At some point I stopped listening.
I fill my head with news and commentary
To grasp what is happening and why.
Mining more information to know more,
To have more well-rounded opinions that can withstand more argument.
So I read more essays, hear more radio and podcasts, watch more videos.
But it is not listening.
I do not pay attention to the voice,
Only the information.
Only to gain.
To listen is to receive freely whatever is given.
Attending even if nothing ends up said.
Waiting for a word that can only come from silence.
Not biding time until my turn to talk.
That my son or daughters might have something to offer
About trains or school or what the cow says.
That my wife reveals a frivolous beauty.
That creation shares a secret of its ancient wisdom.
That the Voice in the sheer silence may speak.
Autumn began dumbfounded in the wake of
Five deaths—three untimely, including a suicide—
And two revelations of probable lurking cancers.
I am short-tempered, yelling too easily at my children,
Angry at long lines and red lights.
I blame the upcoming presidential election.
But death’s mycelium spreading underneath, pushing through with grotesque reminders,
Is the true culprit.
I see my wife and children and dread the day this will all end.
That Springsteen guarantees my baby daughters’ dancing elates me.
I turn on the song and the bouncing commences.
My wife and I clap and laugh.
My son runs in and tells me to twirl with him.
Who am I to deny such an invitation?
As he and I spin like novice dervishes, my wife dances with one daughter who smiles with nine teeth, and the other stretches her tiny long fingers to plink the piano keys.
The Paraclete blows through our living room in the form of rock and roll.
An impromptu dance party.
So much grief and the future and the past forgotten.
Only backbeat. Only guitars. Only movement.
But life. But life.
When the singer asks, “Is there anyone alive out there?”
The five of us answer in the affirmative with our dance.
I did not anticipate having a child
Would make me think so much
Sure, I ask the responsible queries concerning
What would happen to my son were I to die.
Thus wills have been written, living trusts created.
But my death thoughts mostly do not concern duty.
Rather something more
Foundational, basic, earthy.
They say we feel settled when three generations exist.
When my father’s heart stopped I was childless,
Standing alone with no generation before or following me.
Only death approached.
I thought, expected, hoped
Having a child would assuage the looming fear.
My son does open my eyes to life
With his constant firsts
He is Neil Armstrong and Leif Erikson every day.
I want him to make me forget mortality.
But death. But death.
My son reminds me I have a father and he died.
Each day my son grows I am a day closer.
His gracious and wonderful and very existence
Signifies I am next in line.
He will, God willing, bury me and mourn me.
I do not wish that pain on him,
It merely is the best order this side of the Resurrection.
Gratefully he grounds me.
Be shocked, but not naive.
Surprised to the point of action, not stupefied.
Never take this as normal.
Foster astonishment at evil and good.
Be angry, but do not sin.
Be angry and stand
Be angry and walk
Be angry and listen
Be angry and talk
Be angry and work
Be angry and rest
Be angry and boycott
Be angry and invest
Be angry and laugh
Be angry and weep
Be angry and share
Be angry and keep
Be angry and write
Be angry and read
Be angry and follow
Be angry and lead
Be angry and whisper
Be angry and shout
Be angry and believe
Be angry and doubt
Be angry and sit
Be angry and dance
Be angry and hold
Be angry and advance
Be angry and sing
Be angry and pray
Be angry and move
Be angry and pray
Be angry and love
Be angry and pray
Be angry and hope
Be angry and pray.
Do not grow weary of doing right.
(With thanks to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Apostle Paul.)
A prose poem about parenting.
Nothing has humbled me as much as becoming a father. Not my deficiencies as a husband when I see my selfishness firsthand. Not my inability (unwillingness?) to be a good long-distance friend. Not my failures as a pastor when the congregational leaders said they wouldn’t talk with me—and what else did I have to use as a pastor, but words? No, being a dad has revealed just how short my fuse is. How sensitive I can be—a three year-old’s smile fuels me for days, but his rejection is like having someone cut the power to our home. All my skills I pride myself in—responsibility, analysis, reason—mean nothing. I cannot convince him to put on his damn shoes. He screams and writhes about having to put on his damn shoes. And I’m about to throw my own tantrum about the damn shoes. As I go to bed, I pray the examen, and shudder with embarrassment that my desolation for that day is the argument over the damn shoes. And how I stewed throughout the drive to the park, the spins on the tire swing, the tumbles through slides, the return home, about the fight over the damn shoes. I could not calm down. I began to harbor a festering grudge against my son and his damn shoes. When two days later I ask him to put on his damn shoes (minus the profanity) and he does so gladly. And I rejoice, nearly in tears, as if I were watching Neil Armstrong step on the Moon. I pick him up, smother him in hugs, and say a prayer of thanks for those damn shoes.