Report from Wonder Woman’s Paradise

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My Wonder Woman in her driveway garden.

Fortunately for the world, not everybody functions like I do. Some people aren’t constantly gazing into their spiritual navels, slowed to ennui by every fluff of emotional lint. Some look outside themselves and thrive on creation rather than contemplation and midday oblivion. Just as I have a longing that can only be quieted by a siesta, some have visions that relentlessly draw them forward into action. My wife is a vision sort.

“Hey, Kath,” I’ll say, “want to take a nap with me?”

“No thanks,” she’ll answer. “I have things I want to do.”

Thank God for Kathy and people like her. I embrace my way of being, but recognize that while I soothe my twitchy spirit with rest, others tend their restless souls with motion. And their way is as legitimate as mine. Siestas are good for those who need them, but the goal in living is to figure out what works for you in the shot glass of time you’ve got on this planet and bloody well do that. What my wife needs to do is create, and as a result, I’m one lucky napper. While I rest and write and cook, she makes paradise. I’m not exaggerating.

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Kathy’s roof, seven years old and still keeping the family dry.

Kathy and I moved to Shenley Drive in 2001. Within five years, we needed a new roof. In a normal-ish family, either a paid roofer or the husband would have been up on the roof. The Colemans aren’t normal. The woman of the house asked around about hiring a contractor, frowned at what she heard, and said, “I’ll do this myself.” And she did—sort of. A handful of family helped out, but Kathy did most of the work and most importantly, made it happen.

Roofing a house is my wife’s most ambitious project, but she constantly has friends and neighbors shaking their heads. “Huh?” they say. “You made this? You did this?”

“Yes she did,” I jump in to say. I not only saw her make-paint-hammer-sew-whatever dozens of marvels, but I took pictures. In no particular order, here’s photographic evidence of my Wonder Woman’s paradise. (Some of these shots appeared in previous posts.)

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The tile work of a rookie. Looks perfect to me.

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Wonder Woman at work making pillow covers for what she calls her “lounge.” She made window shades with the same paisley print. It works!

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When son Micah began recovery from his heroin addiction, Kathy remodeled his former basement bedroom and named it her “beach house.” Here’s a little school above the bed. She didn’t actually make this one.

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What Kathy calls her backyard “puddle.”

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Kathy’s tomato plants got so tall this summer she had to build a whatever-the-heck this is for them to lean against.

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One of my work stations, lovingly created by Wonder Woman. She re-upholstered all the cushions when they became sun worn.

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A Kathy Coleman patio: she dug all the bricks out of a half-assed gazebo in the middle of the backyard, designed a groovy-shaped patio, and laid the bricks down. I hauled a little gravel on this project.

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A view from my patio work station. Garage roof by Wonder Woman.

A lot of Kathy’s projects are practical, but plenty are just plain fun. She likes nothing better than to share surprise paradise with loved ones.

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A play tent for next-door neighbor Caroline.

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Handmade handbag for a friend.

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Another handmade handbag for a friend. You could sell this baby at J. C. Penney.

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One Christmas Kathy made wine-cork boards for the wine drinkers on Shenley Drive.

Each Halloween, Kathy’s paradise spills out into the front yard in the form of decorations.

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A Halloween shark leftover from a recent celebration bites the love seat in Kathy’s beach house.

All of my wife’s creations are actually child’s play compared to her day job. She’s a chemo nurse, loving and caring for cancer patients. “He was one of ours,” she says, scanning the obituaries. “So was she.”

I love the woman, and I love her vision. While I nap, she creates life. And while I work, she works, too, passing along life to those even Wonder Woman can’t save. Of course, that doesn’t stop her from trying.

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Mothballing My Wambulance

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Waaah! (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Wambulance: I first heard it from Lily, Cam and Mitchell’s daughter on television’s Modern Family. The Urban Dictionary defines and illustrates:

A joke used insultingly toward a person who is whining about something stupid like a tummy ache.

Whiner: Ow! Damn it to Hell, this paper cut hurts!

Other guy: Boo Hoo, let me dial WHINE-1-1 and call you a wambulance.

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Pillsbury Doughboy (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve nothing to whine about these days, but that doesn’t stop me—at least from whining on paper. Coleman stock suffers in silence, sometimes at our health’s expense. What’s going on inside is another story. A good bit of the time, I’m an interior crybaby, preoccupied with spiritual tummy aches and paper cuts. As a fifty-one-year-old with the constitution of the Pillsbury Doughboy and a rickshaw full of neuroses, I guess my chances of changing are zilch. This being the case, I’ll share my latest snivel.

In previous posts I’ve speculated about my wobbly psyche being tasered by PTSD and adrenal fatigue. Whatever’s going on, I’ve noticed a bothersome sensation that reminds me of something cars used to do. Back when people actually changed their own oil, dumped STP into their gas tanks, and considered themselves qualified to look under their hoods, my throttle occasionally got stuck open, probably because I neglected my vehicles. The cure for the resulting racing engine was spraying the carburetor with carb cleaner. At least that’s how I remember it.

My personal throttle is frozen open these days. My motor’s revving at full testosterone rage even when I’m sitting at a red light. In the past I’d have moved directly on to a panic attack, but now I sit behind the wheel, breathe, and smile at my stupid throttle. It’s more of a drag than anything else. I’m not going to lie; when it goes on too long, I hit it with pharmaceutical STP, Xanax, which gets things unstuck.

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Pull toy with string attached to the happy cow’s chest (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s another way to describe the feeling: I’m a kid’s pull toy. Some brat with a snot mustache has ahold of the string attached to my chest—a kid who’s snuck a few of his old man’s 5-hour ENERGY Shots and can’t stop dragging me across the hardwood floors of home while yodeling and barking.

What to do? I already pray and nap as much as a human should. In truth, my need for midday oblivion is often related to my stuck throttle, my off-the-hook little snot. If I lie or sit still anymore, I’ll be mistaken for a mound of clay. And I’m not about to get hooked on Xanax or up my Zoloft dosage. The former is a idiotic black hole; the latter would render me the emotional equivalent of 98% fat-free hamburger. Blah! I’ve got to find another way.

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Just try talking with a pebble between your lips.

Abba Agathon is said to have had a practice that might help me. Many sources, including Desert Wisdom by Yushi Nomura, report that for three years, the sage “carried a pebble around in his mouth until he learned to be silent.” Fortunately, I’ve made enough progress in shutting up that holding a stone in my puckered lips isn’t necessary, but the ancient abba gives me an idea.

A ring on my pinkie, that’s the ticket. I’ll wear a heavy peace sign ring until I learn to remove the pull toy string from my chest, to ease down my throttle—to slow down! Racing for years from one crisis to the next, my head and heart always hear, “Gentlemen, start your engines.” As I stumble through middle age, health and gladness depend on finding a new way of being.

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A finger burdened until its owner learns peace

A new way: just as Abba Agathon held a pebble in his lips, I’ll keep peace on my finger—a ring. “Receive this day’s grace,” it will remind me. “Breathe in slowly the new air of blessing. Don’t rush off to phantom disasters.”

Can I learn a new way of being in three years? Here’s hoping a hippie ring will be my teacher. I pray my siestas will be more celebration than survival. And I mean to mothball my wambulance.

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Credit: Media.Photobucket.com

A Study in Complicated Joy

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Paul Simon (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I’m fussing with a tension lately proposed by Paul Simon. In the liner notes for his 2011 album “So Beautiful or So What?” Simon writes, “The trick is, as I know it, is to care like hell 
and not give a damn at the same time.”
 He puts the challenge in harsher terms than I do. I would say, “How can I offer the world mindful appreciation, love and compassion and remain joyful?” As I try to be a responsible, engaged planetary citizen, Rhymin Simon’s question and mine are far more concrete than they first appear.

I’ll let today, Friday, July 19, 2013—my day off–be a case study. Other than skanky hot weather and a mild crick in my neck, I’m great. I indulged in a wee bit more Apostic Red than was prudent last night, but have escaped a hangover. I gave wife Kathy a kiss goodbye as she headed off to chemo nursing work this morning, and her loving smile was medicinal. Then I dropped son Micah off at work. He and I had the following exchange a couple days ago when I picked him up after eight sweaty hours of painting:

Me: You know, Micah, I’m really proud of how hard you’re working.

Micah: Yeah, I’m actually kind of proud of myself. It’s a nice change from hating myself.

A lot of gorgeous living is possible when you kick heroin. My son’s been clean over a year now, a reality that feels like an anvil has been lifted from my spirit.

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Anvil: what landed on Wile E. Coyote’s head. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Daughter Elena is scheduled to provide Kathy and me with a grandson in November. We viewed his in-progress pictures this week, which is at once teary and bizarre. In some shots you can make out a sweet-faced baby and in others his head resembles lumpy clay. He’s apparently healthy and, if present proportions hold until adulthood, his self-esteem in at least one department is going to be positive, indeed.

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Cute future grandson–still a little lumpy.

As usual, I’ve got my self-indulgent carcass parked at Starbucks, where I’m sipping my fourth iced decaf refill and breathing in and out the present moment’s causes for celebration. Can circumstances take a lousy turn and grind a Nazi heel into today’s happy face? Sure. But for right now, as Simon says, “So beautiful.”

I’ve no desire to stay in any way detached from my fragile joy. No “so what” for me. The tension to be kept productive has to do with silent partners on this Friday walk. How do I care like hell about them without losing my joy? If I’m not mindful of those who’ve been trampled, then my glad day off is selfish and anemic. But if I sacrifice my heart on the altar of everybody else’s suffering, where’s life’s savor?

Two fliers are pinned to the bulletin board behind me.

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“16 year old missing from local Residential Treatment Facility since July 14th at 9:30 p.m.”

I’m guessing people who love Bob Fuller and the unnamed teenage girl aren’t whistling and skipping right now. If Elena were missing, I’d be frantic and paralyzed at the same time.

A couple of folks in my congregation are getting schmutzed over by cancer, and one of them is about to enter hospice care. How many are looking mortality in its black maw as I try to decide whether to get yet another refill?

Yesterday I drove about an hour to visit a friend in prison, only to be told that the place was on lockdown. Sorry, no visit. I think of what it must be like to always talk to loved ones separated by thick plexiglass over a telephone—and to look forward to half-an-hour with a friend, only to have it postponed for a week or two.

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“The warm rush.” Heroin addict shooting up (Credit: Barry Lewis / In Pictures / Corbis)

I read this morning in The New York Times of increasing heroin overdoses in New England these days. Cheap opiate + unpredictable purity + desperate addicts selling themselves for the next fix = auf wiedersehen. “Theresa Dumond, 23,” the article states, “who lives on the streets of Portland, said she sells her body three times a day to support her heroin habit. She lost custody of her two young children about a year ago (‘I can’t keep track’), and their father died.” Shooting up, she says, “It’s the best feeling ever. It’s the warm rush.”

Okay, so there’s a world of hurt—heroin in Maine, cancer in Pennsylvania, vulnerable teenagers missing, God knows where. “So what?” On the whole I bet Paul Simon and I are on the same page, but my trick—to use the songwriter’s term—isn’t detachment, but embrace. It’s making room within my joy for suffering. It’s inviting the junkie and the hospice patient and the lost girl into the day’s mindfulness, the morning and evening prayer, the afternoon siesta.

This way of dealing with the joy-despair tension isn’t pious. Trust me, I’m as screwed up as the next pilgrim, but I refuse to feast on gladness and pretend that others aren’t retching in the dust. So in my spirit I set out napping mats for Bob, Theresa, and all the others and keep them close by as we rest. And in prayer I welcome them to breathe with me.

I like the way this kind of joy works. When I watch hummingbirds drink from the trumpet vine, the wind always carries a hint of manure. Even on dazzling, cloudless days, there’s thunder in the distance. Yes. This gladness seems right.

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(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Waking from a Dream of Separateness

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Thomas Merton (Credit: Wikipedia)

In the midst of shamatha—calm abiding—lately, I’ve been having Fourth-and-Walnut moments. Thomas Merton (1915-1968) enthusiasts know what I’m talking about. One of the famous monk’s most beloved writings comes from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, which Thomas Moore calls a “mind-bending collection of short pieces”:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness . . . .

After a couple paragraphs of poetic crescendo and decrescendo, Merton closes his epiphany:

As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

But even if it were possible for me to tell a friend or stranger, “You know, I can see past your skin and know we’re family. Do you understand that you’re beautiful?” it wouldn’t be advisable. First, I’d appear to be on an acid trip. And second, I’d stomp all over the moment with my inadequate words.

It’s better to stay quiet, as I did last evening over a few Lucifer Belgian ales at the Tap House with old college teaching colleagues. One guy, who’s been retired for over ten years but looks in better shape than I do, nursed his beer and held forth at length. But this wasn’t a self-indulgent, drunken monologue. Behind my friend’s skin I could see a spirit beyond shining. He seems to be engaged in a life-long lover’s quarrel with the world: what he loves, he loves recklessly; when he rails, he rails through clenched teeth. He’s got the universe caught up in a fierce embrace.

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Kathy’s grilled vegetables, a dog, and deviled eggs

During my first beer last night at the Tap Room, Kathy e-mailed me a photograph along with this message: “Wish you were here to share our fresh garden veggies.” Behind the food I could see my wife shining; she lives as if she were a sail, snapping full in a puff of wind and going where the weather takes her. I’m not adventurous, but I can join her when my neuroses permit and stand clear when they won’t.

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A potless plant: as good a reason as any for a shared belly laugh

Another shining spirit is a woman I saw at church this morning. I won’t name her because she’d be embarrassed, but as she volunteers with more efforts than I probably realize, she gives off life. We had a belly laugh when she showed me a potless plant. Obviously somebody had broken the pot and put the dirt and root system back in the stand. There’s no way I can imagine being alien from this friend.

Yet another church friend hangs his paintings in the office. Parish Administrator Michelle and I love the work of this self-taught guy whose basement is full of decades of canvasses. He and his wife are getting on in years, but—honest to God—their gentleness glows. Being with them for ten minutes can bless a whole morning.

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Hanging on the church office at Abiding Hope

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Another painting from the office gallery

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Taped to my office door, a portrait of me by Meghan, a kid who shines like the sun. I especially like my nostrils.

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Barista Abbey knitting or crocheting something and wearing a little girl’s crown.

Of course, Thomas Merton was talking mostly about strangers in his Fourth-and-Walnut epiphany, and the more I’m able to give myself to the refreshment of siestas and the sanity of prayer, the more I notice multiple daily shinings. Some time ago, here at Starbucks, I saw barista Abbey knitting something as a young friend made crowns. The kid was happy, proud of trying to fashion regal gladness out of construction paper. As I talked to them, for a few seconds, we belonged to each other.

Of course, sometimes seeing people shining like the sun causes sunburn. A young woman here at Starbucks just had a lover’s quarrel of her own via cell phone. After a short, tearful fight, she’s now retreated to the restroom, where I imagine she’s crying some more. I’ve never seen her before, but have a fist in my stomach I’m trying to breathe away. And now she’s gone, out into the 90-degree swelter with her puffy eyes, damp cheeks, and upset heart.

I’m still here in the air-conditioned shamatha of 4:02 p.m., glad that the sad girl was mine and I was hers (though she knew nothing about it). Most of all, I’m grateful not to suffer from the dream of separateness. I belong to everyone. Everyone belongs to me.

P.S. Who broke that pot? Wife Kathy just confessed. I should’ve known.

Practicing Environmentally-Friendly Speech

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Good morning! (Credit: Royalty-Free/Corbis)

5:28 a.m.: birds in the boulevard’s maples sing in the first breath of light. Hoping for a scratch on her temples, portly cat Shadow waits by Kathy’s hand. This is sweet pre-dawn, an hour made for shamatha—calm abiding. I woke up around 4:30, stepped on the bathroom scale, grimaced, and returned to bed for thirty minutes of propped-up prayer. Now I have until 7:00 to do as I please. One flat note on this start to my day off is a neighborhood skunk that harrumphed at some threat. Ugh.

There’s always something to spray about: two pounds forward, one pound back; my right foot getting chilled in the breeze, now covered by the sheet; the moppy dog across the street complaining about newspaper delivery; skunk is as skunk does. But none of this noise overcomes the silence. Even a distant train’s groan and rattle treat the morning’s meditation kindly.

I want to be kind, too, kind and loving toward this day. For starters, I just set my iPhone alarm for wife Kathy, who has to get up at 6:50 and go give cancer patients chemotherapy. She doesn’t want to keep clicking her snooze button, and I don’t blame her.

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Inspiring photograph of sardine can

Since an out-of-town visit to a friend got scuttled, I plan—in no particular order—to visit my friendly barber Pat, go for a four-miler at Presque Isle State Park, fold laundry, buy sardines in mustard sauce (yes, I do like them and recently read that they’re a nutritional marvel), and skim The Erie Times-News at Starbucks while sipping an iced coffee with a shot of espresso, all decaf, half and half, two Splendas.

The fish, jog beside Lake Erie, handkerchiefs, and the rest aren’t this Friday’s center of gravity, though. Neither are two ABC News articles slated for Starbucks: “New Limits on Arsenic in Apple Juice” (Huh? Shouldn’t the limit be . . . none?) and “The History of Urinating in Space” (pretty sure I’ll regret this one). With luck, loving silence will be the force pulling this day together.

With luck! I hope to devote two hours to prayer and napping, both sane and quiet acts. Lots of slow, deep breaths will be signs that my spirit is blinking its eyes. Breathing in and out makes wispy sounds—not noise pollution at all. Most important for the environment, I’ll try not to litter with my mouth.

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Not me, but I covet those glasses (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Eco-friendliness is not only fantastic, but fashionable, and I’m on board. Like many families, the Colemans have a compost pile, recycle everything we can, conserve electricity, etc. My personal care for creation also includes the unconventional measure of shutting-up. Readers who know me personally are laughing: “Seriously, John?” Far from being quiet, I’m probably known as talkative and occasionally buffoonish. To be more specific, then, I want to practice environmentally-friendly speech: healing and productive rather than wounding and destructive.

I want to talk in life-giving ways, but my mindfulness slips constantly. If I could view a daily transcript of everything that comes out of my mouth, I’d be discouraged at how many words are either unkind or unnecessary. (Don’t worry. I’m not going to lose sleep over this. Humans talk a lot of crap, and I’m human.)

Still, I want to honor the life I’ve been granted by letting blessed silence—like that of pre-dawn shamatha—replace blather, gossip, snark, and holler. To center myself for the effort, I’ve poached some quotations from the Internet:

  • “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” (Blaise Pascal)
  • “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” (Franz Kafka)
  • “The deepest rivers make least din, the silent soule doth most abound in care.” (William Alexander)
  • “Words can make a deeper scar than silence can heal.” (Author unknown)
  • And, finally, a beloved quote from Anne Lamott, which you shouldn’t read if a mild swear-word will put you out: “Rule 1: When all else fails, follow instructions. And Rule 2: Don’t be an asshole” (from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith).

Regarding that last quote: I figure shutting-up is one of the best ways not to break Rule 2. Now that I think about it, Lamott wrote in four words what I just sweated out in a couple hundred. That’s why she makes the big bucks. I’ll be satisfied with getting a little better each day at listening to her.

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Sign hanging over my dresser; $3.00 at an estate sale

Swimming Upstream on a Bad Hair Day

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An image for today: trying on one of our bathroom remodeling purchases. Does this seat make my face look fat?

Swimming upstream: that’s what I’m doing today. At home when I was a kid, we’d say, I’ve got the blues. Depressed is too strong a word. I’ve wrestled with depression before, so in my vocabulary that term is reserved for times when sleep is your lover, when you constantly feel the weight of tears behind your eyes. Tuesday, July 9, 2013 is actually in the okay category, but I can say so only by pushing myself and acknowledging an aggravating fact: nothing’s wrong! I should be following Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice and smiling at my non-toothache. In the words of Patrick, my ten-year-old neighbor with Down’s syndrome who drops his helping verbs, “It not working.” Patrick is the Sage of Shenley Drive. I not kidding.

An hour’s blessed oblivion at 2:00 p.m. didn’t work either. Usually the world shines when my alarm, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, goes off and I stand up and stretch. For a few minutes it seemed that I’d flown above the clouds, but soon, without my approval, my nose descended back into the inexplicable turbulence.

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I need your help, Barry Manilow! (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

To borrow a phrase from a mom who stopped by the church this morning, if I weren’t having a bad hair day—another way of describing the blues—I might look for an answer to a question in my head: “Is my swimming upstream the result of a mostly pampered life?” I suspect today is a bummer because current troubles, most of them imaginary, have eased up enough that nebulous old sorrows have space to stretch their legs and kick at my spirit. But with this gray Tuesday matching my interior, I’m not doing research. The best I can do is recommend a fitting song: Ray Stevens’ “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow,” from which I quote:

I need your help, Barry Manilow,

I’m all alone and sitting on a shelf.

Sing me a song, sing it sad and low,

I feel like feeling sorry for myself.

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Probably a very introspective caveman (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Like the rest of the song, my case of the blues is self-indulgent, worth a laugh. Imagine a caveman sitting on a rock, rubbing his forehead and saying, “I just need a little space. I’m having a bad day. Okay?!” I doubt troglodytes had as much time as I do to nurse neuroses, because if they hadn’t gone out and speared a wooly mammoth, hungry cave-children would have gnawed on their hairy calf muscles in the middle of the night.

Or what soldier in a trench mopes if she or he doesn’t get a siesta? Troops might sneak in a nap when the action slows, but when a comrade says, “I’m storming that bunker. Cover me!” you can’t say, “Aw, can’t it wait? I’m about to take my siesta.”

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Did World War II’s Rosie the Riveter have time to nap? Doubtful. (“We Can Do It” by J. Howard Miller. Credit: Wikipedia)

The point I’m back-stroking toward is this: When I say I’m swimming upstream, sometimes I’m experiencing an honest-to-goodness visitation of toxic life junk that’s worth examining. Other times, I “feel like feeling sorry for myself”–just because. Often it’s hard to tell the two streams apart. Either way, I admit that today’s bad hair is Manilow-vian. The same goes for my siesta. Most people don’t have the luxuries of stopping to wonder why they’re iron gray inside and lying down at midday to take a break from struggling against the current. Remembering the billions for whom a ten-minute prayer or a thirty-minute nap is out of the question keeps me from being ridiculous and narcissistic.

I plead guilty to being silly and occasionally self-absorbed.

The Day My Bones Turned to Dark Emeralds

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This morning at 3:50 my body woke up with the off-kilter assumption that the routine was underway. Years ago I responded to such circadian hiccups by trying to will myself back to sleep. Now I prop myself up in bed and practice my trippy marriage of Christian prayer and Zen meditation for as long as it feels right. If my head gets heavy, I lie down and let go. If I’m fresh, as was the case before dawn, I keep going–in this case for sixty minutes.

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“Make mine a San Pellegrino water, if you please.” (Szenenbilder aus dem Stück “Der Snob” von Carl Sternheim. Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For another hour I pecked out notes on my iPhone, planning church work and making a shopping list: pistachios, avocados, San Pellegrino water (aren’t I refined?), pinto beans, soy hot dogs, etc. Thinking at 5:00 a.m. about anything positive or even mundane has a spacious quality. The mind drinks cool draughts of sanity. Wonderful!

At 6:00, as the maples on Shenley Drive took shape in the first light and the neighborhood cardinal chanted his dawn mantra, I took an hour’s siesta. Yes, siestas are by definition an afternoon activity, but I’m taking a semantic liberty. After two hours of healthy wakefulness, lying down again and drifting off with a lovely breeze on my face and arms and a lovely wife beside me seemed more like a nap than a resumption of night sleep. A little after 7:00 I dressed and creaked downstairs to discover a small envelope on the dining room table.

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If I weren’t already light and refreshed, the contents would have washed any sludge off my spirit. Son Micah had written me a belated Father’s Day note, full of love and gratitude, and enclosed a Starbucks gift card. Had I not been under the emotional surveillance of Zoloft, I’d have cried. As it was, I rubbed the gift between my fingertips like a feather found on a beach, like a leaf of the lamb’s ear Kathy has growing out front.

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One of Kathy’s lamb’s ear leaves.

Driving to church, I decided to record Happy Birthday and send it as a text message to daughter Elena, who turns twenty-five today. One voice in my bush league vocal repertoire is a schmalzy vibrato, and I laid it on thick for my pregnant girl. For a flourish I scooped the last you note.

Elena’s text response: “Thx daddy! U just made me laugh cry. Damn hormones!” At 2:22, when I would normally take a siesta, Elena texted me a recording of my dancing grandchild’s heartbeat. Woosh, woosh. Sounded herculean to me, but what do I know? I smiled, but again, wasn’t verklempt.

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I never did get a nap. Didn’t get a run in either. Obligations took over. I spent half an hour with a parishioner in a soul-strangling situation and drove home gratified that he and I had extracted a couple veins of grace out of a cavern of darkness. In my chest, joy and depression played Twister.

Close to dinnertime, I received another text message from Elena, which I paraphrase: “Daddy, any chance I could use my ‘I’ve had a bummer of a day and need my daddy’ coupon?” A couple Christmases ago I stuffed the family stockings with coupons written on index cards. Ever since, Elena and her husband Matt have been redeeming them. Elena and a co-worker hugged goodbye this afternoon as the latter was moving to Columbus. Seeing a dear friend leave combined with those damn hormones had Elena’s tears splashing out. So off the load of us went to Perkins Restaurant, where wife, son, daughter, and son-in-law had a pancake-waffle frenzy. Thankfully, the carbohydrates and bummer coupon brought Elena’s hormones back into balance.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013: one ambush of blessing after another. I’m constantly aware that my personal healing from living for years under reality’s fist is taking longer than I’d like, so I’d be a fool to rush this day to a conclusion.

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Kathy’s trumpet vine waiting for hummingbirds.

When people I love blossom—even those standing throat-deep in compost—I’m going to stop! Shamatha—calm abiding—in an elementary extravagance: a wife who loves me, though my faults are legion; a daughter and son-in-law in giddy orbit around her belly; a son whose true self emerges more each day after being suffocated so long by addiction; friends and parishioners whose goodness keeps making me pinch myself.

Gladness lives under no obligation to stick around. I remember this constantly. So on days when joy is so thick that no afternoon nap is needed, I wear a wide interior grin of gratefulness. My amen is written by the poet James Wright:

When I stand upright in the wind, my bones turn to dark emeralds.

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(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)