Walking Alongside

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None of us can “mend” another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it.

Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.

What we can do is walk alongside the people we care about, offering simple companionship and compassion. And if we want to do that, we must save the only life we can save, our own.
~Parker Palmer writing about Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”

 

 

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One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
the only life you could save.
~Mary Oliver “The Journey”

 

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Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
~Eugene O’Neill

 

 

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We are born hollering and suddenly alone,
already aware of our emptiness
from the first breath,
each tiny air sac bursting
with the air of our fallen world~
air that is never enough.

The rest of our days are spent
filling up our empty spaces
whether alveoli
or stomach
or synapses starving for understanding,
still hollering in our loneliness
and heart
broken.

So we mend ourselves
through our walk with others
also broken,
we patch up our gaps
by knitting the scraggly fragments
of lives lived together.
We become the crucial glue
boiled from gifted Grace,
all our holes
somehow made holy.

 

 

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A Moment of Peace

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It had happened many times before, but it always took me by surprise.

Always in the midst of great stress, wading waist-deep in trouble and sorrow, as doctors do, I would glance out a window, open a door, look into a face, and there it would be, unexpected and unmistakable. A moment of peace.  

The light spread from the sky to the ship, and the great horizon was no longer a blank threat of emptiness, but the habitation of joy. For a moment, I lived in the center of the sun, warmed and cleansed, and the smell and sight of sickness fell away; the bitterness lifted from my heart.  

I never looked for it, gave it no name; yet I knew it always, when the gift of peace came. I stood quite still for the moment that it lasted, thinking it strange and not strange that grace should find me here, too.   Then the light shifted slightly and the moment passed, leaving me as it always did, with the lasting echo of its presence. In a reflex of acknowledgment, I crossed myself and went below, my tarnished armor faintly gleaming.
~Diana Gabaldon – Claire’s observations from Voyager

 

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I’ve known this moment of peace in the midst of my work; it comes unexpectedly after a day of immersion in troubles and anguish.  As I leave the clinic and breathe in a sudden rush of fresh air, and as I drive down our country road as the sun is setting, I remember that for all of us, the sick and the not-yet-sick, there still are moments of grace and beauty.

It isn’t all sad, it isn’t all anxious, it isn’t all anguish. The moment may be brief, it may be elusive.

But it is there. And I seek it out every day.

 

 

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(written with gratitude to author Diana Gabaldon for her insights into the complex workings of an innovative physician’s mind in her Outlander series of novels, for Caitriona Balfe‘s insightful characterization and understanding of Claire and for Sam Heughan‘s sensitive portrayal of the man who loves her beyond the boundary of time in Starz’ Outlander  – if you don’t know these stories yet, you should.)

 

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Falls and Falls of Rain

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In Summer, in a burst of summertime
Following falls and falls of rain,
When the air was sweet-and-sour of the flown fineflower of
Those goldnails and their gaylinks that hang along a lime;
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Cheery Beggar”

 

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Sweet and sour extends far beyond a Chinese menu; it is the daily air I breathe.  Dichotomy is so much of my life and times,  more distinct than the bittersweet of simple pleasures laced with twinges and tears.

I am but a cheery beggar in this world,
desiring to hang tight to the overwhelming sweetness of each glorious moment–

the startling late summer sunrise,
the renewed green coming through the dead of spent fields,
the warm hug of a compassionate word,
a house filled with love and laughter.

But as beggars aren’t choosers, I can’t only have sweet alone;
I must endure the sour that comes as part of the package —

the deepening dark of a sleepless night,
the muddy muck of endless rain,
the sting of a biting critique,
the loneliness of a home emptying and much too quiet.

So I slog through sour to revel some day, even more so, in sweet.  Months of manure-permeated air is overcome one miraculous morning by the unexpected and undeserved fragrance of apple blossoms, so sweet, so pure, so full of promise of the wholesome fruit to come.

The manure makes the sweet sweeter months later, long after the stench is gone.

And I breathe in deeply now, content and grateful for this moment of sweet grace and bliss, wanting to hold it in the depths of my lungs forever and overwhelm the memory of sour.

 

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Mere Mist

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Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James 4:14

 

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…Noticing
a spider’s web under the olive trees
splendidly hung with early drops, already
vanishing up the vortex of the air
…a heaven-sent refreshment? or a curtain
cutting out the light?
And I must ask it now

(small moisture that I am) under the sun of God’s great grace on me:
Which am I–dew, or fog?
~Luci Shaw from “…for you are a mist“

 

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To be mere mist that clarifies
rather than opacifies,
that reflects new worlds
rather than absorbs,
that replenishes grace
rather than depletes~

at once evaporating heaven-ward within His warmth
while glistening from His descended touch.

 

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We Each Took a Pear

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“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers … the grass needed mowing ….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful. 
~Jane Kenyon “Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer”

 

A moment’s window of perfection is so fleeting
in a life of bruises, blemishes and worm holes.
Wait too long and nectar-smooth flesh
softens to mush and rot.

The unknown rests beneath a blushed veneer:
perhaps immature gritty fruit unripened,
or past-prime browning pulp readily
tossed aside for compost.

Our own sweet salvage from warming humus
depends not on flawless flesh down deep inside
but heaven’s grace dropped into our laps;
a perfect pear falls when ripe, tasting like a selfless gift.
~EPG

 

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“A man watches his pear-tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But let him patiently wait, and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap!”
~ Abraham Lincoln

To Balance Upon a Broken World

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Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the
Stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what
lovely behavior
Of silk-sack clouds!  Has wilder, willful-waiver
Meal-drift molded ever and melted across the skies?
~Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Hurrahing in Harvest”

 

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This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.
~Amy Lowell “September 1918”
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Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer asking
that today be a day of healing between peoples rather than conflict and pain,
that the barbaric become peaceable~
no missiles launched,
no one gunned down in the streets,
no vehicles used as weapons,
no child misused,
no one sold into slavery,
no one abandoned, homeless and starving.
Am I the only one who awakes this morning and seeks only
to watch the clouds
to praise the heavens
to see the leaves turn color
to take out this day and taste it
and save it away somehow
so as to balance myself on this brokenness all around?
I am not the only one.
I know I am not.
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Heaven-Flung

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We sleep, but the loom of life never stops and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up tomorrow.
~Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman in the 19th century and nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe)

 

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Now burn, new born to the world,
      Doubled-naturèd name,
   The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
   Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame,
Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;
      Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fíre hard-hurled.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “The Wreck of the Deutschland”
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We tend to forget we are heaven-flung and God-woven;
each of us plain and ordinary and numerous as the weeds of the field
until the Light comes upon us from the shadows,
illuminated dazzling rays of gold,
fire-awakened, hard-hurled and reclaimed as His own.He calls us each by name,
knows each slender thread of hair on our heads.We may wander, oh do we wander,
but are not lost
as long as our faces remain turned toward Him.

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