In the woods: September Reflections

September 22, 2011

Fall seems so lonely. Is it the grayness? The morning chill? The evidence of the cycle of life in the browning and dropping of leaves?

Or, perhaps, it is something visceral still lingering from that first time being left alone at school.

The other day I saw three geese heading south. I was heading north. Even that seemingly small disconnect with one’s better instincts was somewhat unsettling. The dreary, overcast, and misting day wasn’t helpful. Those could also be the signs triggering some mammalian instinct to prepare to survive harsh times as winter looms.

Yet after being outside for quite a while, the coziness and warmth of the living room is most comforting. The smells of a meal’s being cooked reassure with a sense of all being well.

For me, there is also a contextual sense of loneliness, a persistent loneliness that has been present in my life for the past four or five decades.

A few years ago, a came to the realization/awareness that my persistent sense of loneliness was spiritual, an unsatisfied and unsatisfiable longing. That the often painful unease would have to be lived with if not embraced.

September 23, 2011

The sun is out, the air is crisp, and there seems to be an opportunity to accomplish something outside. Uncovering the boat is not an activity where I enjoy being chilly or windblown.

Chest waders are a necessity in water so cold. Care is taken to not fall over in a lake while wearing chest waders. They remain filled with air, and I’m not. It takes little imagination to picture one’s bobbing upside down while trying to get free of the suspenders. The boot part at the bottom is best if not a snug fit.

September 25, 2011

I often feel lost. The feeling is palpable, a dull sensation in the pit of my stomach.

But what if it isn’t being lost? Could it be that I’m not lost, but that I simply don’t like where I am?

But if I don’t like where I am, is it because I don’t like who I am?

I do like who I am. However, an incompleteness, a restlessness, an occasional anxiety is present. Could that be a feeling of being lost?

Music has just been turned on to keep me company as I type – alone – on this fall Sunday morning: Bach’s The Goldberg Variations.

There is an aspect of solitude causing reflection, re-examining things I hadn’t planned on looking at. I’m supposed to be relaxing in a rustic environment, yet the faces and voices of the men I visit in prison are ever-present. Something is stirring. Perhaps my heart finds rest in places different from where my body finds (seeks?) rest.

Or maybe my heart doesn’t seek rest at all. Something is stirring. There is an unease.

Dreams of work occur all too frequently. Themes seem to be around stressful situations I must have suppressed. Moving, dealing with difficult bosses, having responsibility for many, many people doing things of which I was unfamiliar, dangerous things in very expensive facilities.

At this point in my life, I am well aware that much of my career was of little nourishment to my mind or my soul. My biggest and most unkind antagonist passed away several years ago, yet he is still present at unexpected moments. That he may have had good intentions is a story I keep telling myself. Indifference to the well-being of one’s career and family doesn’t quite fit the “good intentions” category. Oh, well.

So, I try to focus on the fact that he can longer actually hurt me, that his bullying and lack of support is over, that my life has turned out better than I could ever have dreamed. Once he pushed me aside, I found the strength to fashion a new life, learn new skills, keep hearth and kin intact.

One does learn a lot when kicked in the b***s, as long as the bent-over position is quickly righted and the gaze returned to the horizon rather than the ground in front of the feet. Is that what I take with me into the prison? The knowledge that things can look pretty bleak, but that the strength lies within to move forward, to find meaning in today, to take control of one’s own life when others are indifferent or even hostile?

September 30, 2011

Is it possible to be generally happy … generally happy and often content against a backdrop of sadness?

I often think about my childhood and what a happy boy I seemed to be. But from what I now know about my growing up years, how could that have been? Playing outside, riding my bike, building forts, exploring in the swamp, all brought great pleasure.

Yet when Lloyd went home for supper, I kept playing. Going home wasn’t something that occurred to me, wasn’t something I wanted to do. Even in my adult years I hated going to the house I grew up in.

When I was home as a boy (and couldn’t be outside) I played endlessly in the basement or stayed in my room. Both were times of great happiness. I loved going to school, and I was an exceptional student. Each fall I couldn’t wait to go back.

Today, at 70, I reflect on all the things I have done with our children, numerous places and occasions dwarfing anything I experienced with my own father. I wasn’t aware I was missing out on things, but I am aware now.

When I go for a walk and see a stream of water flowing in a gutter, playing in puddles as a child comes rushing back into my consciousness. Had you walked into my boyhood home any night during rainy season, my shoes would have been found stuffed with newspaper, sitting on the kitchen radiator. Always in trouble; always playing in puddles.

Was I drawn to fun, drawn to playing? No, I don’t believe I was. I really can’t bear too much playing. So, I must have been seeking something. Or, avoiding something.

Yet, when I look back, I see a happy childhood. But every now and then the sadness surfaces. I project my loneliness onto others when I see them doing things that make me feel lonely.

Travelling alone … which I did hundreds of times during my career … when observed or heard about, makes me feel extremely lonely and sad. Any solo effort meant to be shared gets an empathetic and sometimes visceral reaction from me. Just thinking of someone sitting alone somewhere, especially if abandoned or forgotten, easily brings tears to my eyes.

Perhaps my ministry to those in solitary confinement is an ongoing healing in myself. Maybe their being abandoned and marginalized is an echo from a general boyhood estrangement, a hollowness somewhere in my soul

Engaging those prisoners in far-ranging dialogue is very easy for me. I now spend more time in one wing of 30-36 cells that I used to spend in 3 or 4 wings. My interactions have grown to be more pastoral than social, more communal than mere back and forth.

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