Last Year’s Mistakes Wiped Clean

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That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing… Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.
~Wallace Stegner from Angle of Repose
 
 
 
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Sixteen thousand students have appeared magically overnight on the campus where I’ve worked for three decades.  Unfortunately a record was set for the number who ended up in the emergency room last night due to their celebrating the start of the school year a bit too aggressively.

How is it the start of a new school year can be wistful, jubilant and potentially hazardous all at the same time?  There are always plenty of mistakes to be made and plenty to learn from, though sometimes at tremendous cost.  This is a risky way to start an education.

More than New Year’s Day, the beginning of autumn represents so many turned-over new “leafs”.  We are reminded of this whenever we look at the trees all over our beautiful campus and how their leaves are turning and letting go, seemingly joyful as they make way for the next stage of growth, the slate wiped clean and ready to be scribbled on once again.

Every autumn each emerging adult comes to the university with a similar clean slate, hoping to start fresh, leaving behind what has not worked well for them in the past.  These are our future patients who we hope are open to change because they are dedicating themselves to self-transformation through knowledge and discipline.

It is a true privilege, as a college health doc, to participate in our students’ transition to become autonomous critical thinkers striving to better the world as compassionate global citizens.  Their rich colors deepen when they let go to fly wherever the wind may next take them.

We who remain rooted in place celebrate each new beginning, knowing we nurture the hoped-for transformation…

…as long as we can keep them out of the emergency room.

 

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Their Exuberant Souls

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Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t
have by now. 
Whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do… 

…Whatever is 
stored in his heart, he can use, now. 
Whatever he has laid up in his mind
he can call on.  What he does not have
he can lack…

…Whatever his exuberant soul
can do for him, it is doing right now…

…Everything that’s been placed in him will come out, now, the contents of a trunk
unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light.
~Sharon Olds from “The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb”

 

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This is the season for graduations, when children move into the adult world and don’t look back.

As a parent, as an educator, as a mentor within church and community, and after nearly thirty years as a college health physician witnessing this transition many times over, I can’t help but be wistful about what I may have left undone and unsaid with the generation about to launch.

In their moments of vulnerability, did I pack enough love into those exuberant hearts so he or she can pull it out when it is most needed?

When our three children traveled the world after their graduations, moving way beyond the fenced perimeter of our little farm, I trust they left well prepared.

As a school board member, I watched students, parents and teachers work diligently together in their preparation for that graduation day, knowing the encompassing love behind each congratulatory hand shake.

When another batch of our church family children say goodbye, I remember holding them in the nursery, listening to their joyful voices as I played piano accompaniment in Sunday School, feeding them in innumerable potlucks over the years.  I pray we have fed them well in every way with enough spiritual food to stick to their ribs in the “thin” and hungry times.

When hundreds of my student/patients move on each year beyond our university and college health clinic, I pray for their continued emotional growth buoyed by plenty of resilience when the road inevitably gets bumpy.

I believe I know what is stored in the hearts of graduates because I, among many others, helped them pack it full of love.   Only they will know the time to unpack what is within when their need arises.

 

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Raining Down Roses

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You love the roses – so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!
~George Eliot

 

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It was gardener/author Alphonse Karr in the mid-19th century who wrote that even though most people grumble about roses having thorns,  he was grateful that thorns have roses.

There was a time when thorns were not part of our world, when we knew nothing of suffering and death, but pursuing and desiring more than we were already generously given, we received more than we bargained for.

We continue to reel under the thorns our choices produce — every day there is more bloodletting.

So a Rose was sent to adorn the thorns. We chose thorns to make Him bleed and still do to this day.

A fragrant rose blooms beautiful,
bleeding amid the thorns,
raining down as we sleep and wake,
and will to the endless day.

 

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Abandon entouré d’abandon, tendresse touchant aux tendresses…
C’est ton intérieur qui sans cesse se caresse, dirait-on;
se caresse en soi-même, par son propre reflet éclairé.
Ainsi tu inventes le thème du Narcisse exaucé.
~Rainer Maria Rilke “Dirait-on” from his French Poetry collection ‘Les chansons de la rose’

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The Word’s Embodiment

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Delicate hot-pink bloom,
The first chill hint of spring,
Aflame outside my room,
What message do you bring?

Some think you self-sufficient,
Spontaneously there,
Mute matter’s co-efficient,
Unfolding unaware.

But I can only deem
As holy petioles
and pedicels that teem,
Leaf-tongues and petal-scrolls.

Thus taken, in their stations,
All things are angels sent
Blazing into creation,
The Word’s embodiment.
~David Middleton “Azaleas in Epiphany”

 

This feast for the eyes
draws me in,
dazzles my senses,
awakens a revelation
so that I too unfold
to let the fiery Word
transform me,
a mere bud,
to glory.

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Like a Blessing Vanished

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above the construction zone on the south end of the Western Washington University campus

Empty and filled,
like the curling half-light of morning,
in which everything is still possible and so why not.

Filled and empty,
like the curling half-light of evening,
in which everything now is finished and so why not.

A root seeks water.
Tenderness only breaks open the earth.
This morning, out the window,
the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.
~Jane Hirschfield from “Standing Deer”

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And think I must fall on my knees
to see them standing there,
Breasting the misty tide,
Sniffing the misty air.
~Charles Norman from “The Deer”

same pair, two months ago
same doe and fawn, two months ago, on the WWU campus

Hiding Nothing

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You can hide nothing from God.
The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him.
He wants to see you as you are,
He wants to be gracious to you.
You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers,
as if you were without sin;
you can dare to be a sinner.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Life Together

One of my Monday morning jobs in our college health clinic is to meet with any student who got so intoxicated they had to spend part of the weekend in the emergency room.  Alcohol poisonings are distressingly common on all college campuses, and ours is no exception.   What I do during our morning-after visit is review the records with the student so they have some idea what took place before they woke up hours later on a gurney in a noisy smelly emergency room– alcohol is an effective amnesia-producing anesthetic when it doesn’t manage to outright kill its consumer.   It is a humbling experience to read about what one said and did while one was under the influence of intoxicants and yet have no memory of any of it.   That is why my time is well spent with the recovering and remorseful.   Not only does their stomach lining still burn from all the vomiting, but their head hurts from acknowledging the risks they took in the name of having a good time.  It is rare that I ever need to meet again with the same student about similar behavior.

This, in reality,  is a very effective kind of hurting, one that is crucial to future decision-making: dangerous behavior is far less appealing when one still carries the scars.  Priorities change for the better.

Today I won’t be able to work in several hundred now-sober students into this morning’s clinic schedule after the unfortunate and widely publicized events that happened just a couple blocks off our college campus a little over 24 hours ago.  I suspect most of the students involved remember more than they wish to about their participation in a big-block-party-gone-terribly-wrong.  They were part of an aggressive mob mentality threatening law enforcement personnel trying to disperse an increasingly rowdy and obnoxious crowd.  Some are finding themselves in video and Instagram/Facebook documentation of their profane words and gestures, throwing potentially lethal objects, vandalizing private and city property as well as causing thousands of dollars of city resources to confront out of control drunk rioters.   These students can try to lay low but there is no place to hide from their inner knowledge of what they have done, the part they played and the irreparable damage they caused to individuals, relationships, property and as well as the reputations of the city and the university.  There is no comforting alcohol amnesia to hide within this time.

The only possible healing from an event like this is to come clean about what one has done, admit the mistakes made and work to make it right no matter the cost — to dare to acknowledge the sins committed and accept the consequences of one’s actions.

Hiding is cheap — guilt and shame remain behind the mask.
Grace and forgiveness is costly but there is no longer need to hide and be eaten away by a continually hurting soul.

My prescription for this day and in the days to come:  changed priorities ahead.  College is about obtaining a valuable and precious education, not about finding the biggest and best party of intoxicants.

Take with food and a large dose of humility.

It’s Life We Harvest

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vine maple WWU

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madrona tree berries –WWU

…still it’s not death that spends
So tenderly this treasure
To leaf-rich golden winds,
But life in lavish measure.

No, it’s not death this year
Since then and all the pain.
It’s life we harvest here
(Sun on the crimson vine).
The garden speaks your name.
We drink your joys like wine.
~May Sarton, from “The First Autumn”

burning bush-- WWU
burning bush– WWU
red fringed maple leaf --WWU
red fringed maple leaf –WWU

Is there something finished?  And some new beginning on the way?

I cried over beautiful things, knowing no beautiful thing lasts…
~Carl Sandburg, from “Falltime” and “Autumn Movement”

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WWU tree -Haskell Plaza

WWU tree

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WWU tree in Haskell plaza

I praise the fall:

It is the human season. On this sterile air
Do words outcarry breath: the sound goes on and on.
I hear a dead man’s cry from autumn long since gone.

I cry to you beyond upon this bitter air.
~Archiblad MacLeish from “Immortal Autumn”

College Way, WWU
College Way, WWU