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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

What I Almost Hurried Past


James Wright (Credit: Wikipedia)

James Wright’s (1927-1980) poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” is a must read for every siesta lover on the path of mindfulness. The poem is short, and the title covers a lot. The speaker of the poem beholds the beauty of the moment: “a bronze butterfly”; cowbells “in the distance of the afternoon”; “a field of sunlight between two pines”; “a chicken hawk . . . looking for home.” Wright’s last line at first seems like a non sequitur: “I have wasted my life.”

I thought of James Wright, whose work I love, this weekend as that last line kept sounding in my head: “I have wasted my life.” I haven’t really “wasted my life.” A wealth of blessings surrounds me, and at fifty-one, I’m bold enough to accept that I’m a decent guy. But sitting in the Coleman family breakfast nook yesterday, I had a moment of awareness–shamatha, if you’ve read recent posts–that has graced my whole weekend. And this grace–what C. S. Lewis might call a mildly severe mercy–has made me wonder how much of my life I’ve wasted.

I’m a worrier. Give me a pimple, and I can turn it into a malignant tumor in a skinny minute. Give me a conflict, and I’ll work my stomach into an acidic lather. I’m better now than in years past, but still, as a wise friend says, I’m great at shoveling smoke. How many blessings have I walked mindlessly past because my guts were in a knot over minutia? Is it an exaggeration to say “millions”?

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, before I rushed off on some errand, words of wise wife Kathy slowed me down: “Did you see the flowers out back?” Of course not. So I went out the backdoor for five minutes and looked.




I have wasted my life. But not wasted it beyond redemption. If I’m lucky, I might still have some great years left during which, like James Wright, I can lie in a hammock, so to speak, and receive the blessings scattered before me like jewels, only more valuable.

Maybe wisdom is settling in. This morning (Sunday) as I was walking to my car, I almost missed these blessings–almost!




Even as I passed through the church office to the Pastor’s Study, I nearly rushed by flowers again. Michelle, friend and Parish Administrator, had these hearty blossoms in a vase:


As I stood in the Pastor’s Study, I finally got the hang of it–that is, slowing down enough to give thanks for flowers spotted on the way to getting work done.


Eight-year-old spindly poinsettias in the south window of the Pastor’s Study.

So what is life? I’m not sure, but maybe it’s what I’m hurrying past on the way to making sure my work gets done.