home”; the loss of community that we once had with certain, special, individuals. And with this reality, another, more powerful reality stands strong in the present: we transcend that pain, our pain, our loss. We have vision, passion, creativity for beauty and meaning that must overwhelm that past. There is joy in the present; there is joy in tomorrow; there is joy in the future. I am immensely thankful for that.
Recently, I had an image in my mind, a man … many years compiled; white hair, weathered face, eyes that drew you into his stories, his life, seasoned in his silence. A man who did not speak, just so he could hear himself. I searched for the picture of a man who fit the image I was contemplating. The drawing below, of a man’s face, brought to the surface, something allegorical.
Grady. Late seventies. A jovial man with a thankful spirit, in an assisted living-type of context. I met Grady in a sports bar a number of years ago. The stool next to him was open. I didn’t ask, I claimed the place along the bar. He wore a surfer-style t-shirt (it could have been him on the board riding a wave), thick white hair, large forearms; he had the marked and worn hands of a carpenter, with a nice collection of scars from building houses. Grady was drinking coffee.
I asked, ‘”Why would a fella come to a sports bar and drink coffee?”
The man set his coffee down and looked at me with a strong poker face. Sizing me up, he said, “Big TV’s to watch sports. I get to talk to pretty women.”
I saw the mischief in his blue eyes, a contagious grin. I asked him what his wife thinks about such tomfoolery.
‘There are no big TVs in my home, and only one good-looking gal to talk to. Belle. She is my wife. And she understands such matters.”
I sat with Grady at the sports bar once, or twice, monthly, Wednesday evenings. He said I had a higher calling than to hang out in sports bars. I told Grady “Maybe you also have a higher calling than hanging out in sports bars.” Grady stared up into the heavens for a bit, before slowly nodding: “This may be true.”
Belle passed in ’91. I attended Belle’s funeral, sat with Grady, with an unexplainable sense that Belle was there, also, sitting with Grady. Soon after, Grady moved to where he is now, an upscale assisted living set up. I hang out with Grady, on Wednesday’s. Grady has not changed a bit since we met; I was heckling him about drinking coffee in a sports bar. He is the same big-boned man, somewhere above the six-foot mark, a strong smile and a weathered gentleness. Grady will shift from regular sentences into multiple phrases; eyes focused on a place, a thought, beyond our here-and-now. I think about what he is saying; I look for a pattern, or patterns; and I am able to follow him. He has a sharp mind.
“Vision … you get it, don’t lose it …’
Belle’s love … “
Friend … priceless …”
Recently, I asked, “How goes the battle, Grady?”
“It goes, my young friend, continues on many fronts. Sometimes well, sometimes not.” “Example?”
“(Pause) We have these debates that come up, some of the men, here. We encourage each other. At times, someone will get a bit heated. That happened yesterday (pause). I’m learning more about appreciating that … tension … in community. Over many years, I have found myself worried about losing a friend, if I say the wrong thing, or if I don’t do what people want me to do. I do not need to fear the tension, the conflict. These are good men, and we have the freedom to be real and to speak freely. It’s alright if we see things differently. Yes. They are good men, like you.”
I still need to dig a bit deeper with this allegory, to get the big idea, Based on what I have, so far, I think this allegory is about our gravitation towards authentic relationship; the inner substance of redemptive desire to understand each other, respectively; the potential committment to stick with a relationship for the long haul, versus fading away to move on, to the next “thing”, the next friend. I hope that you have enjoyed this allegorical place I have gone to.