Food and Water

(Food and Water is part of a series inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem, Poets to Come, which expects writers to write about the main things.)

Dinner is served, each dish familiar and lovingly prepared. The family and a few friends stand around the table that has become an altar and give thanks. It is Thanksgiving. Though each of us is grateful for the food, none of us mentions it. Instead, we express gratitude for those main things that make us happy. This ritual is a main thing. It makes us happy, and we are grateful.

Whether it’s an elevated holiday meal steeped in tradition and shared with family, or a Sonic #1 combo eaten alone in the car, meals are communal. Even when eating fast food alone, farmers, distributors, cooks, and wait staff make the meal possible. But it’s harder to see the connection.

I have eaten alone more this past year than at any other point in my life. There’s a loneliness and sadness to that. I miss meals with college friends, when we laughed until our faces hurt. I miss hurried breakfasts, as the children rushed off to school. I miss weekly neighborhood potlucks, canceled because of the pandemic. The food that I eat alone nourishes me physically, but I am emotionally and spiritually hungry.

I bet there are others who feel the same. May we find each other and share a meal.

Expecting the Main Things

POETS TO COME

Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!

Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known,

Arouse! for you must justify me.
I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.

I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a
casual look upon you and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.

—Walt Whitman

If I’m to be a writer, Walt Whitman expects main things from my writing, so I figure I should know what the main things are. Below is an ordered list without explanation. The explanations will be what I write about. Thank you, Walt.

Making the list, especially prioritizing it, was harder than I thought it would be. I welcome additions and reordering suggestions.

  1. Food and water
  2. Shelter and clothing
  3. Health
  4. Safety
  5. Love
  6. Hope
  7. Faith
  8. Kindness
  9. Justice
  10. Forgiveness
  11. Laughter
  12. Freedom

Whitman or Facebook?

Walt Waltmin and Facebook logo

Not only is there not enough time for both Whitman and Facebook, but also, more importantly, there’s not enough space in my brain.

Reading Walt Whitman makes me slow down. I can’t scroll/like/scroll/refresh as is my wont on Facebook. Facebook is drive-through fast food. Whitman is a sit-down, five-course (or at least three-course) meal. But just like stopping at Sonic for a number one with tater tots and a vanilla sweet tea can easily become a habit, scrolling Facebook can become one too. Do it too much and I start to feel lousy.

You are what you eat. I don’t want to be Facebook. I want to be Whitman. Anyone who’s been on a diet will tell you it isn’t easy to stick with it long enough to see change. But it’s possible.

I’m going to change my diet from Facebook to Whitman. And I might let my beard grow out again 😜

You Are Dirt. And You’re Going To Be Dirt.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

That’s depressing as hell. “Happy Ash Wednesday!” Said no one, ever.

These words, at the heart of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, are abrupt and harsh. They force us to think about that which we normally spend time and energy avoiding—death. We don’t like being reminded that we’re mortal, that there’s this looming end for us, that our lives will cease to be.

Our fear of death leads us to find ways to mask our mortality. We pay for makeup, anti-aging creams, hair dyes, and medical procedures that we hope will make us look younger. We laugh at death when we joke about our age. Ha! This birthday I got an AARP card invitation in the mail. Time to use that senior discount! We entertain ourselves with sacry movies that are about out running death.

Ash Wednesday cuts through all that deflection and says, “You are dirt, and you are going to be dirt.”

But then the liturgy immediately offers more, “Repent and believe the gospel.”

“Repent” literally means “turn around and go the other way.” In this context (and really in every context), repent means to stop being afraid. You might associate repentance with sin and think that to repent means to stop sinning. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that fear is at the heart of all sin.

So repent, stop being afraid, and believe the gospel. What is the gospel?

See, I’ve already lost so many friends at this point in this post, because the post is just too churchy. So many people I know want nothing to do with Christianity, and rightfully so. The church, which claims to house the faith, has hurt them too long and too deeply for them to see words like “repent” or “sin” or “the gospel.” Frankly, I somewhat count myself among them.

It’s sad. Because if you strip away all of the religiosity and church trappings, “the gospel” simply means “love.”

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”

Means…

“Yeah, you’re going to die. Stop being afraid of it and love instead.”

I’d much rather spend my life loving and being loved than being afraid. Wouldn’t you?

Happy Ash Wednesday, indeed.

The Situation Was Dire

No, I had enough half-and-half for my coffee, and the Häagen-Dazs sure as hell ain’t melted. I came home around 9 pm after a lovely, if a bit surreal (we were the only four folks at the restaurant) dinner with Førge and friends. The source of direity was: it’s cold. 27° was the low.

My oil lamps were frozen again, and my 1 lb propane canisters were empty. The plan was to refill them from the big tank I’d purchased earlier in the day. This refilling relies on the smaller tank being colder than the larger talk, so when they are hooked together, the liquid propane transfers to the cooler tank. It’s worked several times before, but last night the tanks were not cooperating. No propane transfered, and I couldn’t warm up the room before bed.

I could have gone to Førge’s. I could have gone to my landmate’s place where I saw evidence of a toasty fire. But some kind of—this will put hair on my chest, I’m a survivor, don’t be a wimp—mentality kicked in. Instead, I layered the bed, and I layered myself, then I nestled under the covers with Fred. (Gracie’s is in hospital at Førge’s while I work today.) Eventually, warm and cozy, I started drifting off to sleep until I thought, Don’t people say they start feeling warm and sleepy BEFORE THEY FREEZE TO DEATH?

No, it really wasn’t that. I truly was warm and cozy. The most dire thing that I experienced during THE COLD NIGHT WHEN MY PROPANE CANISTERS WOULDN’T REFILL AND I ALMOST DIED was, when I started typing up this account of it, my fingers were too cold to make the keypad on the phone work correctly.

I’m ok. May love and warmth find those for whom the cold is no joke and really is life threatening.

Water

The water continues its relentless flow until… Is there an until? Isn’t water always moving, if not to the sea, then back to the sky? Don’t the hydrogen and oxygen molecules vibrate with movement together?

Relentless movement gives water the power to tear down and build up, to drown in death and nourish in life. But water doesn’t move on its own. Gravity constantly pulls down while wind and sun lift up.

Is water happiest when it’s settled or when it’s roaring? Would water rather be a still pond or a rolling wave? Frozen cold, shimmering liquid, or scalding steam?

Most likely, water just is and cares not at all.

Build Up

I visit the build in the evening and wonder how something can simultaneously happen quickly and slowly. There are mind-blowing changes every day. And yet—as I tick through what’s left to do and imagine being all warm and cozy inside—the finish seems something far away.

Patience, young grasshopper.

Meanwhile, my excitement builds and builds, and I continue to be grateful.

The Ten of Swords

And do you feel scared, I do
But I won’t stop and falter
And if we threw it all away
Things can only get better
Woah woah woah woah, woah woah.

“Things Can Only Get Better,” by Howard Jones

Things can only get better, especially when things are at their worst. That’s the meaning of the Ten of Swords. I drew the card this morning.

On Saturday, I felt like the person depicted in the card—wounded, defeated, and fallen. In that place, you can either give up or use the time to breathe, reset, get up, and move on.

This morning, I’m choosing to move on, and things can only get better.

How It Happens


when I drive away from an unscheduled overnight with my boyfriend

when a heavy wind in the night blows leaves off of trees, baring witness to the change of season

when the creek that ran dry for so long rushes with water from a steady rain

when I pass and wave at the mail carrier for whom I will be substituting

when Fred sees me and cries his meow saying, “just where have you been? I’m hungry!” then, sated, curls beside me on the bed

when Gracie returns from her walkabout, satisfied that all is well with the land

when a stocking hat, two oil lamps, and a lit candle are enough to keep me warm in my tiny bedroom

when I hear the sound of rain on the roof, but I am dry

then I wonder: how did this happen? how is it that I am here? from where did the strength come to change almost everything in my life so that I can now see the likes of falling leaves and rushing creeks that make me cry?

how wonderful and marvelous it is to love and appreciate one’s life