≡ Menu

Vermont View

I look back and can say 2015 was quite a year. It contained far more growing and stretching than I could have imagined. That was a hard year. It was a good year. The two statements are not contradictory. Hard things often produce the deepest and richest forms of goodness.

My one big regret is that I didn’t exercise the diligence to spend more time writing down my thoughts and experiences as the year unfolded. 2015 was one of the most change filled and growth filled years in my life–and most of it exists merely in the folds of my brain. For some people that is the only place they carry their history, but as a writer it feels unusual for me, almost wrong. I put life to paper. It’s what I do.

But sometimes life does burst the seams of paper and the confines of words, then runs before us faster than we can keep up and crafts things bigger and more sublime than we have words to find. There are parts of the past year I can’t capture now with the vividness I could have rendered in the moment. Still, there is much I could write down and yet even for what I could write words feel inadequate.

The first half of 2015 I spent preparing to launch a book out into the wide world. The second half of the year I spent traveling around the country–an expanse in total from Vermont to New Jersey–carrying my words and speaking my story to some thirty places. I met friends and I met strangers, I learned and I taught. I had successes and I had failures, and I saw a lot of beautiful country. I gave interviews and counsel. I met people in the tears of their sorrow, and gave moments of laughter and comfort. Sometimes I saw such great good in what I was doing that it felt impossible to contain. Other times I wondered what I was doing, and if there was any meaning in all of it.

Breath-taking seems the one word to describe it. Little moments stand out in flashes that point to something larger. One moment talking to a woman distressed over her ailing husband. Another moment with a crowd staring intently at me as I speak. Moments of conversation with friends, moments of brilliant countryside framed in the pictures of my mind. So much wide world with peace, and so many lives filled with living and hurting. It is all overwhelming, and enough to feel swept away.

The world is big, the needs are great, and I am so small. I felt overwhelmed going into last year, and I feel just as overwhelmed going into this year. But I have seen great and good things come–not because of me, but in spite of me. And so as I face my overwhelming smallness I can still have hope facing the mountains of this coming year.

This is life. We live suspended in space, going forward carried on a wind we cannot see or control. We are learning to fly. It is thrilling and terrifying and at times a struggle which for moments can seem effortless. Here I am, and a story is being written, and it is not by my hand. Even so, I play my part here in the midst of a wide expanse of mystery and wonder where I can have joy if I will take it and marvel at the story being written in the fabric of all creation. I am not the author, but I am here to read and listen and learn in the very fabric of life, and also to share and teach in the measure I’m given.

It is a good mystery, if we have eyes to see.

On The Mountain

{ 0 comments }

On November 13, 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted. Pyroclastic flows exploding from the crater melted the mountain’s icecap, forming lahars (volcanic mudflows and debris flows) which cascaded into river valleys below. Omayra Sánchez lived in the neighborhood of Santander with her parents. The night of the disaster, Omayra and her family were awake, worrying about the ashfall from the eruption, when they heard the sound of an approaching lahar. After it hit, Omayra became trapped under her home’s concrete and other debris and could not free herself. When rescue teams tried to help her, they realized that her legs were trapped under her house’s roof.

Omayra SanchezOmayra was immobilized from the waist down, but her upper body was free of the concrete and mud. For the first few hours after the mudflow hit, she was covered by concrete but got her hand through a crack in the debris. After a rescuer noticed her hand protruding from a pile of debris, he and others cleared tiles and wood over the course of a day. Once the girl was freed from the waist up, her rescuers attempted to pull her out, but found the task impossible without breaking her legs in the process. Each time a person pulled her, the water pooled around her, rising so that it seemed she would drown if they let her go, so rescue workers placed a tire around her body to keep her afloat. Divers discovered that Sánchez’s legs were caught under a door made of bricks, with her aunt’s arms clutched tightly around her legs and feet.

Despite her predicament, Sánchez remained relatively positive: she sang to a journalist who was working as a volunteer, asked for sweet food, drank soda, and agreed to be interviewed. At times, she was scared, and prayed or cried. On the third night, Sánchez began hallucinating, saying that she did not want to be late for school, and mentioned a math exam. Near the end of her life, Sánchez’s eyes reddened, her face swelled, and her hands whitened. At one point she asked the people to leave her so they could rest. Hours later the workers returned with a pump and tried to save her, but her legs were bent under the concrete as if she was kneeling, and it was impossible to free her without severing her legs. Lacking the surgical equipment to save her from the effects of an amputation, the doctors present agreed that it would be more humane to let her die. In all, Sánchez suffered for nearly three nights (roughly 60 hours) before she died at approximately 10:05 A.M. on November 16 from exposure, most likely from gangrene or hypothermia.

Frank Fournier, a French reporter who landed in Bogotá on November 15, took a photograph of Sánchez in her final days, titled “The Agony of Omayra Sánchez”. When he reached Armero at dawn on the 16th, a farmer directed him to Sánchez, who by then had been trapped for nearly three days and was near-deserted. Fournier later described the town as “very haunting,” with “eerie silence” punctuated by screaming.

****

That is a difficult story to read. Suffering and death are always hard, but there is a special knife twist when the helplessness or apathy of people comes into stark focus. In that account I don’t know where the inability of rescuers ends and apathy begins. Yes, saving Omayra would have been hard–exhaustingly difficult–if it was even possible. But when I read that story I feel angry because it sounds like the people didn’t understand what it meant to give everything you have to try to save the life of another person.

By everything I mean not just a good effort, and not just a reasonable try. But everything–every last bit of strength, for the life of another person.

Omayra was clearly visible, as the photo shows. She was not buried deep under a mountain of rubble. By written accounts she was only trapped by an immovable object from her knees down. There was a lot of mud and a lot of water. It was daunting. People did try–some. But when they discovered what seemed to be impossible difficulties, they gave up. Her picture was taken, she was interviewed–and all those people didn’t spend every hour and every breath they had trying to set her free. They recorded the tragedy, and in that act made themselves the greatest tragedy. They gave up before she was dead.

I can’t get that out of my mind.

____

Story source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omayra_S%C3%A1nchez

{ 0 comments }

O Lord
give
eyes to see
clearly
The Mystery
wrought in each day.
O Lord
grant
hearts to know
fully
The Paradox
of our Atlas for all days.

{ 1 comment }

December winds down, and in January my brother moves to California. That will put the expanse of a continent between us. I am a big boy now, so it isn’t a big deal. At least, that is what I tell myself. It’s true–in the grand scheme of things this isn’t important. Still, it is a reminder to me how parting is the space between every note in the song of life, and finishes every end.

Parting comes more naturally to some people, but it never is entirely natural. People were meant to live together in community, and when the circle is broken we feel it. But ours is a transient culture so for many the sting of lost communion is dulled by the constant repetition of that rupture.

If that is modern life, mine was not a modern childhood. My family did not move often (I have clear memories of only two moves, and by the time I was eight we had settled into the house where I would spend the rest of my youth). As children my siblings and I stuck together. So when my brother left home for college when I was nineteen I felt my first parting with particular vividness.

Even then I sensed how the partings of life echo death. In the early days when my brother was gone at college I would find myself thinking of things and the impulse would come, “Oh, I’ll share that with Arlan–” and in the next instant I caught myself and remembered he wasn’t around. The thought couldn’t be shared.

Arlan wasn’t permanently gone at college, he would be home to visit. But those momentary catches when absence was felt so plainly are the very things we feel with such cutting finality in death. A person is gone and there will be no more sharing. The unease felt in all the partings of life is our hearts knowing what each small parting foretells.

From an early age I grasped the idea of parting and instinctively knew I didn’t want that in my life. My family and I–we would always stick together. Then life happened and I discovered that assumption was the dream of childhood. In this world we all walk our own paths, and often we walk alone. There are many partings in life, and with the years final partings begin to collect. With each we learn that life is hard, and not what we dreamed as children.

This distance between the East and West coast is not the distance between heaven and earth. A resurrection isn’t needed to cross, and in the normal course of life I can expect to see my brother again. And yet, with every parting I am reminded of the losses in this life and how nobody is around forever. As parting adds to parting in my life I have noticed I share less. It feels inevitable, the response to no surety of the enduring presence of others. And yet I don’t like it. A part of me longs to live like I did as a child when partings were un-imagined and sharing was free. Here in this place, I’m not sure how to live.

{ 1 comment }

Front Cover-600I’m baaaack! Had a crazy, exciting, summer and fall with all of my traveling. Hope to write a long post about that in the relatively near future. As an appeasement until then, how about a book sale?

The holiday season is upon us, and I am trying something new. I am doing a book sale–of author signed paperback copies! The books are at a discount price, and the more copies you buy the better your discount.

Would you like to get The Sea is Wide: A Memoir of Caregiving at 10%, 20%, 30% or even 40% off? Head on over to the sale page and take a look and what deal will best suit you: http://caregivingreality.com/december-2015-sale/

If you know anyone else who might be interested, pass this along. Thanks!

{ 0 comments }

I currently have a Goodreads give away going on. You need to be a Goodreads member to participate. If you are and would like a free copy of The Sea is Wide to read and review, head on over here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/156257-the-sea-is-wide-a-memoir-of-caregiving

Giveaway ends on the 14th.

Good luck!

{ 0 comments }
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

–John Donne

That poem came back to my mind this morning, caught up in the trail of my thoughts and dredged to the surface. Perhaps it wouldn’t have stuck again so forcefully if my afternoon hadn’t taken the course that it did. But in the afternoon I came upon a link to this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/10/05/four-stories-of-the-heart/ For me it was an emotionally moving, wrenching, picture into profound loss–both literally in the pictures, and metaphorically in the writing. The sparse line drawing of the mother curled up on the hospital bed with her sick baby really gets to me. It is a picture which says a thousand things, a million things, a grief deep beyond words. The essay is sparse and matter-of-fact in words which makes it all the more powerful in outlining in unstated terms what Donne addressed more directly in his poem.

The only hope we can have in the face of such profound loss is the hope, the answer, Donne gives. “Death, thou shalt die.” That can be the only fulfilling and satisfying answer to the hurt of this life.

{ 0 comments }

If I were more the engineering type, I would create a spreadsheet of my allergy symptoms, and when they are the worst, and then attempt to correlate the data when particular plants are producing pollen. Then I would know exactly what I am seasonally allergic to. (I am always allergic to fine dust. Blow off an old dusty book and I will start sneezing convulsively). Since I am not an engineer I mostly wonder about it, and notice certain changes in the ebb and flow of my allergies.

There is an ebb and flow to my allergies, with one bad period probably aligned with when ragweed is in bloom. The other severe periods I am not sure what to blame. Mid-late summer was bad with the itchy nose and snot. Earlier there was a period with itchy eyes. Sometimes my ears will itch as well. But the base line of having allergies for me is if I wake up in the middle of the night and my nose starts pouring snot. I’m not sure of pollen issues are worse then, or I just haven’t blown my nose for hours so it all builds up.

The last bout of allergies had pretty well fizzled out as the summer waned, then it rained this weekend and they were back. I woke up to the sound of rain, and my nose running. And so it has been every morning since. 5AM I had a heap of tissues from all the snot. It was like a faucet. This wouldn’t be such an issue in the middle of the day, but it is very hard to get the last hour or so of sleep when I must keep turning over and blowing my nose.

******

I can feel the touch of autumn. The herald comes in the breeze, and proclaims itself in the weakening, slanting sunlight. I like the vigor of autumn, and the particular blue of the sky that comes with the sun angle. I like the color that comes in the trees. It is a comfortable time to work outside.

The bitter edge is the slipping daylight. If only I was unmoved by the darkness of winter then autumn wouldn’t have the weight of being a harbinger of dread.

When I stepped out on the porch late this afternoon and felt the wind and the sunshine I decided I had better take advantage of the weather while I could. One can’t sit on the porch writing in the middle of winter. So here I sit.

******

There is a cliche that women have more emotions than men. People like the narrative, but I’m not sure it is true in the expansive way it is said. If we are going to make sweeping statements perhaps it is better to say that most men have feelings, but ignore their feelings.

For myself, I am often surprised (after the fact) but how much I see feelings influencing certain times and events which I did not acknowledge at the time, but can see clearly in retrospect. Often the observations can be mundane, but I think shed light on more meaningful events if I were to tease such out.

To illustrate the mundane: I was feeling a stewing mixture of grumpy, apprehensive, discouraged–and a whole bunch more things I am sure. I wasn’t sorting it all out today–I just dimly realized I was emotionally clenching my teeth (metaphorically speaking). And I only really became aware of this when something mildly nice, mildly encouraging, happened and all of those bad feelings became markedly better. But I didn’t even realize how much emotional weight I was carrying around until that load became lighter.

You see, I have three speaking events this week, and they are weighing on me. They always do. There are the questions about whether they will be a failure. But I know I can’t change what is going to happen so those feelings don’t help anything–what will happen will happen. So subconsciously I tell all those feelings to shut up because they aren’t helping anything.

If we want to say something sweeping maybe we can say that women are more verbal about their emotions. Such a woman might feel the emotional struggle with upcoming events, and share them with everyone. The average man may feel the very same, but has locked his emotions into his inner closet. To the outsider the woman is more “emotional” but what is being observed there is actually the woman’s verbal sharing, not necessarily a different in emotional inner content.

Feeling things strongly is one of my writing strengths. But when I realize how much my mood swings on the small eddies and currents of daily life I sometimes I wish I were as stoic as the proverbial man. It would make life easier. But, I suppose, not as rich.

******

P.S. Fun as it is to write in the sun, the contrast on this laptop screen is abysmal under such glare. I couldn’t do this for long term productive writing.

{ 0 comments }

As a child I imagined growing up occurred when I could look back and admire how awesome I had become. When I could look back and be impressed by how strong, brave, intelligent, and capable I had become—then I was grown up. To this I aspired.

Then I discovered that growing wise manifested when I perceived the true unravelling of myself. When I became undone so that every strength I imagined turned to dust in my hands—that is where wisdom grew. So it was in eight hard years that I grew more in wisdom than in all the years I aspired to grow up. In eight years I lost so much of what I wanted to think about myself, but it is in growing down (in humility) that I learned what is the truly important kind of growth.

That is a good thing. And yet, I find the cost in ways I didn’t expect, and harder than I anticipated. That is life.

The journey isn’t over.

Here I am, now. At this place time frightens me, in many ways. One way time unsettles me is how it and forgetfulness walk hand in hand.

One day passes, then another. Soon it seems like only yesterday, but a is year gone. What of true import has been forgotten, swept from memory’s storehouse?

Today it is a year and months since Grandma died last June. I moved quickly from that end, an end which drew stage curtains on eight years with the finality of a last breath.

I prefer life sorted, but those eight years defy all attempts to quantify the stretch and the strain. When I try to sum the journey my words sound like paradox. Hard times, the hardest of times, the worst thing for me. A time of learning and growing, the best thing for me. I walked out of that journey feeling weaker than I had ever felt before, more battered, more broken—and it was the very thing I had needed to pass through. It felt like the worst thing, but it was the best. The old truth shows up again: what we need is so often not what we want, or like.

I marvel at the many ways I broke—or, better put, my existing brokenness was revealed. In every journey the school of life teaches.

Then after Grandma’s show was over I walked away from that trial, and I was afraid I would forget. No, I am afraid. When I feel like I have seen great things, feel the weight of meaning, and learning—I become afraid that I have not learned all I should, and will quickly forget what I did grasp. All lost in time’s passing until I am as impoverished in spirit as before (if not more so).

Like a digging goad, hard times force me to consider difficult thoughts. In the crucible of trial I thought more, felt more, learned more, than in the years prior. That is struggle. In the span of eight hard years I apprehended important things about myself and life; humbling, hard, and sublime truths—some which I hope to share, some for which I may never find words. But when the curtain closed on those eight years of labor how thrilling the sensation I felt: Free now.

Then I thought, Free to live in apathy?

When there is no prickling pain from the rasp of life’s rough grain thoughts can quickly turn idle. What a tragic waste if all the things I had seen and learned from eight hard years quickly dulled and disappeared in comfortable days. In some almost perverse way I felt as if it were better if I didn’t come out of those hard times. Better to stay there and know the truth of myself clearly. Strike me again, I’ll know truth in the sting.

How easy to recommend myself while in comfort—I see that when comfort and confidence desserts me–and there is a repulsion when I feel the falsity of that old thought. I’ve seen a truer through the prism of difficulty. If the lash of life’s hard times makes me wiser, more humble, more mature, then isn’t it better to always walk such a road?

Like a starving man come back to food, days of comfort felt like gluttony—a thing uncomfortably held, intoxicating and slightly obscene in its pleasantness. Why should I have this? Are good times just a trick to make us forget how difficult hard times are, to make us fat and lazy in false comfort so that the battle of life is much more difficult? After eight years certain habits of thought are hard to shake. Why should I have a pleasant time when others in the world are suffering? It felt wrong to not have a burden to carry, as if I needed to find something for which I could suffer.

Struggling felt like remembering truth, being battered became tied with understanding the mortal lot. Standing in that muddled place, I was afraid that I would forget what carrying a burden had taught me. I never remember the truths that suffering brings to light so well as when I am living it. Time quickly dulls the edge, and I can say with certainty that those eight years are dimmer than before, and will be dimmer still. The true loss from those eight years would not be the time spent in service but rather to not learn, or not retain, the truth of what such suffering time taught.

I fear that dullness and forgetting will render all that I once saw, felt, and knew, null and void. Mental disease offers the excuse of human frailty—what I dread is the moral failure that doesn’t truly care to reflect and recall the uncomfortable things once learned. There I find myself balanced, grateful for what I have learned even at cost, and fearful I may forget. I look for an answer, an assurance.

I can’t promise myself that I won’t forget. Neither can I figure out what is the right proportion for trouble and ease in my schooling of learning wisdom’s ways. Some days it feels like I’ve had too much hardship and failure already, other days not enough. But when I feel the fear that I will walk through life with a numb soul, and that all I have seen and learned will fall away in the futility of forgetfulness, the only comfort I can find is the truth that the God who apportions to each their measure of trial and comfort knows the nature of what discipline I need. As he taught me through all the hard times, so it is only he who will keep me from forgetting every truth learned. That is the only hope which keeps me from the terrifying sentence of repeating history.

{ 2 comments }

Back on the 19th of August I participated in my first live interview on The Morning Drill show out of Titusville PA. As a first it went pretty well, I think. Even better, the station put the video clips for the interview up on Youtube so that I can share it with you!

I’ve gathered both parts of the interview together over on my other website: http://caregivingreality.com/2015/08/25/interview-on-the-morning-drill/

{ 0 comments }
%d bloggers like this: