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Sorrow and the Poetry of Healing

Ours is a world of stilted prosody, flat and banal, the flourish of ad copy, the etymology of the focus group.  It is speech calculated to intended effect, never deeper than the sheen, no wiser than the fortune cookie paper slip.  It’s a monotone babble, furiously expounding the nothingness that fills that wasteland of spinning static, born of an ersatz orchestra of twittering chatter.

But we are made for much more.

In a mystery, we come to this at times when we are hollowed out by pain and loss, the trauma that raises that terrible tonicity, the deepening of the heart in lament.  Our mundane routine shifts, that sudden departure from the expected, the wrench that shreds us from within.  Suddenly what was, is gone, its fading imprint turning us inside out.  And the identity which shaped us is shattered at the leaving.  We are torn, the grasp on ourselves loosened.  We turn, looking for the poles.

We cannot speak of it.  The quotidian vocabulary no longer satisfies.  We are dumb, mute before the monstrosity which our world has become.

In that confrontation, sorrow stretches the soul into poetry.  We are given the unexpected meter and rhyme of tears and heartache.  New words are shaped, and we name again the things around us.  Including ourselves.

Trauma and loss are a sort of soul amnesia, the forgetting of the self that once was.  The stanzas which are written by tears, however, call out from the shadows the one we have been and are becoming.

It is through sorrow’s lament, that keening of the soul, that the self remembers whence it came, remembers and burns in that ache and that agony of loss.

In that piecing together of the self from the broken shards amid the ashes, there is a poetry that shakes and shapes, at once terrifying and comforting.  There I am, but who am I now?

We come to ourselves again, in these bits and pieces, glued together by compassionate embrace, the loving exhalation, inarticulate and fecund of meaning.  The breath trembles with the vibration of new harmony, the melody of a minor key, a refrain different but the same.

We are no longer, yet still we are.  New and fantastic, unknown to ourselves, yet known from the foundation of the world.  Poetry creatures in a prosaic world, we are misshapen and misnamed, but still anchored in the love which was ours, given and received, while being born in this strange new moment.

But ever the ache.  Hearts broken and not fully to be mended in this life.  Stuck in between until that reunion of lovers and loved.  Now singing, ever singing, in minor key, but lovely and beautiful.

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On Tragedy and Loss; and Thanksgiving

The U.S. has been affected by three hurricanes and a mass shooting in the last several weeks.  These are only the tragedies that make for news ratings.  There are countless, untold tragedies affecting individuals and their families that occur everyday.  Incapacitating illness, death, betrayal, economic loss.  Suffering and loss are grievous burdens.  They take their toll on all of us, especially if it is our loved ones who suffer and we can do nothing to alleviate their pain.

What makes it even more difficult in our twenty-first century is that we have lost a great deal of our ability to endure suffering and hardship.  Advances in medicine alleviate many great evils that have afflicted humanity throughout history.  The eradication of crippling diseases.  The prolongation of lifespans.  We are trained to end pain as quickly as possible.  A headache requires little else than an acetaminophen tablet and a glass of water.  In minutes the pain is gone.  Psychologically, we are not equipped to endure prolonged pain.  Microwavable meals.  On demand access to entertainment, on our phones wherever we are.  Our whims and desires met at a moment’s notice anywhere, anytime.  So when tragedy strikes, we are not equipped with patience and fortitude.

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The Story of Us

Hominis memorator.  Man, the rememberer, the story teller.  Narrative is inescapable.  Apart from mathematical formulae and shopping lists, we rarely merely recall facts and events.  Even the recollection of a mathematical formula is contextualized in the class and the teacher and the general events of our lives.  We didn’t just learn the Pythagorean theorem, but we had this teacher who . . . And we are off into story, narrative, beginning, middle and end.

The movies and books that sell well, however awful the writing and characterization, are the movies and books that tell stories that work.  Are they “formula”?  Yes.  Are they “good”?  Sometimes not.  But why do such things do so well?  Because they tell stories that resonate within us.  Good guys win.  Lovers reunite.  The travelers return from battling dragons with the elixir that saves the dying queen.

Because we are, all of us, storytellers to the core.  We organize the events and facts and desires and fears and all the flotsam and jetsam of our existence into coherent narratives.  Every instance we open our mouths to relate “how our day went” we have already interpreted these things in ways that begin “once up one a time.”  Our narratives are filled with heroes and heroines, victims and allies, villains and curses, and tragic or happy endings.

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One Year Later

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Yesterday evening, I was able to drive to El Dorado, Kansas, to Sunset Lawns Cemetery, and Dad’s gravesite. I arrived just after sunset, as last light was fading in purple and indigo. Facing Dad’s headstone, I looked out to the west. To my left, the high-pitched hum of pipes and gauges and pumps of the refinery accompanied the rhythmic chirruping of crickets, underneath an undulating meson of a Kansas breeze.

It was important to me to be there on the anniversary of Dad’s passing. I wanted to mark the day praying the Trisagion at his gravesite. I wanted to share my heart, how much I missed him. To say again those words I said repeatedly a year ago as my family and I shared his final struggles: “I love you, Dad.” And, yes, to cry a little.

The grief is different a year later. A year ago, it was sharp and fresh and new, chaotic and disorienting. A year later it is still as painful, there are still as many tears which still come at the oddest moments. A year ago, the grief was ever-present, extended out over everything. A year later, it feels deeper, more settled. And a year later, in these recent days, it has been stirring deeper things.

A year ago, I was confronted with the previously unthinkable: the mortality of my father. I prayed desperate prayers for Dad’s healing, prayers that he would rise from his bed and remain a while longer with us. A year later, I am more deeply confronted with my own mortality.

What is this life that I am living? Certainly not the one I envisioned newly emerged from my college graduation. Goals and plans and dreams left undone, mouldering in the pile of the untried and undone. What legacy will be mine after my own departure? My daughters are barely on the way to their adult lives. What have I given them, what am I giving them, that can orient them and shape their hearts and minds such that they embrace beauty, goodness and truth? What have I left my fellow man in the way of love and service that will outlast and outlive me? Do I have anything to give? Even something as ephemeral as an essay, a book, a novel? What sort of son and brother am I? What mercies am I offering to family?

Though we now know Dad’s diagnosis was long in coming, the news for us was so sudden, and our final days with him so short. And yet, what grace we were given in that two and a half months. Maybe God can take such a life as mine, one so lately marked by constraints and struggle, and by that same grace turn it in to something.

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Thoughts On Years Old and New

It has officially been more than a year since I posted to my blog here. I suppose in the blogging world, that is pretty much a dead blog. But, zombie-like, here I am again one more time, thinking out loud on my keyboard.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 34,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 8 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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“I’m not dead yet.”

It’s been nearly five months since I last posted here. I am pretty sure that’s the longest hiatus I’ve taken. It was not an intentional one. Since my last post I’ve moved. Twice. I quit a job and got a job. It’s been a busy, busy time. But I’m getting settled in to the new digs. . . slowly but surely. And that is helping me establish and stick to a routine. So, no promises, but I should be writing again more regularly, and sharing some of my thoughts I’ve been storing up.

But, there’s a national election coming. Go vote. Pray. See you on the other side.

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