Saturday, June 16, 2018

June 16, 2018 - Simply Live

The biggest thing we have to do in life—our responsibility, actually—is to simply live.  So often that gets overlooked because where is the fun in that?  So many people are looking for the “next big thing” to do or experience.  It is an addiction.  It is a dream, like chasing a rainbow.  People are always after it, but they rarely ever really find it, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  And even if they do happen to find it, the question then becomes, what now?

The problem has always been what to do with one’s time.  Mankind has invented many things to fill up the hours.  First and foremost, there are our “jobs,” those things we do to make money to buy the things we would have done for ourselves had we not spent our time working our jobs.  I do not mean to say that we ought to quit our employment.  Most of us cannot at this point anyway because of the way our society is set up, and that is not necessarily a bad thing because most people end up in trouble when they have too much time on their hands.  But it is undeniable that our jobs do intentionally use up a lot of time each day.

Water lily simplicity.
What to do with one’s time?  If we sleep for eight hours and work for eight hours, that leaves us with eight hours for everything else in our day.  This causes a bit of a panic inside for many people because they have been told they must do something exciting and worthwhile with their time.  Something fun.  Something “over the top.”  Something big.  And very often it has to be bigger and better than what the neighbors are doing.  It just has to.

And so you will see people chasing the “good times,” the definition of which continually changes thanks to our corporate advertisers and propaganda.  Like the rainbow, the good times shimmer beautifully in the sky, promising us the pot of gold . . . if we just go a little further, if we just venture one more mile, if we just give up a little more time and a little more money (which is another word for time).

We have got to buy that luxury car or that large expensive home we cannot afford.  We have got to go on that trip to Europe and put it on credit.  We have got to buy a better bottle of wine, a better cut of steak, a silk jacket, a fur coat, a crystal vase . . .  Because we deserve it, right?  Have we not worked hard for it?  Spent a lot of time to get the money for it?  Should we not have the “good things” in life?

Of course, there truly are good things in life, certain events that really are bigger than ordinary everyday living, and of course, we do anticipate them longingly and look back on them with rapture.  There is nothing wrong with that at all.  That is a good thing.  An old black and white polaroid photo of a wedding couple.  The deed for our first little home.  A diamond ring and a promise.  A new baby.  Yes, these are all good things.

The problem is that many people want more and more “good” things, big things, exciting things, unusual things.  They chase them down hungrily, but as soon as they get them, they want the next big thing.  Now what do I do?  Now where should I go?  Now what should I buy?  So often, people finally achieve a goal (usually just an expensive purchase) and find themselves feeling hollow and empty.  Somehow the pot of gold was moved while they were busy chasing it. 

People have been told to think there always has to be something “big” happening because there are only eight hours in each day after our sleep and employment obligation, and many of those hours must be spent on mundane things.  Preparing food, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry . . . this is why you find so many people living in squalor who know better because they do not want to “waste” those precious few hours they have cooking and cleaning.  They tell themselves the chores will always be there waiting for them later.  Indeed, they will.

You will notice in the truly good things I mentioned above—the wedding, the deed, the promise, the baby, etc.—none of them involve anything too commercial, anything too outrageous, anything too glamorous.  Yes, everything costs time and money, but there is nothing in that list that requires you to keep up with the Joneses.  In fact, all of those things are just part of simple living, which is really all we have to do with the time given us.

Actually, it is the only thing we have to do with the time given us:  Simply live.  Realize that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there are dishes in the sink that must be washed.  Realize that there is no true status to be obtained by getting a luxury automobile, but there is a lawn that must be mowed so the backyard can be enjoyed.  Realize that there is no lasting happiness in constant jet-setting, but there is a child who wants you to read a book to him before he goes to bed.

Because really that is all there is, just plain living, and plain living involves work and chores and whining children and barking dogs and endless laundry and dirty dishes.  What to do with one’s time?  Simply live.  Put your house and your life in order by handling your responsibilities and doing your simple chores, and magically you find that your mind slips into order as well.  A hidden reward for your hard work.

Yes, our lives are dotted with little golden gems we tuck away into our memories.  The old photo of everyone together at Thanksgiving dinner.  The first day of school.  The first bike.  The best dog.  The new house.  The prolific garden.  These are the true pots of gold, and they are scattered sparsely throughout our lives.  But in between all of these golden gems is dishes and scrubbing, washing and cooking, mowing and digging, and kissing a bumped head.

This is what you do with the time allotted you, the time that is so precious and so short, and heaven help you if you cannot see that.  Heaven help you if you hand away your precious time chasing deliberately-placed, lack-luster rainbows, which evaporate into nothing.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

May 24, 2018 - The New Oak


Shimmering in the sunlight
the bright green leaves
a new red oak
to be king someday
but for now
a baby
sprung from an acorn
a hard little prison
a secret seed
filled with wishes and longing
and bursting
a responsibility now
to give forth thousands of more acorns
for the next thousand years
the duty of the king
the secret of the prison
the magic of the seed.

Monday, May 14, 2018

May 14, 2018 - The Invisible Hand

It is about patterns.  They are everywhere, and they make up the fabric of our lives.  Indeed, they make up the fabric of the Universe.  Without patterns, there is nothing but chaos, and chaos means death.  If there is a definition for “evil,” it must be chaos—complete disorder and disruption and loss of the precious patterns.  Without order, there can be no life, for life follows a very certain set of strict rules and patterns, and it never deviates from these rules and patterns.  Never.  They are fundamental to growth, and growth is life.

There are many patterns that are easily identifiable because they are complex and present elaborate evidence to our eyes.  Who could deny the stunning beauty and order of a spiral seashell, the head of a sunflower, or the deep red color of a cardinal’s feathers?  Their order and discipline speak to the secret part of our soul that craves union with Final Form, the part of us that longs for the Archetypical world.  But that’s easy.  Anyone can spot that if they open their eyes because patterns bring pleasure, whether they are seen or felt.

The signature of the wind.
Yet there is another pattern, one much subtler and older.  I noticed it many years ago when smiling at the willy-nilly dandelions as they peppered the field here and there in the early spring, spattering the landscape with brilliant yellow light.  He who cannot smile from this sight is poor, indeed.  The simple yellow color meandered around, now here and there, now thick and thin, and then almost absent, only to show up again in rich abundance. 

And I realized that I was looking at the wind.  It was the first time I had ever seen the wind.  Up until then, I had only felt it or heard it, but I had never seen it with my own eyes.  Here, then, was proof of the wind.  For who spread those dandelion seeds in the field in their strange and complex pattern but the wind?  Who dashed now left and right, high and low, bare and thick but the wind?  The wind had taken hold of those tiny, feathery little seeds and placed them precisely where they ought to be, as if they were a signature saying, “I am the Wind.  I was here.  This is my work.”

This is what I believed for years, and every spring I would look for evidence of the wind from the year before and its indelible mark on the field.  But one day it occurred to me that the wind was just a tool being used, for the wind is just one of many forces that disseminates the Master Pattern.  The Great Alchemist reaches out His hand and commands the almost chaotic wind, and out of chaos comes order, out of nothing comes something.  Out of a tiny seed, inert and dead-appearing, springs forth the plant with the pattern of the flower imprinted on its soul.  Not unlike the Universe at all, as it springs forward and reveals the Hand that commands the pattern—the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

We are all dandelions in a field, after all.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

May 6, 2018 - Spring in Maine

Spring means something different for people who live in Maine, or anywhere with very cold winters, something very different than it does to those in more moderate climates.  Certainly, I think everyone appreciates spring but some have more of an appreciation, and this appreciation comes from direct and striking contrast.  The colder the winter, the more longed for the spring warmth.  The deeper the snow, the more the secret yearning for the greenery.

Realistically, technically, logically, we all know spring is coming.  We all know it, and we know it because it has always come before after a winter.  Simple experience tells us that.  But there’s just something . . . about a spring in Maine that you won’t find in many other places.  Perhaps it’s because the winter is so difficult and long and dark.  Perhaps it’s because the cold has finally leached all hope out of the people’s hearts.  Perhaps it’s simpler and more basic and is just a sigh of relief from not being swallowed alive by the Season of Death.

Don't you know me?
But whatever it is, it makes spring in Maine that much more special.  When you have not seen greenery for months on end, when you have not seen much sustained sunlight (and what sunlight you have seen could not be enjoyed due to severe cold), when the woods have gone completely silent and nothing is heard but the wail of a lonely and hungry animal, something happens inside your heart.  You don’t give a damn what the calendar promises anymore.  You can only see and feel the snow and the ice and the greyness.  It makes a hole in your soul.

And just when things seem to be at their worst, just when you are absolutely certain that you will perish in this empty landscape, spring comes bounding back in.  And you want to cry!  You want to fall to your knees and kiss the Earth and say, “At last!  At last!  At last!  I see life again!”  The tiniest ray of hope shines from the depth of your soul.

To which the “Spring” responds . . .

“Did you think I would leave you?  Did you think I would abandon you forever?  Don’t you know how much I love you?  Have you no faith in me at all, then?  You are as precious to me as the green of the forest.  You are as beloved to me as the great multitude of birds singing in the canopy of the woods.  You are as special to me as the most exotic and rarest of flowers.  I will never leave you—never.  You will never have to live your life without hope or newness or bountifulness.  I am always here, even when you cannot see me, and I will always come for you—always.  This is my promise to you.  It is a promise I have not broken in over 4 billion years.  I will always come for you.  Rest now and take your ease.”

Monday, April 16, 2018

April 16, 2018 - April

Oh, the long and lonely road of April, with its penetrating frozen rain and sleet.  December I could laugh at.  I could light it up with candles and sweeten it with dreamy confections.  January I could stand beside.  I could march through the invigorating snow, tall and sure.  I could plan out a good year.  February I could bear.  I could see its stark beauty, and although it was severely cold, its elegance was undeniable, its crisp air ever a lesson.  March I could love as the first sign of the abating of the season of death.  In March I had hope.

But April.  The season of new light and hidden joy has long since passed, a happy memory.  The new year and the promises and hope have been tucked away—not forgotten, but tucked away.  The icy severity has been conquered.  The Lord of Winter has retreated, taking his terrible army with him.  The wood fires have blazed and won the battle.  Again.  And the world is poised . . . poised.

But April.  Colorless and grey, stealing into the bones of all living creatures, sapping the strength of all it touches.  The continual shiver of exhausted muscles.  The lackluster landscape, sad and forlorn.  It cannot live and it cannot die.  An eternal cold limbo with bony fingers reaching from the Underworld.  And not even a grave!  Even that would bring some sort of solace, some sort of meaning, implying that at one time there may have been more, demanding grief for what might have been.  But even that has been stolen.

Stolen.  Relentlessly, hopelessly, helplessly, endlessly.  April.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

April 15, 2018 - The Kitchen Alchemist

I grew up washing dishes by hand.  The idea of a dishwasher never even entered my mind.  We always washed dishes by hand, and everyone I knew did the same.  It was a chore—usually despised—that simply had to be done at least twice a day every day.  Paper plates never entered the picture.  If they could be gotten, they were far too expensive anyhow.  And what a waste!  One use and tossed into the garbage?  Unheard of.  Absolutely unheard of.

And so day in and day out, we all washed our dishes.  Some of us complained louder than others, and I was one of the complainers.  Oh, how I hated washing dishes!  Surely, there were a dozen other better and more important things I could be doing than washing dishes.  Surely, there were more pressing matters at hand, things of an urgent nature.  Putting these things on hold simply to do dishes was irresponsible, I would say—to anyone who would listen.  But mostly I just grumbled angrily to myself.

Vintage Corning Ware.
Well, time passed as it always does, and one day I got myself a dishwasher—a real dishwasher!  I was so happy, I was beside myself!  I loaded it up with dirty dishes, put in the soap, turned the dial, and the pressed the button.  And the magic began.  A machine washed my dishes for me.  Finally, I thought, my dreams had come true.  No more drudgery with the dishes.  No more toiling over the sink.  I could bake whatever I wanted and not have to worry much about the cleanup.  This was progress.

Or so I thought.  Many years passed, and I went through several dishwashers.  As soon as one broke, I immediately got another because there was no way I was going to wash dishes by hand.  I had better things to do.  Funny thing is, though, I didn’t often do any of those “better” things.  I often relaxed.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sitting down and relaxing, especially if you have worked hard all day, but all those “important and urgent” things seemed to fly right out of the window.  I didn’t find myself getting anything more done than I ordinarily already did.

And there was a strange dark side.  The dishwasher had become a hiding place.  Anything unclean was hidden inside it, to be washed at the end of the day (unless I had to run it twice, which sometimes I did).  It made my kitchen appear cleaner than it actually was.  The counters and sink were clean because the dirt was hidden.  If I wanted to use a certain bowl or dish that was dirty, I had to use something else or improvise.  Because once something was stuffed into the hiding place, I could no longer acknowledge it existed until the machine cleaned it again.  A day’s worth of dishes would slowly build up, moldering in the dark and closed space.  In the back of my mind, there was always this feeling of unfinished business.

Then one day something changed.  I walked into my kitchen, and I realized it wasn’t just a place where I did work or fed a crew.  It was a place where I lived, where I spent a great deal of time, where I pondered life.  It was a place where I made plans, calculated the good and bad in my life, built a future.  It was a place where I laughed and cried, a place where I nourished myself and others.  It was a place filled with so much love and living.  How could I have ever thought that it was a place of drudgery?  How could I have been so blind?

What I did then, well, I pulled out the old dish rack and set it up on the counter.  Underneath it I placed a clean white vintage kitchen towel.  I pulled all the dirty dishes out of the dishwasher and put them in the sink, and then I filled up the basin with hot, soapy water.  I washed all the dishes by hand, rinsed them, and put them in the rack.  Then I stood back and watched them gleam in the sunshine that came through the window over the sink.  I did the same thing the next day and the day after that.

I’ve never put a single dish in that dishwasher again.  It sits in my kitchen.  Empty.  Barren.  And somehow my life is fuller now that I’ve been given my chores back, now that I’ve willingly taken them on again.  I do my best thinking while I’m washing dishes, and I might as well confess that I talk out loud to myself all the time while working in the kitchen.  I make plans.  I solve problems.  I come to peace with people and things.  Somehow washing the dirt off the dishes also washes it out of my mind.  Making things clean and orderly—and having nothing dirty and hidden—makes it so much easier to make realistic everyday decisions, and I find I don’t second-guess myself as much as I used to.

Who would have thought that washing dishes could do all of that?  If someone had told me so when I was younger, I would have laughed in their face and rolled my eyes.  I guess I had to learn the value—the deep and abiding value—of ordinary daily chores.  I had to learn to choose them.  I had to learn how to appreciate the meaning of simple things.  I had to learn the wisdom of a structured day. 

I don’t know why I changed and I don’t know how, and I’m not sure it matters.  Very often these days, I find myself singing while washing dishes, and that is good enough for me.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March 25, 2018 - Old Records

There once was a special drawer in an old bureau in every house in America, and most likely in every house in many other countries as well.  This drawer was important and was different from other drawers.  Other drawers might contain linens or china or practical gadgets, but the special drawer was set aside for a special purpose.  It contained all the important family papers, policies, receipts, and other things.  There might be old, yellowed newspaper articles falling half apart from age.  There might be old, frayed photos of long-dead relatives.  There might be secret documents of old trysts or settled arguments.

Because, you see, this was the memory drawer of the family.  Anything that was important or worth preserving was kept in this drawer.  Also, anything of a timely nature was kept there, anything that might need a rapid response or action.  This was the accounting center of the family, and as the years went on, the accounts added up and up, and the lives of the individuals were recorded . . . from birth to marriage, to wars, to pride or shame, to death.  Here was the individual family’s Hall of Records.

Receipts of life.
It was a very important drawer.  Children were not allowed to open this drawer because the documents it contained were too essential to the wellbeing of the family and could not be treated lightly.  Whenever the drawer was opened, children would crowd around to see what was inside, pretending all along as if they had not noticed it was open.  How they longed to open it themselves!  But they never dared because their hides would be tanned for sure.

It took on a certain scent, the old drawer did.  It was the same scent you can still find in old libraries and old bookstores.  Not the new buildings—they are too sterile—but the old ones.  There is where you can still find the scent.  It was an aroma of the generations of life, and when that drawer was opened, all of the old ghosts would step out and walk around the room once again.  If you were clever and sensitive, you could see them as they passed by, lightly touching an old piece of china or pottery here and there in remembrance.

There is still an old drawer in an old bureau in my house.  It contains many years of memories and accountings.  Many of the documents are my own, but there is a special spot with documents that belong to others.  Some of the people I knew and some I did not.  They are all dead now, but I still keep their papers.  I find them at old estate sales and yard sales and auctions here and there.  No one wants them, so I buy them up and I store their memories in the old drawer.

Occasionally I will look through the papers and try to build an image in my mind of who these people were.  Some people might think I am crazy for doing such a thing, but I cannot help wanting to know more about these long lost people.  When a young man buys several acres of land at the age of 24, I want to know who he was and what he was thinking.  It seems to me he was much cleverer than most 24-year-olds today.  Being 24 years old 150 years ago was not the same as being 24 years old today, it would seem.  I cannot help but get a tear in my eye when I wonder about these people.

You will notice a not-so-old record book in the middle of the old documents in the photo.  That is my current record book.  In it I keep a record of all purchases made and all income received.  I realize that I could do this on a computer.  In fact, I tried to do just that.  When I entered a purchase in my accounting program, I would hear a little “cha-ching!” sound, but it just was not the same.  So I abandoned the computer record system.  It was too cold and glaring for me.  I went back to paper.  That was quite some time ago, and I have decided I will stick with paper until I die.

It takes a little longer to keep records on paper.  I refuse to use a calculator, so all sums must be done by hand.  It does not feel right to use a calculator and then write a number down in the book.  It is one or the other, I say, so I chose a direction and I am sticking with it.  In any event, it can be very helpful to see where the funds are coming from and where they are going.  From year to year I am able to adjust my purchases to meet particular goals.  Sometimes those goals involve saving money, but not always.  Sometimes they just involve being watchful and thoughtful.  Sometimes they help me make better choices or ride out storms.

A drawer full of memories and plans and accounts is different from a computer or a disk or a “memory stick” filled with the same.  One is tangible and real.  You can touch it and smell it, and it creates a real feeling of the past and a connection and gratitude to former generations.  The other is thousands of pixels on a black mirror.  The pixels form a colorful image, but it is not real.  Underneath that image there is only a black mirror, and in it, your face is reflected back to you, searching aimlessly for something you will never find.

So if you do not have an old drawer in an old bureau, I suggest you get one.  If you have to start with an old cardboard box, then so be it.  When you get your bureau, you can transfer your valuables to the special drawer.  Keep a record of your life, even if you are going through hard times—especially if you are going through hard times, because hard times teach us the best lessons, and having a record of those lessons is priceless.  Keep your accounts, keep a journal, keep your important old photos and old newspaper clippings and old documents.  Even new documents become old at some point.

Yes, eventually the paper will dissolve and the old photos will turn to dust and the memories will disappear.  Yet they seem to last much longer than a life kept digitally on a little piece of plastic that can be stepped on and destroyed in a moment or thrown out when it is no longer convenient or stylish.  A whole life gone . . . just like that.  Your memories are worth more than that.  Your memories are something that should be kept in an old drawer and taken out once in a while and held in your hands.  Then you will know they are real, and a real life is something to be proud of, however humble it may be.

Monday, March 19, 2018

March 19, 2018 - Twilight

An old man walks down a cold and wintry road at twilight and remarks to himself how everything looks black and white with no color at all.  He knows that dusk has a way of playing with colors, watering them down until they melt away into a sea of grey as if they had never been.  And now that everything is grey, who’s to say that there ever really was any color anyway?  But it doesn’t matter.  He knows it doesn’t matter.

There are enough memories in his head to fill the ocean, and he reflects upon them as he walks.  This country road used to be filled with the comings and goings of many country people.  He remembers the one-room schoolhouse he attended, long since removed and placed in a city area as a “museum.”  Visitors from away come to see the old wooden building where he learned to read and write and do his sums.  He can still see the children running in and out of the school, playing “kick the can” at lunchbreak.

There were many horses going up and down the road with many styles of wagons and buggies, and there were cars and farm trucks, too.  They were newer and much louder, and the horses didn’t like them at all.  Now those vehicles are old and they’re also in museums.  A modern car or truck will still race by often enough, and he must be careful on the road, especially in the twilight, lost in thought as he is, just another grey form in a grey world.

There were farms, small family farms, the kind that fed just a handful of families.  In the spring, there was tilling and the smell of winter’s manure spread upon the fields.  And there was growing and sunshine and abundance.  The sun was warmer in those days, golden and beautiful, and from sunup to sundown his day was filled with work in the fields, from childhood long into his adult years. 

Then there was the work of harvesting and preserving and preparing the fields for winter's sleep.  All the little farm stands on the side of the road bulged with produce.  City people would come by and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, and there was laughter and smiling and abundance.  There was always a harvest dance after all the hard work, and then came the pig slaughter and the deer hunting.  Yes, they were busy, always busy.

In the winter the farm buildings were repaired, fences were fixed and expanded, and animals were cared for.  A large ice rink was set up in a lower field at a friend’s farm, and everyone would go to ice skate and have outdoor winter parties by the side of the rink, with plenty of small fires to warm frozen hands and toes.  And everyone knew everyone else.  It was a colorful community.

Now the people are distant.  The cars and trucks race by at breakneck speed, never stopping to say hello or wave.  But he doesn’t recognize the faces anyway, so perhaps it’s just as well.  There are still a few tiny family farms, and those people he knows but doesn’t see often.  There are no more harvest dances.  That’s the problem, he thinks to himself, there are no more harvest dances.  That was where anything worth knowing about happened.  Now there are mainly scattered homes, nicely kept, where everyman keeps to himself behind closed doors.

Life is black and white every day now, he remarks to himself, not just at twilight.  There is right and there is wrong and there is everyone’s version of both.  And not one version is like unto another’s.  There are lines drawn everywhere.  Some of the imaginary ones are stronger than the real ones.  But mostly, there’s the just the lack of color, the lack of life, the lack of harvest dances with fiddles playing and sweet cakes to eat and pretty girls everywhere.

He looks at the sky.  Soon it will be nighttime.  And he is ready for it.

Monday, March 5, 2018

March 5, 2018 - Recede

Now the frozen steel hands that had a death grip on all of life begin to crack, slowly and imperceptibly at first.  The bands of cold, hard steel loosen, and the tears of the Earth well up and fill every impression in the woods.  The mists come more frequently now, too, and the army of the Lord of Winter disappears within, slowly escaping between the worlds, waiting for its chance to slip away.  Visible retreat is not an option.

The slow retreat.

The Banshees come again, washing their dirty shawls in the water, wailing in despair.  Even they had been frozen, immobile in the ice.  I ask, what good is a world that banishes even Death?  At least Death gives a hint of the Life that was, but in the frozen embrace of the Lord of Winter, that beauty was coveted and hidden away.  No more.  Now she cries on the shores.

A tiny pip of a bird can be heard in the forest as she searches for last year’s dead grass and carries it high into an old oak.  A great willing is felt, and it is time to change again.  The secret clock will soon strike the hour, passing over.