December 28, 2007

Of Time and Tomorrow

Category: News — Ira @ 5:08 pm

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“There is no pain, you are receding.
A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you’re saying.

When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.”

—Pink Floyd, lyrics, “Comfortably Numb”
__________________________________

We approach the threshold. The new advances; the old recedes. This year, 2007, only days away from being ushered out the door. Like the classic sketch, the long-bearded old man, frail and stooped and leaning on a walking stick, tottering with exhausted steps toward the exit. My reaction: good-bye and good riddance. I welcome and cele- brate the little infant baby that is 2008.

It’s been a pretty crappy year. That’s stating it mildly. The Chinese Year of the Pig. And I’m glad it’s over. While the events that unfolded throughout the year may not yet have reached their apex, at least the year has reached its end. It is written that our days are as grass; our lives bloom and blossom, then wither and fade like flowers bereft of the sun. I have never been one to wish for time to accelerate, to wish the days to pass faster than they naturally do anyway. But this year was different. I am so very, very ready for it to be gone, to take its slot in the annals of dark history. May there never be another like it.

It’s actually been a tough, brutal, turbulent year. From beginning to end, and every day between. A year of loss, of heartbreak, of letting go, of pulling up strength where there was little or none. Of absorbing blow after bitter blow, the world I knew crashing down around me in dust and ashes. Of getting up and facing each day, of inching, moving forward because that was the only choice; there was nowhere else to go. Of plucking and eating the bitter fruit born of a poisonous seed.

I learned a lot. About the depths of depravity in the human heart. About how life works. Really works, I mean. One can read volumes of all the platitudes ever pub- lished and still have absolutely no grasp at all of how things really are, or can be when the going gets tough. When things happen, when events take on an orbit of their own, when one’s existence spirals out of control.

I used to have a lot of answers, about a lot of things. I don’t anymore. I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who does or claims to have.

A life can get reduced to shambles pretty quickly. Any life. Anywhere. Any time. It doesn’t matter if you are a pillar of the community, or some druggy lurking out on the fringes, or somewhere in between, which is where most of us are. It doesn’t matter if you are a multi-millionaire or a pauper, or somewhere in between, which is where most of us are. Once events are triggered and released, the boom gets lowered, and there ain’t no stopping it. It smashes everything in its path. And everyone in its path. It’s all the same. For everything and everyone.

It gets messy. Despite all the Christian teachings, all the ultimate truths ever pro- claimed from all the pulpits in the country. Or in all the Sunday School classes. Just so much chatter, really. The harsh reality stands in stark contrast to the sweet, syrupy, sugary goo that pervades so much of what we hear in church. The real truth I will tell you: sometimes things don’t work out, and not everyone lives together happily ever after. Sometimes hard things are done, hard choices are made. One does what one must to survive, and lives with the consequences.

That’s the way the cookie crumples. And pop! goes the weasel. And all that.

Portions of this past year remain hazy in my mind. Probably a choice on my part, a protective reaction. And while I don’t want to rehash the things already stated before on this site, there were times I felt stranded in the middle of a vast, barren wasteland. Hopeless, hearing the voices of those around me, but ultimately alone.

Time crawled. Minutes seemed like hours, hours like days, days like weeks, weeks like months, and months like years. The year a decade. And now it ends.

I learned a lot. About my friends. About who they were, and who they are. The ones who stood with me in the trenches on the darkest days, silent perhaps, but solidly there nonetheless. Which ones had integrity. And which one was utterly devoid of even the slightest shred. And remains devoid. And integrity lost is not easily regained.

Like Paradise lost. That which was, now dimly seen only in fleeting glimpses. The result of choices. Ripple effects. Consequences. Abandonment. Desolation. Hard, bitter real- izations. Hard, bitter, brutal facts. A new reality. The years will not dim the lessons learned. Or diminish the bleak but abundant harvest the future will impose.

Tomorrow is a new day. And as I face the New Year, I have become comfortably numb. I’m not sure if it’s from general weariness or from actually having worked through some things. Probably a little of both. Time will tell. Time always tells.

I do look forward to 2008. A fresh slate. For good things. At least some of the time.

I will, I suppose, spend some time absorbing and adapting to the new realities un- leashed this year. Opening and examining the foggy realms that my subconscious mind has suppressed. Including the rage, which has seeped into every pore of my soul and will do some real damage if not faced and dealt with. I have heard all the advice, all the yada, yada, yada, all the formulas. I know what needs to be done. For my own sanity. But knowing and doing are two very different things, almost like two opposing forces.

I am comfortable in my job. I like my work. And the people I work with. The New Year will bring some major projects, beyond the size and scope of anything we have ever done before. So we are optimistic that 2008 will be a good year. The company will continue to do what it does best.

For me, the first practical order of business will be to lose the five-plus pounds gained over the holidays. Too much good, rich food, and too many legitimate excuses to indulge. No more. Back to the salads. Back to the gym, the jump rope and the tread-mill for extended workouts.

Sometime in 2008, I want to travel with Big Blue, just me and my truck and the road. Visit family scattered from Kentucky to Kansas and points between. Take some time, a few weeks at least, meander my way through some back roads, travel some uncrowd- ed highways. Stop where I want, when I feel like it. Converse with inhabitants of road- side dives. Talk with grizzled old men. Listen to their tales, glean their wisdom. Sift through their stories of fantastic imagination. Blog from the road.

Sometime, perhaps in the next year, I will need to decide the next step, where to go with my writing. Until now, I have been blogging with hastily-crafted little blurbs. What you read each week is the result of six to eight hours of writing and intensive rewriting. Sometimes more. At some point, I will have to decide whether to strive for the next level and what that level is. As I see it, little that I have posted is of publishable quality, although some of it might be with a bit of polishing, a few more rewritings.

I figure with about two years of uninterrupted labor, I could produce the foundation of the core essence that clamors to be told. For now, I plan to keep blogging weekly; the discipline of doing that is clearly what I need at this time. But at some point, that stage will pass. And I will either stop or move forward. I’m actually pretty fatalistic about it. Either my story will get written in time, over time. Or it won’t. In the big scheme of things, what’s one more voice? Or one less?

One generation passes; the next moves in to take its place. On Christmas night, my father’s older sister, Anna (Mrs. Peter) Stoll, passed away peacefully in her sleep in her home in Aylmer, Ontario. She was ninety-six years old and simply worn out. The funeral was this morning, Friday, Dec. 28th. My parents made the long journey from Iowa to attend.

While I was tempted to go, I decided not to. Just too much baggage in my life right now. Although I’m sure my cousins (Anna’s children) would have been kind and gracious, there nevertheless would have been a large white elephant looming in every room I entered. And who wants to deal with that at a funeral? So for their sakes and for my own, I thought it best to stay away. Choices. Ripple effects. Consequences. In life, and at the end of life.

And now, in this last post of the year, I wish you, my readers, a great New Year. I consider the vast majority of you my friends. Some of you are not. And that’s OK. But I thank all of you for taking the time (whether regularly or sporadically) to read my blog. I appreciate that more than I can express in words.

I anticipate good things. I wish them for each of you as well. Through one more season of summer, winter, frost and heat. May your face be warmed by gentle sun- light; may the winds more often than not be at your back. May the rains that fall in your life be refreshing, and bring new growth.

May the tears of you who weep be wiped away. May healing come to the wounded and joy return to those who mourn. May they who walk in darkness emerge again into the light they have abandoned.

As the year unfolds, join me in greeting each new day with wonder and appreciation. Be thankful. To God. In all things. And treasure life for the rare and precious gift it is. It’s not always beautiful. Or clean. Or easy. But it’s always worth living. Always.

HAPPY NEW YEAR.

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(16 Comments) »

  1. I so much appreciate your honesty. Right now I am thinking about your bitterness and what you are told you must do in order to deal with it, etc. I totally hate & despise spiritual recipies. In my opinion these recipes leave no room for God to prepare the heart to deal with bitterness.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — December 28, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

  2. Thanks, thanks, thanks for the beautiful blessing. It spoke so deeply to me this evening. I just “fought a few wars” in the last hour and feel totally spent. Your blessing pulled me back together. Thanks for your faithfulness in writing or I may have been sol tonight. :)

    I’m going to print out your last paragraph and tape it to my computer at work so I see it every morning. GOOD STUFF!!

    Happy New Year to you too!

    Comment by Judy S — December 28, 2007 @ 9:29 pm

  3. I remember one News Years my uncle stopped me in church and asked me about the upcoming year. He was taken aback when I said I wasn’t hopeful – at all- well perhaps a little hopeful that all the trudging along would at least be uphill and out of this rotting place.

    Recently I accompanied my cousin to a reading of the Sufi poet Rumi – To Ira’s blessing I say Amen! and add these lines:

    Sit near someone who has had the experience.
    Sit under a tree with new blossoms.

    Go toward kindness.
    If you are not sure where that is,
    you will be drawn in by fakes.

    Your loving alertness is a lantern.
    Keep it protected from wind
    that makes it crazy.

    Instead of that airy commotion
    live in the water that gently cools
    as it flows. Be a helpful friend,
    and you will become a green tree
    with always new fruit,
    always deeper journeys into love.

    (Trans by Coleman Barks, “Rumi Bridges to the Soul” p 43)

    Comment by Glo — December 29, 2007 @ 12:17 am

  4. I too look forward to the passing of this 2007. This has been a year of death, and I am not yet strengthened to its grim reality. Yes, I have had all my grandparents die, but all at an old age when one is supposed to die. But this year, a 25-year-old father, a 28-year-old mother, both dying in pain from insidious cancers. A 48 year old father out in the field hunting with his two sons, one moment the NCAA level scholarship wrestler in the prime of fitness, five minutes later, dead and gone, despite the effective CPR and almost immediate defibrillation that the sons then a nearby ambulance provided. One of my very close friends home on leave from Iraq very calmly describing how an IED exploded five feet from his head as his mine clearing vehicle passed it, only the thick steel side saving his life but his hearing gone for a time. My father approaches the end, one of the last WWII veterans. Over the years he has told us of his part in the Battle of the Atlantic, even that midnight when he stepped out on the stern deck of his floating gasoline tank to see three fingers of death reaching out from the attacking U-boat towards his ship, only stopped by the sacrifice of 150 British sailors and their corvette that cut across the tanker’s stern and absorbed the torpedoes 100 yards away. My father’s very close friend from Pittsburgh, a traveling liquor salesman who would regale us boys with tales of adventure, only later did I find out that “Uncle” Bob was telling us of his part on the infamous convoy of death to relieve Malta in 1942 and how he survived two ships blown apart under him and the horrors of seeing men drowning in an oil slicked ocean or burned alive on their exploded ships. My Uncle Howard with Third Army’s scouts, often seeing their commanding general, George Patton, impatiently waiting for them at the next river ford, finding one of the smaller concentration camps then the unrepentant SS guards hiding in a nearby woods. Here’s a hint, after you commit horrible atrocities, don’t hide in front of an American tank army that just liberated your former concentration camp and refuse to surrender when asked. Think of one square mile of trees completely leveled by massed heavy machine guns followed by napalm and a line of tanks crashing through the wreckage. There were no SS guards left to stand trial for crimes against humanity. I am a veteran but not one experienced in war. Of all of the trials of life and hard knocks that I have experienced these last 50 years, I am not really fit to speak of the starkness of life and death that only a combat veteran or disaster survivor can articulate and that only a fellow veteran or survivor can truly understand. Yes, we all have trails and burdens in our all too human lives but only face to face with constant death and horror can truly reveal the stark core of our character, stripped of all pretenses, all of our masks finally torn away.

    An interesting book that begins to probe that core is Deep Survival. The author contends that maybe 20% of us can find the right stuff in time when Death suddenly and unexpectedly comes calling. Surprisingly, this right stuff comes to the front in the most unlikely people and is totally lacking in many “strong” individuals who surely must have it. This is a very sobering book.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — December 29, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  5. Interesting, opening with “Comfortably Numb.” I can see why you applied it here. Numbness is helpful. When indulged in to the right degree, of course.

    This is a pretty powerful blog, Ira. It is realistic, and I appreciate that. As you state, anyone’s life can fall apart, regardless of the social position or outward appearence, whatever. It’s not like one group, say… Christians, has it all together. A big part of life is solitary, each one fighting his own battles, ultimately. But in the same way anyone’s life can fall apart, each one can personally fight his own battle and survive. I am not making an “all things work together for good” statement, I’m saying that on this blog you have written raw, frighteningly strong truths that most people never realize. A bunch of the stuff you wrote about is stuff I know, in my head, but have not had it pounded into me by experience.

    I don’t know if I’m odd, but this blog is pretty encouraging to me. The realism, I guess. A person dealing with big stuff, and doing it admirably.

    There is a verse in the sixth chapter of Galations, one of the first ones. It states that each one must bear his own burden, and because of that, we must help bear each other’s burdens. So yeah, it’s solitary. But we, your friends, have got your back in the new year of ’08.

    Comment by Mervin — December 29, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

  6. Ira:

    Thanks for the last paragraph. Powerful stuff. I needed that. Have a great 2008.

    Comment by Ken Miller — December 29, 2007 @ 5:06 pm

  7. Christ is the sole foundation for any optimism and good wishes, even for the ability of materialistic or fatalistic humans to use positive-gearing psychology (“accentuate the positive,” “expect a miracle,” “keep your chin up,” “don’t let them get you down”). Sometimes even wicked men (and, let it be said, women) can “succeed,” and keep on succeeding with a positive mental attitude. All of it ultimately based on Christ, when unrecognized or even repudiated. “Worship the Son, lest He become angry …” –He is INVOLVED, not just watching. And then comes the judgment. Based on my own responses, and no more self-justifying excuses.

    Had Jesus not come, there would be no hope. That He tarried (Acts 17:30a) so that He could come millennia later, shows the goodness of reality, of God. Even the creation, which allows days, seasons, years, is of His mercy.

    Keep writing, Ira! I learn from you; my feet are kept to the ground.

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — December 29, 2007 @ 5:47 pm

  8. Go Giants.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — December 29, 2007 @ 8:10 pm

  9. The tempests may blow and the storm clouds arise, obscuring the brightness of life; I’m never alarmed at the overcast skies. THE MASTER looks on at the strife, living by faith, yes living by faith in JESUS above trusting, confiding in his great love. From all harm safe in his sheltering arm, I’m living by faith and feel no alarm!

    A wonderful hymn that blessed me today. Jesus has all the answers. HE has conquered sin and death, so that we can live victorious even in this life, glory to his name!

    Comment by gideon yutzy — December 30, 2007 @ 7:12 pm

  10. “It was the best of years it was the worst of years, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” This is part of the famous opening sentence in “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens.

    On Christmas Eve our family, in the absence of Dad, was reflecting on the past year. I had asked all the children to talk about some good memories and milestones of the year, of which we have had many. At the end of that discussion, one of the children quoted the above saying. It encapsulates our year well. In the middle of our broken family, we have experienced God’s grace and incredible friendship. We saw first hand the fight for souls and the battle between good and evil. We have had at times great hope and great despair.

    Ira, I know your pain -it is undescribable like mine for the same reason. I also want to testify that God has poured Himself out on us in huge ways…A large part of the year, I felt like I was shredded, but now a gradual sensation of wholeness is taking place. My situation has not changed but I am stronger, wiser and a whole lot more understanding of others’ messes.

    You have what it takes, Ira, to make 2008 good.

    Comment by Frieda — December 31, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  11. We are on the very edge of a new year, 2008. It has been a good year in many ways, and we are going to join our friends in welcoming in the new. A load from here went to Ind. to help Glen and Leann bring in the new year (cousins). There is something about the holidays that makes you want to be with family, and we were so blessed to have all ours here, including the 3 grandkids. It is a blessed wonderful thing to be together; let’s never take it for granted.

    Happy New Year to all.

    Comment by Rachel — December 31, 2007 @ 7:12 pm

  12. And a Happy New Years..too from here. Just hope there’s lots more of’em. We’re just spending the evening quietly here, at home. Eating saurkraut & sausage. A little later we’ll watch a home-made fireworks show, involving several thousand $$$$ of black powder & long pipes & remote controls & wires & stuff. Yes, from a good distance..Last yr. we had Naomi & Alvins here. A great time indeed..Come on again soon..And oh, free advice here for the new year to keep ya’ll from problems.

    If you approach a strange house for any reason, [work, visiting, whatever], it’s a bad sign if there are no flowers planted out front at all. A good omen is if you notice a cat sleeping in a porch chair.

    If you believe a third of what you hear, half of what you see, & your own dog cowers at the sight of you, you will soon be or are now, an old grouch, whatever your age..that’s all for this year.

    Comment by happy grampa jess — December 31, 2007 @ 8:59 pm

  13. Is there any word on whether Grampa Jess is still in good health? Homeland Security should be notified of his blackpowder/pipe activities.

    I would opine more but I need to go out and buy some flowers to plant in front of my house.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — January 1, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

  14. (note to comment eight) Sorry for speaking out. I think I have a cold coming on: I’m beginning to feel stuffed up.

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — January 2, 2008 @ 12:27 pm

  15. Truly, well said. Every word.

    Comment by sms — January 2, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

  16. Oh Ira,

    I wonder if you ever go back and read your stuff. What a sad state you were in. It’s so hard when you wonder if it will ever end. When you feel like it’s just you and nobody else. When there’s no way out but through.

    I read your December 2012 entry and things are so much better with you. You talked about having the Christmas spirit this year, fond memories of youthful Christmases. Don’t you wish you knew then what you know now? Or, as you say, maybe not. Now that you’re on the other side and can see how you got through it. That you did get through it. I’m so glad you got through it. You are such a blessing to so many people. So many people.

    Comment by Francine — December 18, 2012 @ 12:49 am

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