The Vague Sweetness of Sloth

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Broad August burns in milky skies,
The world is blanched with hazy heat;
The vast green pasture, even, lies
Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.

Amid the grassy levels rears
The sycamore against the sun
The dark boughs of a hundred years,
The emerald foliage of one.

Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen,
Within the clement twilight thrown
By that great cloud of floating green,
A horse is standing, still as stone.

He stirs nor head nor hoof, although
The grass is fresh beneath the branch;
His tail alone swings to and fro
In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.

He stands quite lost, indifferent
To rack or pasture, trace or rein;
He feels the vaguely sweet content
Of perfect sloth in limb and brain.
~William Canton “Standing Still”

 

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I admit I flunked sloth long ago.  Perhaps I was born driven.  My older sister, not a morning person, was annoyed that even as a toddler I awoke chirpy and cheerful, singing to myself and ready to conquer the day.

I can’t say that is still the case but it’s close and still annoying to those who have to put up with me.

Even so, I’m not immune to the attractions of a hot hazy day of doing absolutely nothing but standing still switching flies. I envy our retired ponies in the pasture who spend the day grazing, moseying, and lazing because … I work hard to make that life possible for them.

August was invented for lulling about.  Maybe if I try hard enough, I’ll get a passing grade.

 

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Like Pearls Slipping Off a String

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I believe the nicest and sweetest days
are not those on which anything very splendid
or wonderful or exciting happens
but just those that bring simple little pleasures,
following one another softly,
like pearls slipping off a string.
~L.M. Montgomery from Anne of Avonlea

 

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Pearl by pearl, the simple pleasures slip away so softly in these precious few days of family fullness and warmth.

It is almost too much to bear knowing these pearls can never be strung together again in quite the same way, but I rush to gather them up together in the deep pocket of my memory for safe-keeping.

And then I remember they will always be there, ready to be touched and treasured when I need them, each one more splendid and wonderful and exciting than I would ever have imagined at the time.

 

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To Return Seems Like a Sacrament

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There are landscapes one can own,
bright rooms which look out to the sea,
tall houses where beyond the window
day after day the same dark river
turns slowly through the hills, and there
are homesteads perched on mountaintops
whose cool white caps outlast the spring.

And there are other places which,
although we did not stay for long,
stick in the mind and call us back—
a valley visited one spring
where walking through an apple orchard
we breathed its blossoms with the air.
Return seems like a sacrament.

Then there are landscapes one has lost—
the brown hills circling a wide bay
I watched each afternoon one summer
talking to friends who now are dead.
I like to think I could go back again
and stand out on the balcony,
dizzy with a sense of déjà vu.

But coming up these steps to you
at just that moment when the moon,
magnificently full and bright
behind the lattice-work of clouds,
seems almost set upon the rooftops
it illuminates, how shall I
ever summon it again?
~Dana Giola “Places to Return”

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A week away, experiencing new landscapes, seeing orcas and humpbacks and bears (oh my!) – this is the stuff of stories and memories.

Yet nothing about vacation compares to the sacrament of the moment of return, pulling into our own driveway, and settling back into the routine of home where the men are strong, the women are (ahem) good looking and the children are above average.

There’s no better place to summon up the sacrament of remembrance.

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White Flames of Trillium

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I wished to wade in the trillium
and be warmed near the white flames.
I imagined the arch of my foot
massaged by the mosses.
This field immersed in gravity
defying growth.  Green and glorious.
It let me know that out of the
soil came I, and green I shall be.
Whether an unnamed weed or a
wild strawberry I will join in
the hymn.
~Luci Shaw from “Spring Song, Very Early Morning”

 

After a few days away from the farm, enriched by the contact with like-minded people of faith and words, I am longing to return to the land of moss and trillium, of green grass that overwhelms.

I am of the soil, dust to dust am I.   Created, celebrated, centered on the joy of returning where I belong.

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Life is Not an Emergency

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photo by Philip Gibson
photo by Philip Gibson

On pretty weekends in the summer, the riverbank is the very verge of the modern world…
On those weekends, the river is disquieted from morning to night by people resting from their work.

This resting involves traveling at great speed, first on the road and then on the river.
The people are in an emergency to relax.
They long for the peace and quiet of the great outdoors.
Their eyes are hungry for the scenes of nature.
They go very fast in their boats.
They stir the river like a spoon in a cup of coffee.
They play their radios loud enough to hear above the noise of their motors.
They look neither left nor right.
They don’t slow down for – or maybe even see – an old man in a rowboat raising his lines…

~Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow

It’s Labor Day, the last of our summer holiday weekends and people are desperate to relax from their labors.  They drive long distances in heavy traffic to get away, wait in long lines for ferry or border passage, park their RVs/tents within 6 feet of another RV/tent, all to end up coping with other people’s noise and hubbub.

I too feel urgency to rest, the need to get away from every day troubles sticking to me like velcro.  But any agenda-filled escape would be too loud, too fast, too contrived instead of a time of winding down, slowing, quieting, observing and wondering.

Life is not an emergency so I must stop reacting as if someone just pulled an alarm.  I seek the peace and quiet of simply being, settling myself into rhythms of daylight and nightfall, awake and asleep, hungry and filled, thirsty and sated.

I breathe deeply, and remember in my bones:

we all need Sabbath, even if today happens to be a Monday.

 

SAMhammerman

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Palmed Off on the Unwary

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Nothing seems to please a fly so much as to be taken for a currant;
and if it can be baked in a cake and palmed off on the unwary, it dies happy.
~Mark Twain

Returning to clinic after time off for a summer break, I worry I’m like a fly hiding among the black currants hoping to eventually become part of the currant cake.  Just maybe no one will notice I don’t quite fit back in.

In thirty three years of practice, even after bearing three children and going through several surgeries, I’ve not been away from patients for more than twenty consecutive days at any one time.  This is primarily out of my fear that, even after a few weeks, I will have forgotten all that I’ve ever known and if I were to actually return to see patients again, I would be masquerading as a physician rather than be the real thing.   A mere fly among the currants palmed off on the unwary.

Those who spend their professional lives taking care of others also share this concern if they are truly honest: if a patient only knew how much we don’t know and will never know, despite everything we DO know, there would really be no need for us at all, especially in this day and age of accurate (and some terribly inaccurate) medical information at everyone’s fingertips.  Who needs a physician when there are so many other options to seek health care advice, even when there are a few flies mixed in?

As I walk back into an exam room to sit with my first patient after my time away, I recall over thirty years of clinical experience has given me an eye and an ear for subtlety of signs and symptoms that no googled website or internet doc-in-the-box can discern.  The avoidance of eye contact, the tremble of the lip as they speak, the barely palpable rash, the fullness over an ovary, the slight squeak in a lung base.  These are things I am privileged to see and hear and make decisions about together with my patients.  This is no masquerade; I am not appearing to be someone I am not.  This is what I’m trained to do and have done for thousands of days of my life.   No need for the unwary to fear.

The hidden fly in the currant bush of health care may be disguised enough to be part of the cake that an unwary patient might gobble down to their ultimate detriment — but not this doctor.  I know I’m the real thing, perhaps a bit on the tart side, but offering up just enough tang to be what is needed.

And I will die happy doing this.

 

 

Hole in the Heart

photo by Josh Scholten

There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.
~ Blaise Pascal 

Everyone is created with a hole in their heart that has no murmur, doesn’t show up on scans or xrays nor is it visible in surgery.  Yet we feel it, absolutely know it is there, and are constantly reminded of being incomplete.  Billions of dollars and millions of hours are spent trying to fill that empty spot in every imaginable and unimaginable way.  Nothing we try fills it wholly.  Nothing we find fits it perfectly.  Nothing on earth can ever be sufficient.

We are born wanting, yearning and searching; we exist hungry, thirsty and needy.

Created with a hankering heart for God, we discover only He fits, fills and is sufficient.  Only a beating heart like ours can know our hollow heart’s emptiness.  His bleeding stops us from hemorrhaging all we have in futile pursuits.

The mystery if the vacuum is this:
how our desperation resolves
and misery comforted
by being made complete and whole
through His woundedness.

How is it possible that
through His pierced limbs and broken heart,
we are made holy,
our emptiness filled forever.

photo by Josh Scholten