Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
—Johnny Cash, lyrics
I’ve been in a pretty brooding mood, all this year. Well, which is pretty much the last two weeks or so. Not that unusual a state of mind for me. And I thought I had something outlined, reflecting that, something that would come. But still. As the third Friday approached since my last blog post, there wasn’t a whole lot of inspiration going on inside me. Maybe I’ll just skip again, I thought, as the week arrived and passed right along.
But then I thought. Well, write a few words. You’ve always claimed to write from where you are. So write, from where you are. And here a is a compact version of what I figured to say about what all was going on inside and around me at that point along the road.
As short as the New Year has been, a few things have become very clear to me. I’m not quite sure how to approach all of it. And I’m not quite sure how to write it. So I guess I won’t, not until it all comes down around me.
This is a different year, from any other. And I’m not even exactly sure what that means. It’s just something I can feel inside me, deep down. There will be some major changes in my life. And no, I’m can’t tell you what those changes all will be, because I don’t know, myself. It’s all on the table, as far as I’m concerned, in my head. All I am or have. Yeah, I need to face and deal with some personal demons, some habits and addictions. That’s a given. But I’m talking about more than just that.
I’m talking about my life as I’ve known it, including where I live and what I do. My home. My job. There’s nothing that’s not on the line, when it comes to what changes the year may bring. Nothing. I’m not saying those changes will happen. I’m saying I’m totally open to whatever happens.
There are some hard doors ahead, to walk through. I sense that. I know it. I’ve already walked through one I never planned to see, and another hard door looms. Strangely, I’m kind of excited and eager about it all, even though I can feel the fear stirring deep inside. You don’t really plan for things like this. You just walk into them, when they come at you.
And there are relationships, too, out there, that need mending. I’m not even sure where to go with all that, what it looks like, to mend such a thing, especially where memories of deep and slicing pain remain so fresh. I mean, how do you ever talk to such a person again? It’s possible, I guess. Even probable, if you’re willing to face what was. Whatever. I figure those doors will open, too, when they’re supposed to. If they’re ever supposed to, that is. Maybe that one fearful door will be just like the ones I’m walking through right now that I never planned to walk through. You never can tell. So you just keep walking.
I guess what I’m leading up to is this. I’m not sure what things will look like, in the months ahead. And right now, I just don’t feel like writing what I think they will look like. I have no idea. You always keep walking, in life. But sometimes, you don’t just keep writing. Sometimes, you pull back, when the voice to speak is silent.
Maybe this will be the most productive year you’ll ever see, on my blog, and elsewhere. And maybe it won’t. I just don’t know, right now. Like I said, right this moment, I don’t feel like writing at all. I’m thinking some spigots are gonna open, just a little bit down the road. I don’t know that. This is a different year, when everything I am or have is on the table, to be changed or not. Everything. Maybe the changes will have to happen first, before the writing comes. I just don’t know.
I got no plans as to when I’ll post again. It might be in two weeks, or it might be in two months. I won’t force it. You can’t force real writing. I’ll speak it when it speaks itself. I can promise this, though. Sooner or later, in its own time, all of the journey will be told right here. All of it, including the moment I’m in right now. And that’s about the only promise I can make, when it comes to my writing.
And that right there was me, pretty much all brooding. Saying what was in me to say, this week. A short blog, signing off until I felt like writing again. And when you’re in a self-focused brooding state of mind like that, right about then is when something real will come and smack you up ‘side the head. And that something slipped up on me yesterday afternoon.
It was close to closing time, around four or so. An Amish contractor walked in. He had a sample piece of special order trim he wanted made. Let’s take it out to Eli, and see what he says, I told the guy. I think he can make that profile. It looks a little tight right here, but I think he can make it. We walked out. Eli greeted us. I showed him the sample of trim. Can you make this? “Yeah,” he said. “I can make that.”
We stood around and just talked for a few minutes. Eli asked the man. “Do you want to pick the trim up tomorrow, I guess?” A simple question. Normally that would of course have been the case. But not this time. The Amish contractor shook his head.
“No, not tomorrow. Monday morning,” he said. “I have a funeral tomorrow.” And he went right on and told us a little bit about it.
“It’s a young bride who just got married in November,” he said. “Last August, she came down with a real bad type of cancer. She went backward pretty fast, and she was barely strong enough to go through with the wedding. But they both wanted to do it, so they went ahead and got married anyway.”
And I could only shake my head in amazement. Wow, I said. That’s pretty brutal. There sure was nothing wrong with what they did, though, getting married when there was so little time. He looked at me and nodded. “No,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with that.”
And I couldn’t shake it, after the Amish contractor had left. Here I was, all focused on how tough life was for me right now. Focused on my own demons. Focused on my own problems. Alcohol, and how hard it is to cut back. How I’m dreading it, to quit drinking, even for a month. How wimpy is that? And I choose to get all brooding still, to invite the darkness in, off and on, about a pretend relationship that blew up in my face last year. And there are stressors in my life right now, about my job. Boo, hoo, on all of it. Cry me a river. Look, how tortured it is, my “writer’s soul.” Look, how I’m struggling along so bravely under such a heavy load.
Meanwhile, just a few miles away, across the county, there’s a young Amish husband who chose to marry his wife, even when they both knew she had only weeks of life to live. That’s brutal stuff. And it’s powerfully, powerfully beautiful, that any kind of love on this earth could be as strong as that.
And I think about it, their wedding day, back in November. Probably two months ago, or less. How her family and her community closed in around her. How they worked hard, to give her that special day she always dreamed of. And how, above all, there stood a man by her side, a man who loved her unconditionally, even as the cancer devoured all she ever was as a healthy, glowing woman. It was day of real joy, their wedding day, I think. A day of real celebration. A day of gratitude for the moment.
And I feel a little ashamed, looking at that scenario, and what could have been mine, way back in my Amish world. I couldn’t stay for a beautiful girl who actually loved me, a healthy girl, with no looming threat of death. Nah. I was too focused on what I wanted. Didn’t matter, the people I hurt, breaking away. I just wanted out. And from where I am right now, I would do it all over again, the getting out. But I sure would do some things a whole lot differently, when it comes to breaking away.
Back to today, the very day this blog was posted. A young Amish husband just buried his wife, the woman he married when he knew this day was coming, and was real close. There’s something so strong about their story, that couple. Something haunting, something real. They lived their lives for each other. And the foundation of all they were? That was a simple little thing called love.
There is no comparison between all that crap I was fretting about, and what really matters in life. Love. Just plain old simple love. Love of God. Love for all I meet, regardless of who they are or where they come from or what they did. Love is what matters, in the end.
So, yeah, I’m still thinking this will be a year of pretty substantial changes. Yeah, I can still feel it, deep down. But I’m not all tore up, like I was back there, about how tortuous it all is, about not knowing when the writing of it will come. I still don’t know. But I’m a little more relaxed about it all.
Because I reckon all those doors will open when they open. And I reckon I’ll just write it when the writing gets here.
For have you not retrieved from exile the desperate lives
of men who never found their home? Have you not opened
your dark door for us who never yet found doors to enter?
Well, it’s that time again. Seems like not that long ago, when I last posted that last blog of the year. When one looks back and takes stock a bit. I guess that’s what one is expected to do. It’s what I’ve done, mostly, in the past. Look back, recount and reflect. And tab it out, all the stuff that happened. Good, bad, ugly. And I was figuring to do just that. But when I sat down to pound it out, there was one thing that kept surfacing in my head. One new realization, one new thing of wonder, that stood out above all the rest.
That right there was the opening paragraph for my last blog of 2012, almost exactly two years ago. And I went back, and looked at that opening paragraph. And decided to copy it over, word for word, to open this last blog of 2014. Back then, that “new thing of wonder” I discovered was how much I am like my Dad. And it was a big deal to me to figure all that out. This year, that new thing of wonder is way out there in left field, in a totally different dimension. But still, those opening words are every bit as true as they were two years ago. Just in a different way.
2014. It’s been one rough and hellish year. I won’t beat around the bush about any of all that. It was a year of real hard roads. A dark year, when pretty much anything that could go wrong went wrong. Almost from the first day, it was that way. Well, at least since last March. March has been kind of an evil, skittish month to me, in the past. That’s when Ellen left our home, in March, seven years ago, after seven years of marriage. It all was what it was, timing wise, and I’m sure the month of March would protest, if it could, that I hold it in such low esteem. And yeah, maybe I have a little chip on my shoulder, at it. But still. Just look at the record. This past March was when my heart went all whacked out and crazy on me. It was pretty brutal stuff, and it came down in a real dark place. I wrote it all out when it happened.
I remember talking to a friend, soon after I got out of the hospital last March. When I was on all that poisonous Coumadin they sentenced me to take every day. I was pretty depressed about it all, and told him so. He told me. If you get your heart worked on, especially if you’re a man, you will go into real depression at some point, soon after you get out. My friend was talking about the more serious heart procedures, like the one he went through, more than ten years back. Mine was just a flutter, that they went up and seared.
And I told my friend. Yeah. I hear that. I wasn’t in a good place emotionally, when my heart went all crazy. And I remember how vivid all of life was to me, right after I got out of the hospital. All of it, the colors, the feelings, the intensity of it all. I guess that happened because you get a real sense of your own mortality, when you get your heart worked on. And yeah, I sank down into a real dark place, right soon after I got out, too. It was all pretty brutal. And I stayed there in that darkness, off and on, for way too long in 2014.
One thing I did, though, this past year. I wrote it as it came. I wrote from where I was, from all the dark places that came at me right out of nowhere. And I gotta say this. I look back at my production on the blog this year, and I feel pretty satisfied. Some of that writing is the best I’ve ever done. The best that ever came out of me, including the book. And I don’t need anyone’s permission to say that. I can just say it, because that’s what I think. That was one bright spot, looking back over the bleakness that was this year. The writing that came was first class stuff. Not all of it. But some of it. And, yeah, sure, I know. It’s all free, right here, that writing. It just doesn’t matter to me, that little point. That’s how I produce. This blog is the norm, the place I speak from, the place where my writing voice was born. The book was an aberration that may or may not happen again.
After March, here came April. That’s when Mom left us, after a brutal week-long struggle with the flu. They told me, the ones who were there at the end. It was not a pretty, peaceful passing. It was the ugliness of death, the ugliness of life slowly seeping from a frail and wasted body, when there was nothing left to hold on to. There was no dignity, there at the end, for Mom. It was a cruel death. Dark and senseless and brutal. The family gathered from all over, and we grieved the matriarch of our clan. And then we buried her. It was an intense and bonding thing.
Somewhere in there, soon after Mom’s funeral, I kicked the medical people out of my life. Got off all the pharmaceuticals they had me on. It was all pretty strange, in a lot of ways, how that all happened. And from somewhere it came to me, about right then. Sit down and write. Write your next book. So I boldly stated on my blog, soon after March. Some serious writing’s coming. I don’t know for sure what it is. But I’m feeling it. And I’m fixing to invite it all in, real soon. I don’t give a hoot about a sequel. I really don’t. If it doesn’t come right, it’ll never get told. And I’m totally fine with that. I’d rather be remembered as a “one hit wonder” than to ever crank out another book that’s not coming from my heart, simply for the money.
And now, as 2015 comes at me, I’m fixing to poke around a bit, to see if a second book can come right. I have a pretty good idea of the parameters of that book, at least how I saw it when I was getting ready to go in and relive it. It’ll open, with me driving up to Aylmer to see Dad, like I wrote in July of last year. It’ll open with the opening scenes of The Lion in Winter. And it’ll close with the two most wayward sons stooping to place roses on the soft earth above their mother. Between those two scenes, I figure, there’s a flashback book in there somewhere, about what all happened, and how it all got to where it did. In 2015, I plan to play around with all that. I most definitely plan to. I have no idea if it’ll take off or not, the writing of it. If it comes, I’ll speak it. If it doesn’t come, I’ll wait until it does. But I feel it coming, the next chapter of my story. It’s close. Soon, it will come. It’s close.
And this is just how it went, last summer. I was figuring to work a bit, on the sequel. I had the outline in my head. And just about when I was ready to walk into that opening room, here came more of the pure hell that was this year. Little Abby drowned. That pretty much took the sails out of anything I had, other than walking into life and writing what I saw from where I was. It was a brutal, brutal loss, the death of Abby. I’m not sure if the extended family has fully grasped what just was taken from us, as a clan. Well. I mean, I’m not sure any close or extended family can ever fully grasp the depth of such a loss. It all made me want to rend my clothes and curse the heavens in despair, back when it happened. But I didn’t curse, and I didn’t rend my clothes. I just wrote the story, instead, from where I was. Abby’s blog and Mom’s funeral blog. Those two narratives are among the very best of anything I’ve ever written.
And then Dad almost left us. I mean, it was that close, he was gone. Somehow, the man pulled back. He is one tough, tough, old guy. And I went up to see him, just a month or so back. He was excited to see me. And now, he’s all excited to be going down to Pine Craft, the first of the year. It’s what keeps him going, the excitement of all that. The anticipation. That, and he’s still got another three volumes to write, for his memoirs. He just came out with the second. My Stretch in the Service. He sent me a signed copy, and I’ve been perusing it. It’s much better writing than his first book was. I think the man is finding his stride, when it comes to telling his story. I’m reading stuff I never, never knew before.
And I kind of looked forward to it, the last blog of this year. It should be pretty simple, to get riled into a real rant about it all. That’s what I figured, and that was my full intention, when I started writing this. To get all riled up. To grumble and seethe at God. To just tell Him how it is. To rage at Him like I raged, back when Mom was just hanging on for no reason, except He wouldn’t call her home to Him. And yeah, I’m still a little pissed about how that all went, with Mom. Moving on up to now, though.
My life has been nothing but pain, lately. That’s what I figured to tell the Lord. Come on. You can do better than that. Give me some blessings, once in a while. Not that You haven’t. Like the Bible Study. That came out of nowhere. But lately, those sure have been sparse. I’ve seen nothing but bullshit, most of this year. And yeah, I’ll use that word when I’m talking to You. You know full well what I mean. It’s been crap, and You know it. I’ve been self-medicating, in ways I do not like. I need to get a grip. I’m just waiting here, to get all healed and speaking praises. Come on. Work your magic. Heal me from this year.
Those are the things I figured to say to God. Without any shame. You speak from your heart, that’s what I’ve said before. That’s what Pastor Mark always preaches. If you’re brooding and wounded, speak from that place. Well. It’s not turning out quite the way I thought it would, the writing of it from that place. And I’m not quite sure how to describe it all. So I guess I’ll just turn to a story that I feel like telling right this moment, for some reason. It’s a story I heard many times as a child. Mostly I heard it told in church, as a tiny little sliver in some otherwise long and droning sermon. In rough memory form, the story goes like this, right here.
There was a prophet, back there in the Old Testament. A prophet from God, living out there in the wilderness. In the land of a heathen king. The king knew the prophet, knew that he was a man of God, a man who had some special powers. And the king came to the prophet one day to call in a favor. Or maybe he was courting, for the first time. I don’t remember. But the king wanted help. There were some people passing through the kingdom, a great tribe of warriors. And the king was very scared of that tribe of warriors. So he came to the prophet with gifts of great finery, gifts of gold and linen and fine clothes. “Come with me to a high place,” the king said. “I want you to curse the invaders. I want you to curse them in the name of your God.”
The prophet was a bit of a shyster, I’ve always thought, from hearing the story. Not saying that I would have reacted any different, had I been him. I’m not judging his heart. He was flattered that the king came to him for help. He was flattered, to be so important. And he agreed, quite cheerfully, from what I heard told. So off they went, the two of them, and the king’s large entourage. The king took the prophet to a high place, and they looked down on the great tribe of warriors, camped out in the valley below. “OK,” the king said. “Now curse those people for me. I’ve paid you good money, to do this. So curse them, in the name of your God.”
The prophet stepped up to speak his curse, just like he’d been paid to do. But strangely, when the words flowed from him, those words weren’t curses. It was all blessings, that came out of his mouth. They would be victorious, wherever they marched, those warriors down there in the valley. They would be victorious. And the king, the very king who was paying the prophet to speak, that king would be their servant.
I imagine the king was pretty speechless, right off, after the prophet quit speaking. But not for long. You can bet he hollered at the prophet. “What? I hired you to curse the children of Israel. You took my money. And you just went out and blessed them. Are you insane?” And the prophet was all greasy, being the shyster he was. Pay me again. I’ll curse your enemies, this time. I think the prophet had every intention, to go through with his promise. He figured he’d deliver a curse on the king’s enemies, this time. And the king bought it. He paid the prophet again. And again, the two of them went to a high place, from where the prophet would spit out all the curses he was paid to speak. They would be cursed, those invaders.
Again, the prophet opened his mouth to curse. And again, only blessings rolled out. The king about had a stroke. And he yelled at the prophet again. “What in the world do you think you’re doing? I’m paying you, here.” And the prophet could only shrug his shoulders helplessly. He could only speak the words the Lord allowed him to speak. That’s what he told the king. And in the end, the king gave up, trying to tell the prophet to curse his enemies. It obviously wasn’t working. I figure the king actually feared the prophet as a man of God. Otherwise, he would just have had his head chopped off. I figure there was fear, there, in the king’s heart. Because that didn’t happen, no matter how mad he was at the shyster prophet.
And what does that little tale have to do with anything? You might ask. You might, indeed. I’m in a very strange place, here. A place I’ve never seen before. I mean, I want to rage against all the crap that this year was. I want to seethe, and I want to vent against God for all the BS that came at me in 2014. I really, really want to. Just as much as Balaam wanted to curse King Balaak’s enemies. I really want to speak all that darkness, cry to the heavens, call out in despair and grief and gloom. But I just can’t. It’s so clear to see, from here, when I’m trying to write it. I can’t speak curses. I can’t grumble against that which God does not want me to speak. I just can’t do it. It’s like my hands are tied.
I can only speak words of blessing, looking back over the year that was. And I can only speak those words from a grateful heart. Because all of life is a gift. And all of life is a precious and beautiful thing. That’s what I’ve always claimed to believe, when things were pretty much going my way. It’s either all of life, or it’s not, what I believe. And I have only words of blessing, for all this past year hit me with. Words of blessing, because it all was what it was, for reasons I will never understand. The Lord does that. Brings stuff into your life, to forge and shape you. Oh, yes. There was all kinds of forging and shaping going on that I wasn’t seeing, back when I was focused on all the crap raining down around me. Oh, yes, there was.
Funny thing is, though, when it comes right down to it, I’m not even sure what real words of blessing sound like when you speak them. I’ve never been here before, in a place as strange as this, where I’m called to speak when I don’t know for sure what the words I’m supposed to speak sound like. But I’m committed to speaking them. I’m not quite sure how this will all turn out. I’m in a new place, and I’m just telling you what I see and feel, walking through that new door. Just give me a little time. I think I’ll figure it all out.
I have no idea what 2015 may bring. I have so looked forward to this year being over. Just to move on, to leave behind all those hard and ugly things. And I simply don’t know. Maybe that new place will bring even worse stuff than what I saw this year. It doesn’t matter, though, whether it’s worse or better, what the New Year will bring.
All that matters is this. I’m looking forward to it. And it will be a year of blessings.
Happy New Year to all my readers.