A Christmas Tale

Sometimes words and events loop around through decades, swaddling together, as if meant to be.

A couple of years ago, during the dark, dark days of lockdown (how quickly we forget), we three were sitting around our table after dinner and we did that thing everyone does now and then: we looked up the meaning of our names. One name remains etched into our daily life from that night: Young Adult’s middle name, Kay.

When the Little One first arrived twenty one years ago she brought her own christened names with her, and only her surname was changed in the course of adoption. Her given middle name, Kay, was the name of my much loved great aunt Kay. It was a family name that we might easily have chosen for her, and it rang true in our ears with a sense of affirmation.

Kay, we discovered in the dictionary, or the google as it is these days, is not one of those names that has a dozen varied meanings from which you can choose according to taste; it has just one: Rejoice. This discovery was startling and, well, joyous, and the Young Adult took to it like the proverbial duck. She has held it tightly to herself since. At that time she had no knowledge of the use I make of the word Rejoice as the title for these pages; and certainly no knowledge of my attachment to the word which goes back well before her own life began. 

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On a recent trip back to Tamworth this photo from the mid ‘80s surfaced. I was a youth pastor long ago, and this ute served me in my day job as a carpenter, as well as being a mobile testament to the zealotry of youth. I was awfully zealous. I made the lettering from red contact plastic, with a matching “He Lives” on the passenger door and an accompanying verse of scripture on the tailgate. Cutting the whole thing out with a blade knife at the kitchen table must have taken quite a while. There were members of our youth group who would bury their heads under the glove box so that they wouldn’t be publicly identified in my radically embarrassing vehicle.

My attachment to the good word goes back further still. At the age of seven I was given a Good News New Testament on the occasion of my birthday by Mosman Congregational Church Sunday School. A while later, in a challenging time of life, I discovered that the words of this book had a peaceful effect that could be felt deep within. In the Letter to the Philippians I found a particularly attractive word, repeated numerous times:

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, Rejoice!”

Although I was still young, this good word, Rejoice, entered my soul as sunlight warms and feeds a tree. It held excitement and promise which resonated, and perhaps for the first time I felt the pull of calling. It was a word with a forward motion, it was grateful, it was buoyant, it was strong. I say all this in my 60s, but I do think I felt these things in my childhood.

In the good old days, school pencil cases had little plastic pockets on the outside and a card of letters from which you were meant to cut your name. I cut out a different word, obviously, which is still in my office all these years later:

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Now back to the heart of this story. Young Adult seized on this meaning of her name with delight. It was as if she had been waiting for it (or it for her?) for the whole of her life. It’s implication was immediate and self evident to her: I am Rejoice, and I give people Joy. She does exactly that; she is (at her best) a living, moving fountain of joy. Her disregard for convention and social boundaries (lets be honest, it’s more than disregard, it is complete ignorance of such artifices) allows her to inject her joyful presence deep within anyone at all. She has this keen sense for the person who needs some joy; its as if she can sniff the faintest scent of gloom and hunts it down. She is funny; wonderfully, outrageously, innocently funny; and her simple wisdom delivered with warmth and joy and too many hugs is miraculously restorative. I’ve watched her at work countless times, and it is thrilling. 

Ever since that evening around our table she has been telling people, friends, strangers, support workers, anyone at all,

“My name is Rejoice!” Sometimes pronounced in the rush just as “Joyce”, which works too.

I offer this to you as a Christmas story. A true tale where divine destiny intersects our mortal lives with hope. A child comes with heaven’s gift. The Light of another realm blazes forth in our own. Joy flourishes in an unlikely and humble corner, sweeping us along in its clean, abundant truth.

Rejoice!

Play.

This week our small Baroque Consort, we call ourselves the “Treblemakers”, played another concert. Not in the town theatre this time; this was our own programme in the Conservatorium for thirty odd friends and family – whoever we can find! The degree of anticipation we feel as our biannual performance approaches is huge, and out of all proportion to either our audience or our talent. It’s every bit as thrilling, and daunting, as the Shakespeare plays we presented in my school years; or the Pirates of Penzance we sawed away at on several successive nights in year 10. (Most definitely sawing, not soaring). Hours, hours and more hours of practice, lessons, rehearsals.

But when we played this week I think we may even have soared, just a little. We’ve been together for several years, and we have a truly gifted director, and sometime during this year we began to play in tune, and in time. Now, that might not sound like much. Indeed you might be wondering why it would take years of practice to play in tune and in time. But the harsh truth is that those two measures are perishingly difficult to achieve, especially the first, and many amateur ensembles do not find it. But, to a degree, we did!

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The anticipation, the practice, the nerves, (the dread), finally became the thrill and the joy of accomplishment. It was such a joy, such delight. I played two solo movements from Bach’s third cello suite, and the vast majority of the notes were good ones. To know that we played our ancient and modern repertoire skilfully and beautifully gives me goosebumps! 

But in my signature fashion I frequently worry about this. How can it be at all OK for us to spend our time and money (a European made wooden recorder does not come cheap) in such a frivolous way while Russia continues it’s attempt to murder the Ukrainian nation? Or while famine scythes it’s way through Ethiopia, South Sudan and Afghanistan?

“As many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night. The number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared – from 135 million to 345 million – since 2019. A total of 49 million people in 49 countries are teetering on the edge of famine”.    (World Food Programme).

It is vital that we do more than worry: we must give, work, pray, write. It is vital also that we do more than that: we must also create and celebrate and, yes, Rejoice. We must play. Play an instrument, or play in any one of play’s hundred-thousand guises. Art, music, theatre, sport (that’s a stretch, I know, but I have met people who claim to enjoy playing sport), the beach, the bush, the mountain, the river.

“Play bespeaks eternity.

Play is a gesture of hope.

It takes us momentarily out of the realm of suffering and lets us glimpse deathless joy.

It is a gesture of hope in the face of ugliness and destruction”.  

(Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love).

Isn’t that a bright and glorious vision of who we might be, of who we are?

Rejoice!

Makeshift

I very much like to make things. At quite a young age I set about making a big, curving dagger out of brass in my father’s workshop under the house. It was to be a stage prop for my role as King Theseus in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With a fair amount of fatherly help I fashioned a fearsome, glittering weapon which I doubt I would be allowed to take to school nowadays.

I like to make things in a very particular way: without instructions. When I was an apprentice carpenter the painters would sometimes use a brand of paint that had embossed in a circle around the lid,

If all else fails, read the instructions.

I can still feel the immediate and visceral attraction I had to this paint-tin philosophy. It was funny, but it was true! What a grand way to live.

And on the cover of my maths exercise book in Year 12 I had a Hagar The Horrible cartoon from the Sydney Morning Herald in which the great man was instructing his offspring thus,

“Ignorance is the mother of adventure”.

This, I thought, is a rule for life!

Nothing rivals the deep satisfaction that can be gained from an industrious afternoon in the workshop. A sense of peace invades my heart, and all seems well in the world. For that while, at any rate.

But as I was mulling over this personal oddity while waiting for a bus this week, I quite suddenly saw a darker, heretofore hidden aspect to my aversion to instruction. It’s something akin to lawlessness, if on a modest scale.

I believe myself to be a law-abiding citizen; in fact I take a smidgen of personal pride in being honest, and on the right side of the law. But, and this is a BUT, I don’t actually know very much about the law. I can’t remember ever looking up a road rule, for example, or any other law: I just assume I know where the lines lie. I might go so far as to say that at some level I believe the law supports my views on right and wrong, rather than it operating in the other more conventional direction.

Driving is a very good example: the driving test I took to gain my Black Licence (I have never, ever used an L or P plate!) consisted of one question:

“Can you drive?” 

Yes”.

”Fair enough”.

I was 18, living in the Gibson Desert, speaking with the police constable who came through about once a fortnight. That’s all there was to it.

Back at home in Sydney, some time later, I took a driving lesson just to brush up on everything I didn’t know about traffic, which was rather a lot. I remember the driving instructor saying,

“Brakes please”.

“Brakes please”.

“Brakes please Mr Allen!”

At the end of my single lesson he asked if I would be booking another, and I replied no, I was satisfied with one lesson thank you.

I don’t think you are ready to pass a driving test Mr Allen”.  

You can imagine the exciting news I had for him!  I don’t remember any more what his reply was.  Perhaps he was speechless.

My brief bus stop reverie even included the realm of faith: I have occasionally made the observation in our church, from the lectern, that I have earned only one qualification: that of Carpenter; but there is a well known precedent, and this is quite enough.

I have rarely been employed in the traditional sense of having a boss; and when I did have one I’m not sure I was reliably compliant. I do like to sail my own boat.

So, from a simple reflection on the joy of creativity, I had travelled in less than the time it took for the bus to arrive (on time) to a view of myself as a person who mocks instruction, who shuns authority, who has the air of entitlement, who assumes superiority, who is recalcitrant. (No, no! You should not rush to protect me from myself).

The position of our eyes in our head is truly instructive. Mine are placed in just such a way that except for a vague sense of the tip of my nose I can never see my own face. The best I can do is to look in a mirror, take a photo, or (as a last resort) ask someone else what I look like. This is an organic parable, a lesson to be earnestly noted and contemplated at the earliest opportunity.

“Young man”, I want to yell through time to my younger self, “Everyone knows you better than you know yourself.
T
hink about that!”

But this shift in perspective is not a young man’s game, is it? It takes a lifetime for us to know ourselves, and as the veil is gradually drawn back the thing we behold will not always be to our liking. Occasionally this will explain why it was not always to another’s liking also; but mostly it will be yet another lesson in Grace: All this, and yet I am Loved.

Rejoice!

The Last Day of the Last Good Year

This day, the 20th of November, is my very last day on this fair earth at the age of sixty. “Such a shame!” As my father would have said.

I felt that the age of 60 had a ring of accomplishment, a birthday in which one might take a little pride, but 61 is just pedestrian. Perambulation of the worst kind: downhill.

Despite the approaching gloom I have spent the The Last Day of the Last Good Year wonderfully well. We began with the customary cup of tea which I make for my Favourite Wife and I each morning. Then off to church. In an increasingly secular age church attendance sounds quaint to some and absurd to many more; but it remains the cornerstone of our life. Faith is everything. To my mind the truly absurd idea is life without faith. CS Lewis considered the reality of God and wrote,

The position of the question, then is like this. We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is. Since that power, it if exists, would be not one of the observed facts but a reality with makes them, no mere observation of the facts can find it. There is only one case in which we can know whether there is anything more, namely or own case. And in that one case we find there is.  (Mere Christianity)

Rather wordy, I know, but this resonates so deeply. I find it impossible to imagine life in this world without the real presence of God. How can anyone live with all of this strife and not believe? The opposite position is of course widely held: How can anyone live with all of this strife and still believe? But I believe; and I hear in every human expression from literature to music to the superheroes of the big screen one hope: a Saviour. Well, enough proselytising – I don’t much like being proselytised and ought not impose that on you.

The second highlight of the The Last Day of the Last Good Year was a marvellous concert in our local theatre in which I performed! I rehearse every week with a Baroque Recorder Consort, and this afternoon we took to the stage alongside other students and teachers from the Murray Conservatorium. Music making is sheer joy. The thrill of playing the right note, at the right time, has not grown dim. It is a pleasure that reminds me of childhood somehow: a true and beautiful chord played together is like a fresh discovery in innocence that never seems to grow old.

This Last Day of the Last Good Year has one more resonance. It was on this day one year ago that I arrived at my ageing father’s bedside, having caught the first train north that I could after the endless months of pandemic lockdown. My father had gone through truly awful times with several hospital admissions during which none of us were allowed to visit; culminating in fall in his room, a broken hip, a hip replacement, two more falls in hospital, a second broken hip and a second hip replacement one week after the first. A dreadful, horrid trial during which he was quite alone. But on this very day one year ago a miracle occurred. The aged care home rang on the same morning that I had arrived in the early hours at Sydney’s Central Station telling us that our father was in pain and needed either hospital or palliative care. A stark decision, but Dad had made his thoughts on this abundantly clear to us. When the call came through from my brother, and we had made our decision, I happened to be in a car with a school friend just a suburb away from my father. After so many months of forced separation I was at his bedside well before the doctor arrived, and there I stayed for the last eight days of his life. A harrowing and beautiful week. Since the day of his passing I never think of my father without a dawning sense of his presence somewhere near me. I was utterly unprepared for this experience, and had been inwardly (alas, probably outwardly) dismissive when I had heard similar accounts. To this day at every moment that I expect to feel great grief at my father’s death I feel instead something almost opposite: a sense of his whole and ageless person nearby. He is, after all, among the “cloud of witnesses” which surround us; or in the words of my father’s great friend, “They are nearer than we think”.

My father lived to the age of 88. For more than a decade I have been unable to imagine myself reaching remotely that age; in fact I rarely see more than a couple of years into the future. This veiled horizon began with a Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis more than 13 years ago and I’ve still not shaken it off: if I look three years ahead, I’m just not there. Perhaps that sounds bleak, or worse perhaps is sounds like a thought one shouldn’t entertain. Personally, though, I am glad to have had the illusion of immortality dispelled. Having brushed past my own death, for now at least, there is something delicious in every new day. Look at me, I am alive again!   

The Last Day of the Last Good Year?     Hardly!

Rejoice!

Darby and Joan

My Favourite Wife and I will celebrate 34 years together later this week. We are presently on a Grand-Tour of Grand-Children, some of whom we have not seen for almost three years. Last night we met our youngest granddaughter for only the second time, a gorgeous blonde toddler who – achingly – does not recognise me at all! Happily we have four days with them and affection will surely grow.

At fourteen days this trip is the longest we have ever taken together. When our Little One had been settled in her own home for just ten days (a month ago already!) it was the longest time my Dearest had ever spent together on our own. We were married with three children, all of whom accompanied us down the aisle, and so from the very beginning our home was wonderfully full.  But here we are, suddenly, just Darby and Joan.

Defining moments in the course of life are infrequent, by and large, and habitually traumatic no matter if they are moments of joy or of sorrow. What I didn’t see as a young man, and see a little more clearly now, is how beautiful it is to be reborn. The cycle of beginning and end is universal: almost everything we see in our wide, wide world bearing witness to the arc of life and death. But while the long game of our life is being played out other seasons come and go. Many and varied things begin, and then they end, sooner or later. Some big, some small; some joyous, some dark. This particular rebirth is a big one for us, perhaps the biggest yet, and it is fearful and bright.

Martin Luther wrote,

“Grace is the experience of being delivered from experience.”

I’m not entirely sure what that means, although I enjoy wondering. The word ‘delivered’ is intriguing: we use it to describe birth, not as the delivery a postman might make but a delivery through and from the trial of labour. I think that ‘grace’ is the gift of a new beginning. Life, or God, occasionally resets. Suddenly everything is different and the experience of the past, good, bad, or indifferent, concludes. Everything is new and we inhale the grace of re-creation.

Whatever has gone before has gone; it cannot be altered or retrieved. What comes now is new, and, if we can just see it, full of grace. If only we can stop long enough to see and welcome the new day, then grace abounds.

Rejoice!

The beckoning space

My favourite wife and I often commented, through all the years, at the profound difference the absence of one child made to our home. It might be a sleepover, or someone away on a school trip; and just one missing from our table of eight made the house eerily quiet, and put us all in a somber mood.

With the departure of our Little One (who turns 22 this very week) our home feels too quiet. Tomb like. A sequestered, echoing cloister in which my Favourite Wife and I wander noiselessly, passing in the shadows. My readers might be tiring of this self-indulgent topic, but come with me, one more time.

A chapter of life has very clearly ended, and beyond that loss lies something new, something large. Raising a child with Down syndrome takes quiet a bit of time and energy; and suddenly much of that time is ours again. But more than time, there is space. Measurable space in a vacated bedroom, an empty place at table, a missing swing set, an absence of washing on the bathroom floor. There is space in the air too: the house sounds different. Just a four weeks ago whichever living space Favourite Wife and I were not using was claimed as a dance and rehearsal studio for energetic singing and boisterous conversation with any number of imaginary guests. (I entered this studio without permission one night recently, and was furiously apprehended by our perspiring, noisy dance student: “You know not to disturb me when I am rehearsing!”). With quietness comes an awareness of space in several dimensions. Space to work, thoughts to ponder, music to play, things to create, friendships to revisit.

Most importantly there is inner space. Heart-space, soul-room; something precious and hard to name. How do we inhabit such space when the invitation arrives? There is a realm of hopeful, contented peace which is so close to us that it requires only our nod of ascent, or a deep breath, to enter it. But will we? Do we? In our world of haste and material concerns empty spaces are quickly filled. I reckon I could plug up the newly opened gaps in my life very satisfactorily in just a few weeks; but I am holding out.

At about 10pm each night, when our bed time rituals began, I miss her terribly. Even though this time of night was sometimes terrible! There is such pain in this loneliness, but at the very same moment I am called inward … or is it outward, or upward? Despite myself I want the emptiness.

This is the deepening, joyful space that beckons.


Rejoice!

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Empty

You may know that it’s coming; you may tell yourself that you know that it’s coming; you may tell others around you that you know that it’s coming; and yet it will always comes to you as a stranger. Unrecognisable … vaguely familiar … oh yes! It is grief.

Iv’e missed our Little One most often at night since she moved into her own home. We shared many small rituals throughout our days, as she has a great delight in repetition of the routine. At about 9 pm we like to drink black coffee together, and so I find our two small, stainless steel cups and saucers on the shelf. Here they are! Two, but I only need one tonight. Our evening routines were a finely tuned pathway toward sleep – something with which Little One has had a complex relationship since birth. A relentlessly restless sleeper; sharing the bed with her required desperate endurance. We often found her sitting bolt upright in the corner of the cot, sound asleep. On a memorable night she climbed out of her cot, aged only two-ish, and found me writing an essay in my study. That was the end of my years as a student. Throughout her life she has needed to be put to bed, and only in recent years have we been able to leave her room before she was actually sound asleep or she would simply follow us back out. In her adult life I have generally been able to get her in bed by 11 pm, and I almost always stay up another hour, just till I’m sure she is asleep. Not to do so risks being awoken at 1 or 2 am to a house full of lights, music, talk, dance even. Not to mention sounds of industry emanating from the kitchen.

So, here it is nearing midnight once again as it has each night since Little One left home a fortnight ago; but I have no responsibility, no charge to care for. I’m awake out of long habit, but it’s a weary and lonely wakefulness without purpose. Bedtime has been my favourite job, and certainly my joy, for more than thirty years. Throughout all the years there has always been a child who needed me to put them to bed! But, no longer.

Perhaps it’s the unique nature of today, Fathers Day, that makes my melancholy tale so raw. Or perhaps it is that the life of a parent is the deepest, fullest, most precious, most wonderful path we ever tread.


AUTUMN

The leaves are falling, falling as from far,
As if far gardens in the skies were dying;
They fall, and never seem to be denying.

And in the night the earth, a heavy ball,
Into a starless solitude must fall.
We all are falling.

My own hand no less
Than all things else; behold, it is in all.
Yet there is One who, utter gentleness,
Holds all this falling in
His hands to bless.
– Rainer Maria Rilke.


Rejoice!

Mum, it will Never Happen!

This was Little One’s response to my Favourite Wife’s assurance that she could come home whenever she felt like it and her room would still be there for her. They were sitting together, a little nervous both, on a visit to look at the home that will very soon be hers. Whether it’s for her sake or for ours I’m not sure, but it’s been awfully important to us that she knows she can come home, that we are here when she needs us, that when Independent Living gets too hard we will be right here, just like always, waiting to embrace her!

“Mum, It will Never Happen!”

In just a few short hours Little One will leave our home and fulfil her great longing to live independently. But “Little One” ceased to be her monika long ago. In these pages she became Teen Girl almost a decade ago, and is now aged 21. But tonight, especially, I can’t call her anything else.  

My Favourite Wife and I have had children in our home for 33 years now, and Little One is the last to leave.  I have adored a home full of children. Little One has Down syndrome, and is in so many ways just a little child still. Tonight I was able to forestall a potentially dreadful argument with an impromptu sing and dance routine with a walking stick, Fred Astaire style. With an immediate gale of laughter she jumped up out of her funk and showed me how it’s really done. She is a born dancer with an astonishing sense of rhythm and and endless supply of “moves”. A child still. The conflict forgotten she thanked me earnestly for dancing with her, and willingly went to bed.  She still needs to be put to bed; just about every single night.  

Once a month Little One might take herself off to bed alone, but on every other night we coax her under the covers with a polished routine that includes a 10pm automatic shutdown of her screens, followed by an immediate request for more time, which I grant in small increments. Warm milk is promised, and delivered. Then Little One insists that I tick off numerous daily tasks across a page, producing a growing tally that turns into a deposit of a few dollars into her savings project at weeks end. It seems to me a little inappropriate for me to be rewarding young adult for picking up their PJs (or not!), but she absolutely insists – and it’s a fixed part of the routine. For months now she has scored a zero on every single day, bar none, in the column for tidying up her floor. I asked her a while ago if she was, in fact, ever going to tidy up.  

“No”, she said.  

“Why not?”  

“Because it’s not my room”.

This gives way to our Wordless Hug. Words are a problem for Little One, there are too many of them in the world, and utterly too many issuing from her wise and devoted parents. The wordless hug is our invention, and it is wonderful. I love it at least as much as she does, and sometimes it is long and deep. The next stage is not approved equally by all parents in our home, because it involves tickling. My own father was exceptionally gifted in the art of rousing sleepy grandchildren with a good tickling, and demonstrated his talent at any opportunity. We just cant help it, one moment it’s a Wordless Hug and the next I can feel a sneaky finger  heading under my arm. It’s awfully funny, and thankfully doesn’t usually prevent the next and final stage of the bed-time routing: pulling up the blankets. If all this seems like a bit of work, it is; but it’s a whole lot easier than having to lie next to her and read or make up imaginary stories until she actually fell asleep after an hour or more. This was bedtime until she finished school, just a few years ago. At last I close her door, and then I wait for her closing conversation with imaginary friends to wind down over the next 10, or 20, or 30 minutes.  Or an hour.  Or more…..  Sometimes I go back in and ask her to say goodnight to all these vibrantly real and present characters, but that rarely works. 

It’s 12.30am right now, and I’m aware that her chatter has finally stopped.  I’m just down the hall, as usual, waiting for the blessed silence which I cherish. There is such rewarding peace in a silent house, stirred only by the gentle sounds of sleep. This is the time for thought, and prayer, and silence within.

Tomorrow with be a day of high adventure as we depart in a convoy of furniture and endless shopping bags full of I know not what! 

Tomorrow night, with just us two … well, that’s a different thing altogether, and I won’t break tonight’s silence to give it shape just yet. 

.

Rejoice!


Bus Folk

City folk catch busses when they want to, Country folk catch busses because they have to. Most of my travelling companions on the town bus are there because they don’t drive, for one reason or another. It’s not that bussing is a bad way to get around, but in a town where everything is ten minutes away by car, you only spend an hour on a bus if there’s no alternative. Busses in the city are transport for the general public. Country busses are designated for the diagnosed, carriages for the categorised, rides for the restricted. If you’re on a country bus, there’s a reason you are there, and it’s rarely as simple as your destination. This is good and bad. Bad because there are some decidedly odd people onboard with peculiar backgrounds and stories; and good because there are some decidedly odd people onboard with peculiar backgrounds and stories.

Let me introduce you to someone who inspires me.

Stan is a fellow wheelchair user, a double amputee who rides a green, somewhat ancient power chair. He is of another generation, a quiet and courteous man who holds his own council and moves with grace at a speed of his own choosing. The truely remarkable thing about Stan is that he is also blind. When Stan boards the bus he does so with the chair controller in one hand, and a white cane in the other: a remarkable feat. I recall how nervous I was when I first tackled the daunting ramp on a public bus: building enough speed to climb the ramp but not so much that you miss the sharp right hand turn and crash into the driver’s door instead. Then there’s a U-turn to perform, sometimes a three pointer, before one can park in the designated wheelchair space. Not to mention letting the driver know where you are heading, tapping your Opal Card or paying your fair. Here’s a thing: In the country you can only pay the driver with cash. Cash! It’s tricky work. And I recall how nervous I am still when its raining and my wheels slip and spin and my umbrella gets stuck and I feel every set of eyes on the bus willing me to just-get-it-done! so we can all get out of here. Stan juggles all this and so much more, and without a hint of complaint or frustration; not ever.

Stan inspires me still, even though its now several years since he graced our busses and I learned recently that he had died. I ought not to have written about him in the present tense, but I couldn’t do otherwise. He was a person with an abiding sense of contentment and presence.

There are people we know well, some we know about, and others we know of; and then there are people we barely know and yet we know them. We know who and what they are, somehow glimpsing the soul that shines in the moments of our meeting, however brief. My first thought was that these people are few and far between, but that’s not right. I think that there are a great many people of grace, people formed by grace, but we are rarely quiet enough or slow enough to notice them. So, look up from your phone (blight of the modern pilgrim and passenger), and see.


Rejoice!

Week’s Best

The best thing I read this week was a poem by Lithuanian Poet, Cseslaw Milosz. I first came across it a few weeks ago in Parker Palmer’s book, On the Brink of Everything, and my thoughts keep returning to it.

It’s a poem for later life (not that I am remotely near later life myself, or would ever suggest that you are, dear reader….). So let’s agree its a poem for middle life:

Love

Love means to learn to look at yourself

The way one looks at distant things

For you are only one thing among many.

And whoever sees that way heals his heart,

Without knowing it, from various ills –

A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things

So that they stand in the glow of ripeness. 

It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves: 

Who serves best doesn’t always understand.

Czeslaw Milosz [1911-2004]

As a young man I felt that native indestructibility that makes life so much fun. With an exaggerated sense of permanence came the the idea that I was somehow important. I mattered, in some unique way, to the world.  That’s not quite as pretentious or as foolhardy as it immediately sounds because we do contribute to the world, each in our own way, so we should be kind to our younger, naive selves. 

Having now commenced my seventh decade I have a clearer view of my 1:7,960,000,000 role in humanity. And those are only the ones living now. As Milosz says, I am only one thing among many. 

Perhaps the trees around our home, and the birds in the trees, might call me friend.  I am not so different from them: made of much the same stuff, taking my place in creation in much the same way. Do I know what purpose I serve in it all? Do any of us, really? Must we know? 

Enough to live well today, saved from the burden of significance; and, God willing, tomorrow.

Rejoice!

(The website that hosts Rejoice! has changed just about everything, and I’m quite lost! So if it looks a bit crook that’s why. Perhaps in my 7th decade I can learn a new trick, perhaps not).

RoderickMAllen@gmail.com