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.
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.
There is light, just over the horizon. Just on the other side of that mass of fog. Other side of the mountain. It’s not piercing, or blazing, but it’s there. Sometimes the fog, up there, accentuates the mystery in our lives, in nature.
The huge mountains, their peaks taking center stage … are sometimes shrouded by the fog that hints of light. The peaks, no longer at center stage. It’s not the peak, that’s the focus. It’s the light, in different forms.
Someone said, long ago:
“Weeping my endure for the evening. Buy Joy returns in the morning.”
We need light, we want light. At night, the sun sinks downward, eastward, and temps drop: we are helped by the light that keeps us warm. Someone said that there is a fire that refines us like a furnace. “A fire gives light, which draws us in; and a fire also burns.”
A great quote, from Shadowlands, goes like this: “We read to know, that we are not alone.” I think sunsets, sunrises, light hiding behind the fog, behind the peaks do that for us as well. They all let us know … we are not alone.
On the other side of the trees, it gets quiet after the kids have turned in for the night. I’ve had time to think about family; my immediate family and my family of origin.
“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at.”
“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
In our going, from here to there, we come out on the other side of difficult (putting it mildly?) relationships, and step into healthy relationships. Seasons of relational isolation may still come, that wrap around us like a heavy blanket; causing me to remember. Overshadowed by two older brothers, tolerated and managed by my parents, I was (am?) the “Black Sheep”. Over the years, there have been attempts to recapture those elusive years. We cannot always go back to repair the gaps that leave us with longings for significance and community.
Samuel Osherson’s book, “Finding Our Fathers”, provided some healing in the midst of grieving the loss of my father. Osherson wrote (paraphrased): “Some sons go through their lives searching for love and acceptance from their fathers … perpetually elusive. Men hope to find it in their work, relationships, or other areas … unable to find what they are looking for.” We must get past the losses; we must move on; embrace our significance that is within us.
Healing happens because of safe, powerful, beautiful, relationships: new brothers, new sisters, older individuals who, for a season, pour into my weathered soul. There is pain and betrayal; there are unsafe people. Thus, the risks we take. We are seasoned by both the good and the bad. Foggy mornings and moonless, starless, nights still happen, where relational isolation howls. We endure, with strength and faith; the fog will lift; the nights will not always be so dark. Authentic brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, play a profound role in our voyage.
Hope, from an image. Not just an image, but a painting. Not just a painting, but a Rembrandt; Rembrandt’s TheReturn of the Prodigal Son.
Rembrandt’s painting connects with a biblical passage, Luke 12. Here is my “Readers Digest” version, a short paraphrase that does not do the full story justice. So, accept my apology. A younger brother, working with his father and older brother in the field, complained to his father about the hard work, the boredom. He wanted to leave with all of his inheritance immediately. The father agreed, with great consternation. The younger brother left on his adventure, and it was not long before he blew his inheritance on drink and revelry. Hungry because he had no food, no money. He got a job at a pig farm, and saw that the pigs were getting fed better than he was. The younger brother then decided to go back home, humble himself before his father (he was truly humbled, broken, devastated) and apologize; he would take a job as a hired hand. At least he would not go hungry.
When the prodigal son came into view from where his father stood, the father ran to his son with unfathomable gratitude that his lost son was back. He instructed his servants to put together a feast. The (above) painting shows the younger son, the prodigal, in his ragged clothes, humbling himself before his father, expressing his sorrow for being a fool, and leaving home. The older son’s jealousy and anger with his younger brother. The older brother stands to the right in the painting, looking on, with jealous and angry with his younger brother.
Rembrandt painted The Return of the Prodigal Son about two years before his death, suggesting that Rembrandt identified with the Prodigal. Rembrandt died penniless, before his fame could catch up with him.
Other paintings resonate with the theme of The Return of the Prodigal Son, such as “Merry Company” by Gerrit van Honthorst (1623), showing the Prodigal squandering his inheritance.
I refer to hope, in this post, connected to Rembrandt’s painting, simply because the Prodigal found love, acceptance, and a place to belong.
Lastly, I cherish The Return of the Prodigal Son because I am a prodigal. The difference is that I never really returned home. I just made visits. Yet, my father always loved me; always accepted me; always welcomed me.
All of this comes with strange timing. Father’s day is coming up, and I consider that I could have been a better father for my son; as my father was to me. My father is 93, and he recently experienced a fairly serious turn for the worst in the last 48 hours. My brothers and I are hoping for the best. Hope is what we have. Hope emerges from different places, different people, different stories.
The storms, continuous. There are good days that have been very good days, a reminder that the storms do, in fact, blow over. Healing happens in the storms: injustice, hardships, pain. Some people are like storms(!),( they bring chaos, frenzy, intensity. Others are like good days, bringing the sun, clarity, calm. There are unexplainable moments of beauty in the storms. The dark storms come, without beauty: the bad stuff, people who want to make life hellish / difficult / cruel … I feel bullied. And, I try to remember: there is healing. Healing in the land of the bullies. I am not a victim; I (we) have what it takes to do the next thing. I’ve worked with kids, removed from the home because of the parents’ own style of bullying … sexual abuse and neglect. I think about people in Michigan, violently bullied by a man with a gun, illogical, brutal. I recall images of people in Paris, running for safety, away from terrorists killing innocent citizens. I think of bullies like cancer, Parkinson’s Disease; I think of bullies who target students in school; I think of corporations saturated with greed bullying American consumers; I think of women, men, harassed in the work place unmercifully. Such a small list. So, the healing … it is not just about me. It cannot be just about me. Yet, there are times when I get preoccupied with “self”, and I believe it is about me.
When we are bullied by people we do business with; when we are bullied by life; the car that breaks down in route to a meeting; the depression that rears it’s ugly head, our joy sliding away … when those times happen, our anguish is real and legitimate, and we do need healing. We need healing in the Land of the bullies. And in that healing, we can sometimes see a little more than what … initially … meets the eye.
Paris fighter jets hammering Raqqa with bombs. 7 darkened souls tracked down in Belgium. Suicide bombers being identified. There is still loss in Paris. I am haunted and humbled. My day: get up on time, make it to church. Pick up kiddos, 2:30, after weekend youth retreat. Walmart prescription. Home; laundry; wood in for the stove because some snow’s coming; get the fire going, get the kiddos dinner. Be a good husband; be a good dad; try to make something out of this old, weathered, life, that will hold some redemptive value. Then I think about Paris: hellishness-trauma-loss-violence-fear. I was driving east down Bowles in 1999 April 20th in Littleton, CO. and saw a SWAT unit, not one not two but three, and so many police cruisers-different counties … I turned on the radio: there was a massacre going on at Columbine High School about 10 minutes away, just off Bowles. In 2001, September the 11th I was at work, Denver Rescue Mission, watching on the two massive TV screens in the auditorium, two planes crash into the towers. A report came in, as I stood by Jon Gettings, that the fourth plane had been hijacked. Jon slowly looked at me …“It’s still going on.” Yes, It is still going on. Different ways, different places, different times, but loss follows, and fear, and confusion, pain, anger. I pray, I grieve, I hope, and … I don’t know what else to do. I still have to work. I continue to love my wife, my kids; and I continue to go out and get three or four trips of wood for the stove. God help me, to not get numb, desensitized. And help me to do what I need to do. And help the good guys wipe out the bad guys.
“Redundant” … I am a bit embarrassed that my short writing today is a bit redundant. I’ve talked about the waters, here, in the front range area of the Rocky Mountains. I’ve talked about seasons. I’ve talked about my own grappling with my challenge, stepping into what is next. And yet, this mix has gathered … like a small group … at the front of my present being. As the gathering has come together, I … therefore … write.
Every single time I take a look at Bear Creek, it’s waters flowing … not only fast, but strong … I acknowledge the beauty of nature, and I acknowledge my poignant disruption happening. I know that I would not allow myself to get caught in those currents, for they would overpower me, and slam me against the boulders.
It is one thing to talk about that which I see. It is one thing to feel what it is that is flowing through my veins, pumping rapids of thought into my mind. It is one thing to think about the metaphorical implications what all that is around me: a new season arriving as you and I connect; intimidating rapids storming through the passes; the rallying words of wisdom I read and hear.
It is a separate thing … to move intentionally with vision, and passion, and out of necessity … in order to transcend my own mediocrity, my small portions of subtle self-pity, and to fight well in spite of my woundedness. I do, truly, want to overwhelm the lies that could keep me stuck in the molasses-like fog.
And this business of moving … I believe it is not as simple as I want it to be. And it is true, that this business of moving … is not as difficult as I sometimes think.
The following post, rooted in my imagination, should not be taken literally. Imagination has always been a highly valued resource for me. As I become older, I try to remember to practice that imagination. ‘Hope you enjoy. And, have a stellar Christmas.
His appearance changes, and there are some odd theories out there, about … where … the man might be, at any given time. Steven Wright’s theory:
Yuletide Man: a man, a healthy girth, covers much ground, much air space (without being shot down), undeniably a mysterious man.
Below left: image from satellite of the SOC (Santa’s Operation Center). Below right: sketching of Santa Claus from a confidential source.
Yuletide Man: a man, a healthy girth, covers much ground, much air space (without being shot down), undeniably a mysterious man.
Visionary, a hope agent, an “other-centered” man; a logistical-minded man, a genius, this “Santa Claus”.
His has organized a system for the storage of multitudes of gifts, the movement from storage to the loading docks, distribution plans … all of this is amazing.
A report from a confidential source, classified, slipped through the cracks back in the late nineties, made its way to my desk, with the request to burn the report as soon as possible. I will get around to that, eventually. The polar regions (North and South) have always been monitored carefully: some men / women are about keeping the North Pole safe, a neutral place, where Santa can work; and others are interested in claiming the north pole for strategic purposes, with some degree of ill intent on their minds.
I attempted to do some research on the security protocols for keeping SOC (Santa’s Operations Center) safe. A few days after I began my research, the dogs started barking, and I knew we had visitors. I opened the front door to see a group of ominous looking vehicles: two black vans, with men dressed like SWAT – guys coming out, guns drawn; and three SUVs with running lights on the top. Long story short: I was asked in depth, about my interest in the security protocols with the North Pole. I was told that this information is classified to protect Santa Clause and the work he is doing, year round.
Indeed, the man is truly elusive; not only the man but the work that goes on there. When NORAD’s Santa Tracker emerged, I experienced some degree of relief, knowing that there are people tracking with SOC. That link, by the way, is: http://www.noradsanta.org/
So much written about R.W. Thus, Solomon’s piece, at the core of my writing: “It’s all been said before.”
Here some thoughts of a disc-jockey in “Good Morning, Vietnam”, a professor in “Dead Poets Society”, Mrs.Doubtfire, Teddy Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum”, Ramon the penguin in “Happy Feet”, Maxwell “Wizard” Wallace in “August Rush” … Those are a few parts of Robin Williams.
And here are a few parts of who I was, and how I was blessed, and impacted, by Robin Williams, and his art. I was the class comedian, high school; a joke for anyone and everyone. The rush of making people laugh was amazing. I studied the great comedians: Robin Williams, Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfield, Steve Martin. Out of these mentioned, and those I have not mentioned, Robin Williams was … at times … present: where I was, what I was doing. I read a magazine interview with Robin Williams, and among the many things I read I remember something that wasn’t so cool. I paraphrase: Williams said that at times, when he was not doing well, he had to go somewhere by himself.
I was blown away by his prolific spontaneity linked up with priceless humor. I also couldn’t shake the idea that there was a dichotomy happening: humor / laughter with melancholy / depression. The mixture of these two forces haunted me a bit … and it was because I wanted my depression that I had struggled with since I was a child to be separate from everyone. I wanted to go to Robin Williams for robust laughter, and I did not want to know that the man who made me laugh struggled with depression like I did. Incidentally, I didn’t know, when I was a child, that it was depression. I didn’t learn that it was depression until I was in graduate school (my late thirties) … Sounds crazy. Robin Williams, to a large degree helped me to release some of my “crazy”, and to be able to sit with all of this, and to laugh through this.
If I could have a discussion with R.W., it might include some of these comments …
“Bro, just to make this clear, suicide, yes, I agree, is wrong.
Just as important, please know that there is no is condemnation coming from me, nor from my God. And, I’ve got no judgment for you.
My heart goes out to your family. I can only imagine that their pain is immeasurable. And its been said that there is no pain up in Heaven. But, I know your heart is good, Bro; and surely you feel some of their pain … But, I don’t know, because I don’t know much about Heaven. And by the way, I hope there are people making you laugh … I’m sure there was pressure, through most of your days, to make people laugh. I know that there are no excuses for ending your life; but there are definitely factors that contributed to your decisions. Our pain, our struggles, our failures, our shame, we are driven passionately away from all of that … toward something that relieves our suffering. And the relief is always temporary. When the performance is over, the Black Dog, depression, remains.”
Robin Williams messed up when he took his own life. I should have permission to tell my close friends when / if they messed up. And my closest friends have permission to tell me when / if I messed up. We can do that without condemnation. Do I condemn Robin Williams for taking his life? NO. Am I angry with Williams? NO, not so much angry, but sad. So, maybe the takeaway is this. We all need to “do” self-care. We need to take care of ourselves; and in turn, we can bless our families. If we are wounded, and we are not doing our own work, then how can we be our best with those we love?