Redefining his summit

We came to a sudden halt just a few miles from the end of our trek. Why were we stopping?

I was sixth in line, a couple of hundred feet from my son who was in the lead. We’d assumed lightning spacing a mile or so before, remembering the ranger’s advice if we got caught in the middle of one of Philmont’s daily thunderstorms.

“Keep at least 50 feet apart on the trail, so that if one of you gets hit by lightning, it doesn’t jump from one person to the other.”

The sky rumbled and my annoyance grew in concert with the intensity of the rain. We didn’t have time for a break if we were going to beat the storm back to base camp. My son turned to look up the line as I walked toward him, and my frustration became concern as I got close enough to see the fear in his face.

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A letter to my son on being an ally

Hey, bud. It’s been a week, hasn’t it? My head and heart are still in shambles. I feel broken. The world feels broken. The country I thought I knew feels foreign, like we’ve sacrificed our moral authority.

First, I want to say how proud I am of you. You’re 14. You got interested in this election without my prompting. I didn’t know you were becoming active until I saw a few of your tweets a while back. Yes, your views aligned strongly with mine, but that wasn’t the point. You were becoming active, vocal in your own way. You were becoming a citizen. Continue reading →

Allowing the Present to Arrive

My Monday commute started 300 miles from my office, long before the Eastern horizon even hinted at dawn. I saw flashes of lightning silhouetting clouds in the darkness, soon followed by sheets of rain that provided ample volume for the semis to spray on the windshield. In between the swoosh of wipers, I tried to keep my focus on the newly painted lane markings along the always-under-construction I-70 West — my road most traveled between Ohio and Illinois — but my mind kept wandering to seven words from Friday night’s Shabbat service.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

It was my first Shabbat service ever. As a recovering Catholic who has been non-practicing and essentially agnostic for more than half of my 45 years, the simple act of being inside any religious building is surreal. But I proudly sat next to my girlfriend at the official start to the weekend’s celebration of her daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah, an adult in the eyes of her Jewish community.

Near the end of the service, congregant and community notable Artie Issac was invited to give a guest sermon as the Jewish calendar approaches Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. He rambled delightfully among several philosophical themes but ended with a reminder.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

By the time I reached the halfway point of this morning’s commute, the rain stopped but clouds still covered the sky to the horizon. The weather forecast promised cooler temperatures, but the heavy overcast was a pall over my hope for a beautiful fall day. We were a few days past the equinox, but yet to be blessed with that first really crisp, cool, and crystal sky day.

My mind still tossed around Artie’s words.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

I just got divorced two weeks ago. Well, I moved out of the house we shared more than two years ago, but a family court judge — deliberating his last docket before retirement — pronounced my divorce official just two weeks ago. Our marriage was effectively over the day I moved out, but I still feel the weight of its failure — my failure, our failure.

Artie’s words made me think of the relative power of Catholic versus Jewish guilt, and the endless debate over which is more severe.  Regardless of the winner (loser?), nothing is heavier than guilt. It was there when it was clear my marriage of nearly 20 years was ending. It was there the day we told our son. The day I started packing boxes. The day I first turned the key to my new apartment home.

And it was there two weeks ago, when the judge wished us good luck after declaring our divorce final.

I can run in selfish, justifying circles of logic to describe why our marriage failed, but there is no escaping my personal failure. I failed to be the person and husband I promised to be. I failed to work hard. I failed to turn right when I should have turned left. I failed to care enough. It may not have been my failure alone, but it was still my failure.

There is nothing I can do to change my failure. I can learn from it. I can be kind, patient, and understanding as the best co-parent possible for our son. But I can’t change my failure.

As I approached the Illinois border along I-74, blue sky appeared on the horizon. I could see the trailing edge of the storm front, but couldn’t judge its distance from me.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

I think I was destined to sit in that chapel to hear Artie’s words about self-atonement. I’ve been waiting for the world to absolve me of my transgressions. Perhaps the world has moved on to more important things, and I’m the one who needs to stop waiting for its forgiveness.

My late friend Laura once told me put down the 2×4. I think she was saying the same thing as Artie.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves.

 

skyfront

I arrived home and stepped out on my balcony for a moment. The edge of the clouds dissipated directly above me into the clearest blue sky.

What’s done is done. What’s past is past. No amount of self-flagellation will resolve it, and simply allows the past to control the present. Forgiveness from the world, from others, may arrive and we should welcome it if it does.

But I think I know what Artie was saying now. Until we learn to forgive ourselves, we don’t allow the present to arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lesson of the walnuts

I chose my steps carefully around the furrowed trunk of the black walnut. Ripening husks littered the floor of the Illinois Arboretum nut grove, greasy black flesh waiting to stain a poorly placed shoe.

I closed my eyes and took in the earthy lemon scent that filled the air, a fermented sweetness that fell on the good side of decay.

I remembered the time I was hiking with scouts, and surprised them by finding a just-fallen fruit along the trail. Many of them had enjoyed walnuts in chocolate chip cookies, but wouldn’t believe that the green orb in my hand was one and the same. In a moment of lost discretion, I plunged my finger into the flesh, digging towards the hull that would prove to them a walnut grew inside.

Three weeks later, my fingers lost the dark hue of the juglone that stained my hands.

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Slow cook BBQ chicken and mushroom-bacon twice-baked potatoes

My son has been battling a respiratory bug for the past couple of weeks, struggling to keep up with a busy school and extra-curricular schedule. Today, we decided, was a rest and recuperate day. He stayed in bed well past noon. I deemed it the perfect day to make the slow cook BBQ chicken that he loves. Instead of the sauteed red potatoes I normally make with it, I had a craving for a stuffed, twice-baked potato as a side. Continue reading →

Thank you, unconditionally

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My son opened our bedroom door this morning, with a “Happy Thanksgiving! Is it okay if I let Gem and Tigerlily in?”

“Of course,” we chimed back.

Within seconds, eight paws, two tails and a preteen turned our bed into a Thanksgiving morning of smiles, purrs, snuggles and laughter.

As I watched my son close his eyes and go nose-to-nose with an equally winky Tigerlily, my heart melted. The compassion that he has shown with our new kittens astounds me as I watch their mutual bond, pure and unconditional, grow each day. Continue reading →