The Pusuit of Happiness

To know what makes you happy
is insight.
To not know what makes you happy
is sadness.

To want what makes you happy
is hope.
To not want what makes you happy
is troubling.

To be able to do what makes you happy
is privilege.
To not be able to do what makes you happy
is hard.

To know what makes you happy,
to want what makes you happy,
to be able to do what makes you happy,
but never have the energy to do it
is depression.

Night Horses

night horses
run wanton wild
thru tangled thorny pastures
of my dreams

night horses
rear high hooves
trample bramble bracken
of my fears

night horses
snort fiery fumes
forge fierce flames
of my past

night horses
resist brindle bridle
yank rough reins
of my rest

night horses
no mild mares
no gentle geldings
savage stallions
slaughter sleep

One Father’s Forever Gift

My friend’s brother is dying. This is not a new thing. He has been living with dying for several years now. From his diagnosis, he knew the illness was “terminal.”

Of course, in a very real sense, we all live with that terminal diagnosis. We will all die. But most of us get to pretend that we will die at some unspecified point in the fairly distant future. And before that happens, we will be able to live interesting lives, full of activities and experiences.

That is not James’ reality now. The point at which he will die remains unspecified, but he knows it is not in the distant future. It may not be tomorrow, or next week, or even next month, but his future is now measured small, months at the most optimistic.

I don’t know him well. Really I know him only through my long friendship with his sister. But I have learned to know him better, I think, as I consider the choices he is making now, at the end of his life.

Little by little, and sometimes too much by too much, his life has been diminished. He could no longer travel, no longer play golf, he could seldom play any sport, even in the backyard at family gatherings. Then he couldn’t work. And there were the treatments, the pain, the side-effects. Then he couldn’t walk very far, then not without a walker, then he started needing a wheelchair at times. And the pain kept growing, and the side-effects more difficult to treat. Then the medications to control the pain blurred his mind, taking from him even the clarity of thought and speech that was his hallmark. He is a natural caregiver who could no longer even take care of himself.

A few weeks ago, he entered palliative care in a hospital. Yet still, he agreed to another round of radiation treatment, talked with the doctors about other possible treatments – knowing that cure was not even a remote fantasy, that the only reasonable hope was to extend his life – with suffering, with almost no ability to do most of what he loved and valued – by days, weeks, maybe, at the most optimistic, months.

Why? Why does he make these choices when many would have gone, if not gentle at least resigned, into that good night? Why does he continue to, not rage, but fight against the dying of his light, his life?

It seems to me there is only one answer. Because everything else has been stripped from him. He cannot work, he cannot play, he cannot walk, he cannot care for himself, he cannot even think clearly at times. So much is gone that what is left becomes very clear. What is left stands out against the emptiness of all that once was there.

His children.

He hangs on for every day, every hour, every minute he can have with his children.

He loves his whole large close family. His brother and sisters, their children and grandchildren. Cousins. He loves them all. He has done more than his fair share of taking care of many of them. But would he hold on just for them? I can’t know. Maybe, maybe he would; maybe it is just in his genes, in who he is. Maybe he would hold on even if he did not have children himself.

No one can know. But I choose to see in James the full nobility of a father’s love. Nothing that he has lost is as important as what he still has, as what he can still give – his presence to his children.

I don’t know if he has a lot or a little or any money to leave them. I don’t know if any bequests he can leave will last a short time or a long time. But this I know. He gives his children a forever gift with every day of his presence. As long as they live, to everyone they care about, his children will be able to say, “My dad chose to live when he had nothing left to live for except to spend more time – despite pain, despite humiliations, despite tiredness – more time with us.”

What a gift!

The Grandeur of God

Earlier this week I read a Facebook post about a Catholic priest justifying excluding women from the priesthood by saying we see the “grandeur of God” in the male priest. This has been a niggling, itching irritation in my mind since then.

I just left the grocery store. I am not young, but I am tall and straight-backed, and I move easily. In the store I watched a classic “little old lady” roll her shopping cart slowly down the long aisle. She had a very wrinkled face, even the backs of her hands were wrinkled, her hair was wispy, she shuffled, bent-backed, down the aisle, slowly reaching for the canned goods she wanted. She looked up, caught my eye, and smiled. Now there, I thought, is a glimpse of the grandeur of God.

And then, inevitably, I thought of the opening lines of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

And then Gerard Manley Hopkin’s God’s Grandeur:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed.

And I gave thanks “to whatever gods may be” not for my “unconquerable soul” but for opening my eyes to the divinity shining forth in a grocery store aisle.

Dear God

[This is inspired by and modeled after a “psalm” by Benjamín González Buelta, SJ, translated by Damian A. Howard, SJ.]

Dear God,

Here are my beliefs:

Not that I must seek You
but that You pursue each of us.

Not that I must call You by the right name
but that You call us each by our name.

Not that I must know prayers and hymns to You
but that You groan with each of us when we suffer.

Not that I must bring others to my faith in You
but that You come to each of us where we are.

Not that I must pretend to know You completely
but that You know the deep mystery of each of us completely.

Not that I must strive to love You
but that I can rest secure in Your love for each of us.

Not that I must kneel in church to worship You
but that I get to work in service to those You love.

Not that I should shout of my faith
but that I can whisper of my service.

Thankfully yours,

Sometimes God Hides

Sometimes
God hides
Especially in church

Behind doctrine
Behind liturgy
Behind men in fancy dress

Behind exclusions
Behind prejudices
Behind privileges unrecognized

That’s when I focus

On the hair of people
Seated around me

Hair
Of all colors
Thick and thin
Short and long
Combed and uncombed
Curly and straight

And on the shoes of people
Walking up to Communion

Shoes
Of all styles
Heels and flip-flops
Sneakers and Oxfords
Sandals and boots
Old and new

And on the voices of people
Lifted in song and prayer

Voices
Of all timbres
Soft and loud
Strong and quavering
American and foreign
Melodic and grating

And God finds me.

Reality Recedes

We left our reality
one July Sunday
at dusk
in the van,
our new reality.

Behind the rear door,
our new kitchen
with ice chest, propane stove,
plastic drawers
for food, cooking utensils,
eating and cleaning necessities.

In the middle,
the spare tire, the toolkit,
a plastic container —
our new reality’s bathroom cabinet —
and above those, the clothes rack
with all of this reality’s hanging clothes.

Behind the front seats,
one suitcase each,
and in-between, a bag of snacks,
a small box of books and maps:
this reality’s storage room.

In this
our new reality,
the front seats are our living room,
with electronic cords, spare change,
a pocket knife and tissues
on the console between us
and the windshield, our picture window.

We ride through the space
of other people’s realities:
fields of wheat and corn,
ranges of cows and sheep,
oil wells and windmills,
great lakes and miles of marsh grass.

We ride through the time
of other ages’ realities:
ice age glaciers,
dinosaur bones,
river canyons,
sand blast hoodoos.

We ride through the earth
of other species’ realities:
lumbering bear,
floating otter,
mountain climbing sheep,
improbable puffins,
lonely bison.

We return, but not really.
Really, we realize,
our once comfortable reality
receded as we traveled.

Now, gods unto ourselves,
we unpack and begin
to recreate our own reality.