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.

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.

Move

I’m looking at this landscape with the intent to blog. It’s been AGES. But I’m stuck looking. It’s so beautiful. I want to walk across the field and see what the camera side looks like. I’ll do that Sunday, weather permitting.

Oh. Did I tell you that I have moved? I haven’t moved here, but I have moved close, and I’m not finished moving.

Burn

My heart is the wick of a blown out candle. It once burned hot and cast warm light into the dark of night. Now it is cold and curled, bent over, burned, and covered with suet. A dark presence even in the light of day.

And yet, my heart exists. Is it waiting to host a flame again? Does it hold that memory? Dried as it is, just one spark would ignite and restore it.

Light the candle. Burn, baby. Burn.

The List: An Update

I’m only two days into working The List, but I’m already aware of benefits. What I have learned, or perhaps remembered, is if my mind and body are not disciplined, then I tend to obsess over circumstances that I cannot affect or control. Since the pursuits and activities on The List are goals I wish to accomplish, then even small successes create happiness. It seems a small accomplishment, indeed, to have mowed the yard, but having done so makes me happy.

I know next to nothing about psychotherapy, but I think training the mind to focus on that which makes one happy is a big part of it.

I have learned (or, actually, remembered) that happiness is often a choice I make.

The List

I have a list of wants and needs that swirl around in my head and I’m determined to either address them in earnest or cross them off and let them go. I’m convinced that allowing the items to occupy space and energy in my mind without doing anything about them is negatively affecting my mental health by causing anxiety and even depression.

My plan is to post the beginnings of the list here and come back to it, adding to it if I need to. I can already tell that I will need to. It will take honest reflection and untapped courage to admit these desires to myself and to confess them to persons who might read what I reveal. From the list, I will break out entries and record my progress in unique posts, giving myself a means of accountability and a way to measure success or failure.

One more thing before the list: I remember the original intent of this blog—the plea, the demand, the awareness of the presence of grace. For ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead this list.

  • Achieve financial security
  • Walk Gracie every morning
  • Practice yoga daily
  • Read daily
  • Write daily
  • Get rid of junk and clutter in my home
  • Get rid of junk and clutter as it applies to the way I use my time
  • Plan a vacation in another state or country
  • Intentionally maintain and grow relationships
  • Garden

Why Is Madonna Making Me Cry?

I mean, she’s good. I remember thinking when I first heard the album that she sounded richer, fuller, and the music was much more diverse and interesting compared to her previous pop offerings. But I’m not a music critic. The quality of the work isn’t what’s making me cry.

I have a friend who would say, “You’re in your feelin’s.”

On this lazy Sunday morning, I’ve got the time, so I’m going to take the time to figure out why I’m in my feelings, even if I have to put Ray of Light on repeat.

The album was released in America in March of 1998. Ruth was 1 1/2 years old. That makes Ben 3 1/2 and Sam 4 months shy of 6.

Those mathematical calculations may be completely off. I have always been terrible with dates and with nailing down the events associated with them. I rely on the kindness of others to correct me and set me straight. But if I’m right, in March of 1998 I was in the throes–IN THE THROES–of wrestling with my sexuality. I was living in fear, and I was scared to death. I was also excited at the prospect of joy.

Unpacking all of that is something for another post (or perhaps a book). But within it lies the answer to why Madonna is making me cry. 20 years later I feel the same way: I’m still afraid, and I’m still exited at the prospect of joy.

If I’m alive, I expect that 20 years from now I will still feel the same. The key is for there to be more joy than fear. When I compare now with 20 years ago, I can say with conviction and gratitude that there’s more joy than fear. While present fear brought to light by Madonna this morning may be the source of my tears, there’s also a healthy dose of joyful gratitude mixed in.

Nothing takes the past away
Like the future
Nothing makes the darkness go
Like the light
You’re shelter from the storm
Give me comfort in your arms
Nothing really matters
Love is all we need
Everything I give you
All comes back to me

–Madonna, “Nothing Really Matters”