Category Archives: Forgiveness

Culling, Surrender, and Bliss.

Five months ago I was happily pacing through the days of Lent. I began each morning with a reading by Madeleine L’Engle and ended the day with a reflection that owed something to where the day started. I was caught up in it, loving the way spending my days in prayer–that’s how I think of that ongoing noodling–gave me focus and helped me remember something of my priesthood. Twenty days into the season, the posts end.

Two things happened. I read an NPR story called, The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything. It blew me away.

The story boldly highlights the reality that I will never hear the majority of good music that exists in the world. That’s right, never. The same is true of reading books, seeing movies, and encountering art. Their grasp is forever beyond me. There isn’t anything I can do to change that either (or you for that matter).

The article does a nice job describing two different ways people appear to be handling finding themselves in this position. Some eliminate whole categories of things by dismissing them. They say things like, “There isn’t anything good on TV, so I don’t watch it.” Or “I like every kind of music, except Country.” By eliminating a category or two of entertainment, you shrink your list of what you need to see and hear and watch.

Others surrender to this reality. If culling is another way of describing the “bucket list” experience, then surrender may be a way of thinking about experiences you really want to have that will, in all likelihood “miss-the-bucket.” In other words, even though you’d love to have an experience, you realize that it’s probably not going to happen. Your desire isn’t enough. You let go.

Something like this happened to me yesterday. I ran into a friend at the neighborhood farmers market and watched her buy a basket of tomatoes for eleven dollars. I asked her, “Why are you buying those.” She replied, “I like the meat in these tomatoes.” I think they were Roma’s. I continued, “No, I mean, what will you do with all of them?” “Can them. We have a pressure canner.” I remained puzzled. “Can I ask a silly question?” “Sure.” “Why will you do that? I don’t get it.” “Well it’s about flavor and cost. . . . I just used the last jar of tomatoes we canned last summer.” “Wow” was all I could say. I returned home thinking about the canning many of my friends were doing. Should I be canning veggies too? Was I missing out? Did I need to do something about this? If I did, and I think I–yes I want to! What supplies do I need? I emailed a friend who cans, and asked for advice. I visited the website of The National Center for Home Food Preservation. I searched amazon.com for pressure canners. I didn’t know what one was. I had a mission. I was going to figure this out.

Meanwhile on Facebook, a friend commented that a picture of cinnamon rolls I’d posted that morning, photographed in low light and bearing a yellow tinge as a result, looked delicious. “i think you need to open up a bakery.” That’s what she said. Another, “they look a little radioactive.” Note to self, next time use flash. The effect of those comments was to help me realize that while canning may be desirable, cost effective and a wonderful way to eat local vegetables all year long, I didn’t have to do it. I might like the idea very much. That doesn’t mean I need to add it to my list of things that I do. I let go of it and surrendered. I bake almost all the bread I eat. I do not can. That’s okay.

I mentioned earlier that a second thing happened after I wrote my last post. Here’s what it was, I took my own advice. That post is about paying attention and being who you say you are. It’s about making sure your actions match your words and how it’s easy to let yourself slip out of alignment. We lie to ourselves all the time. We tell stories about who we want to be and pretend that’s who we are. Sometimes our actions catch up to our words. Sometimes they don’t. Last March, many of my actions and words were in different places. Good or bad, that’s where I was.

I let go of the blog, because I was culling too much out of my life to make it happen. I’ve been recovering from a brain injury for two years. My capacity, as a result, is diminished. I’m getting better. I am not there, yet. In February and March those Lenten posts took me six to eight hours to write. Each. That’s a chunk of time. They’re not that long. To make the writing happen, I had to remove things from my schedule. Some of the things I cut were important. I put other things on hold that I needed to work on, too.

When I stopped writing, I didn’t consciously realize any of this. Only now, as I look back, can I say these things. Only now, can I see and find perspective. What I was aware of then is that I was, as the NPR story says, “separated from so much.” That realization overwhelmed me. I stopped.

What’s changed? This post will come in at just under five hours when it’s done, with the bulk of the writing happening in a single sitting. Even at a thousand words, that’s slow. While I’d like to be able to write a post in half that time, it’s a heck of a lot of progress. I did most of this work in the late evening, as the day wound down. That’s my actions and words coming into alignment. I have good friends helping me to understand how my actions align with my words. Some have the courage to tell me when I’m being an ass. That’s more important than you know. One, humbles me, here, with lovely words that are all about her journey.

Yesterday at the market, my favorite farmer looked at me and said, “Well. It’s a good day isn’t? You’re holding your head high and have a smile on your face that matches the weather. What can I get for you?” He’s a good farmer and a good salesman. And he knows a shade of bliss when he sees it.

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Lent’s Compass. Day 17: Bonfires and Grace.

Fire By Fire

My son goes down in the orchard to incinerate
Burning the day’s trash, the accumulation
Of old letters, empty toilet paper rolls, a paper plate,
Marketing lists, discarded manuscript, on occasion
Used cartons of bird seed, dog biscuit. The fire
Rises and sinks; he stirs the ashes till the flames expire.

Burn, too, old sins, bedraggled virtues, tarnished
Dreams, remembered unrealities, the gross
Should-haves, would-haves, the unvarnished
Errors of the day, burn, burn the loss
Of intentions, recurring failures, turn
Them all to ash. Incinerate the dross. Burn. Burn.

~ Madeleine L’Engle The Weather of the Heart, p. 49.

The following story is excerpted from Robert Fulghum’s blog. The entry is dated March 8, 2011. Fulghum’s inner bonfire pairs nicely with L’Engles.

When I was a high school senior I smoked a cigar at school.
In the chemistry lab.
Lit it with a Bunsen burner.
And tried covering the smell by mixing up a batch of stinky chemicals.
The toxic orange smoke triggered the emergency fire alarms.
Students, teachers, and staff trooped out into playgrounds and parking lots.
Fire trucks appeared with sirens blaring.

Later, the principal used the public address system to call for information on who had been smoking a cigar in the chemistry lab.
Goodtime Bobby Fulghum played it cool and kept his mouth shut.

Wow! Wonder who the idiot was who would do something like that?

But word always gets around.
The look on the chemistry teacher’s face said she knew who the Who was.
But she didn’t say anything to me.
And neither did the principal, Mr. Ware.

Mr. Ware, a tall dignified man, was one of the finest men in our community.
Much respected by students, faculty, parents, and even students.
He addressed us with equal respect: Mr. Fulghum, Miss Brown.
Nobody wanted his disapproval.

But now I had single-handedly caused an all-out fire drill. Bad.
And didn’t own up to the truth when asked. Worse.
A crime and a cover-up.
But . . . somehow . . . I knew he knew.
And I was sure that he knew that I knew that he knew.
Because he always seemed to know about these things.

Next stop for Goodtime Bobby would surely be the principal’s office.

But a week went by without a summons to appear.
Meanwhile I began to beat myself up for what I had done.
There might have been an explosion.
The school might have burned down.
People could have been hurt, maimed, killed.
And I am such a gutless creep I won’t own up or apologize.
I deserve to be expelled, turned over to the police, beaten, branded, jailed.
I am thoughtless, stupid, worthless, a criminal loser.

It was a long, long week – and I hardly slept or ate.
When my parents asked what was wrong with me, I kept the lie alive.
Oh, nothing . . .

On Friday morning there was an envelope in my locker.
Inside on official school stationary was a handwritten note from Mr. Ware.
Mr. Fulghum, would you please stop by my office today?
Doomsday.
The end had come.

Reporting to his office, I sat in the waiting room for an eternity.
Rehearsing my confession, my apology, and my plea for mercy.

Finally, his door opened.
Hello Mr. Fulghum, please come in.
He shook my hand in greeting and offered me a chair.
He asked how I was and if I had been doing any thinking this week.
Well, yes, actually I had.
And I threw up the whole mess in a non-stop monologue – confessed what I had done, admitted how dangerous my actions were, and even suggested the severe punishment I deserved.
Finally I ran out of words and choked up with tears.

There was a painfully long silence before he smiled and spoke.
Mr. Fulghum, I respect you and the way you think.
Thanks for stopping by.

No lecture about crime and punishment.
No moralizing.
Just courtesy and respect.
Thanks for stopping by.

As I rose to leave, he said – and I still remember his words spoken to me fifty-six years ago:
By the way, Mr. Fulghum, it doesn’t matter what I or anybody else thinks about you and what you do. What you think about you is all that really counts. Think the best.

That’s all he had wanted to know – what I thought of me.
He chose to think well of me, and left the rest in my hands.
With an act of grace he resolved my disgrace.

I never forgot. . .

When Mr. Ware retired many years later, I sent him a box of cigars.

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