Thanks, Suzie…

super kitty

super kitty

I had to say goodbye to someone close to me today.

But first let me tell you how we met.  And it begins with Dante.

Not the poet, but the dog.  A sweet rambunctious lab mix my wife who my wife and I couldn’t resist as he wagged his tail furiously from his holding pen.  We were shopping at Publix, and a no kill shelter had set up a makeshift adoption center outside the store and was taking donations.

We brought Dante home to what was then a tiny little duplex and proceeded over the next two weeks to understand that dogs are simply furry human babies in disguise.  Crating this puppy for most of the day, we felt, just wasn’t right, and when I came home one day to find my cat Cleo backed into a corner hissing her brains out, Dante wagging his tail like it was a propeller, tongue lolling, cheerfully barking after escaping his crate somehow, and Cleo’s well placed scratches all over his face, I said to myself “This isn’t working.  He deserves better.”

My wife and I get attached easily to animals, so it was with much sadness that we took Dante back to the no kill shelter.  Arriving, Dante jumped out of the car and began cavorting around with his fellow pups.  The woman running the shelter, a fat smiling woman in a pink flowered sundress, with eyes just to the left of crazy, asked “Wanna see the kitties?”

Sure.

We walked over to a crate supported by a couple wooden boxes.  “Three left.  Yeah, that’s the mother- we call her Abby- and there’s her two kittens, Weebles and Wobbles.”

Abby regarded us from a sleek tabby face and disdainful green eyes.  Her daughter Weebles gazed curiously from a small black face with a white mustache.  Wobbles- well, Wobbles was wobbling.  He tried looking at us, but his head jiggled back and forth enough to make him lose focus within a few seconds.

“Yeah,” the woman explained, “Got his head stuck in the bars of his crate a while back, and now his head won’t stop doing that.  ‘Member the toys from way back when?  Little egg shaped people?  “Weebles wobble but they won’t fall down.”  Ha!  Kinda fits, unfortunately.  He’s a precious one, but I’d like to leave him with his Mama a bit more.  Watcha think of Weebles?

My wife, tears still running down her face from the pain of giving back Dante, picked up Weebles, who started licking her thumb.  “Cool,” I thought, petting her.  She seemed like a nice, laid back kitty.

I knew once she was in Erin’s arms, that kitten wasn’t going anywhere but back to our house.  So I turned to the shelter owner and said “She will have a good home with us.”  And with a donation to the shelter made, and a couple of papers signed, we went back to the car, Weebles in tow.

Getting in the car, we sat for a few minutes, letting our new family member settle in Erin’s lap.  “I’m glad we got her,” I said, “But Weebles?”

Doesn’t seem to fit, my wife agreed.

The  name just meandered across my mind, amidst directions home, getting the new one stuff to eat at the store…

“How about Suzie?”

“Suzie?”

“Yeah, she looks like a Suzie.”

“Okay, sounds good.”

In hindsight, I wish naming my son had been that easy…

Driving home, I glanced over and saw something that I will never forget.  Erin still had tears in her eye, and I watched as Suzie looked up at Erin, then over to me, then back at Erin.  And with a confidence bordering on the absolute, with a look in her eye that said “I own these people,” she lifted her paw and began washing herself, content with her new surroundings.

That was about thirteen years ago.  I have never had a cat give so much love and joy as a pet.  So when her tumor developed, it was quite hard to face the fact she would not be with us always.

But she passed away peacefully in my arms at the vet tonight, her battle over.  Our vet, (the best vet in the world), Dr. Hayes, offered to say a prayer over her, and together we thanked God for the gift of her life to my family.  It was hard to say goodbye, but after she passed, I could still feel the vibrations of her purring on my lap, as if it was one of the hundreds of times she had fallen asleep on my lap.

Thanks, Suzie.

Planets, Beginnings, and Church Bells. A Short Farewell to 2012…

Tonight the sun sets on 2012.  This blog has been quiet for a while, perhaps for good reason.  It has been a time of breathing in, of quieting the mind, or in all honesty, just the mere attempt to do so.  Other times have been a mere running away from the Hound of Heaven, who thankfully still nips at my heels and will easily overtake me.

c-s-lewis-space-trilogy

How wonderful to end the year by finally completing Lewis’s Space Trilogy.  The order read was unorthodox: That Hideous Strength (meant to be the last in the trilogy) then Out of the Silent Planet, then Perelandra.  Yet I’m glad I got to Perelandra last, indeed even finishing the book tonight, as the final pages hold a wonderful meditation on endings and beginnings:

“And what after this, Tor-Oyarsa?” said Malacandra.

“Then it is Maleldil’s purpose to make us free of Deep Heaven.  Our bodies will be changed, but not all changed.  We shall be as the eldila, but not all as eldila.  And so will all our sons and daughters be changed in the time of this ripeness until the number is made up which Maleldil read His Father’s mind before times flowed.”

“And that,” said Ransom, “will be the end?”

Tor the King stared at him.

“The end?”  he said.  “Who spoke of an end?”

“The end of your world, I mean,” said Ransom.

“Splendour of Heaven!” said Tor.  “Your thoughts are unlike ours.  About that time we shall be not far from the beginning of all things.”

Most of this conversation takes place on Perelandra, or Venus.  Ransom is the only “earthling.”  Even given the sights of this amazing world, and what he has endured (read the book!), he still falls back on an ignorance of Time, or as in the next couple pages Tor says “talk[ing] of evenings before the day has dawned.”

I still have pages yet to read until the clock strikes twelve.  So I’ll leave you with a link to a poem by Malcolm Guite from his book Sound the Seasons, “Ringing in the New Year.”  I wish you peace and goodwill in the New Year.

church-bell-ringing

Happy Birthday, Jack! (CS Lewis Born Today, Nov 29th, in 1898)

CS Lewis has had more of an impact on my life than any other writer.  So I raise a pint to Jack (as he desired to be called by) and give a hearty “here, here!” to this amazing writer.  And why?  I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the thoughts remain the same.   Perhaps this sums it up, at least for me.

After a number of years intently reading Lewis’s works, it is still hard for me to articulate the impact this author has had on my life and faith.  There’s a hearty handshake and an offer to sit with him with a pint, and after a bit of conversation, and some anxious questioning on my part he jumps up and says “Let me show you something,” and leads me out the door to show me the landscape of faith, with its towering mountains, leafy glades, and roaring seas.  We go hiking, swimming, climbing- and he knows or has struggled with every root in the path, every crested wave, and scrambled to find every foothold.  And the best part is after a day’s journey finding an out of the way pub, where we sit and he pontificates on the sheer joy of the landscape and breathing the fresh air.  He is not there to revel in the obscurity of it all, but the remarkable clarity of all things.

Coming across Puddleglum’s assertion to “Live like a Narnian,” in The Silver Chair, the peeling off of Eustace’s dragon skin in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Wormwood losing his patient in The Screwtape Letters, longing for the irrigating of deserts in The Abolition of Man, tin soldiers becoming New Men in Mere Christianity, and impatient chargers stamping their hooves inMiracles, and Aslan’s roar throughout…there is much much more, but these images and situations have resonated within me, urging my soul to look up instead of down.  Lewis allows the world to become larger because he sees the eternal beyond it.  Not many writers do that nowadays.  Lewis still does.  And I say still not in the sense that he is still here among us, but in that larger sense a good writer attains when his/her work is around long after they have passed.

“Our homes are under miraculous skies”- GK Chesterton’s “The House of Christmas”

Today marks the end of the Christian liturgical year with Feast of Christ the King.  Today, during the homily, Father Jim urged us to remember that though we anticipate Advent and the celebration of the Incarnation, let us not forget Christ enthroned at the right hand of the Ancient of the Days.

Which I won’t, of course, but I am indulging in a bit of GK Chesterton as evening yawns into night, and this poem came to mind, with all its anticipatory and beautiful imagery.  So cheers to the new year approaching, the night air chill, but the house warm and snug, a house under miraculous skies:

The House of Christmas

G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth

Out of an inn to roam;

In the place where she was homeless

All men are at home.

The crazy stable close at hand,

With shaking timber and shifting sand,

Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand

Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,

And strangers under the sun,

And they lay on their heads in a foreign land

Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,

And chance and honour and high surprise,

But our homes are under miraculous skies

Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,

Where the beasts feed and foam;

Only where He was homeless

Are you and I at home;

We have hands that fashion and heads that know,

But our hearts we lost – how long ago!

In a place no chart nor ship can show

Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,

And strange the plain things are,

The earth is enough and the air is enough

For our wonder and our war;

But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings

And our peace is put in impossible things

Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings

Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening

Home shall men come,

To an older place than Eden

And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,

To the things that cannot be and that are,

To the place where God was homeless

And all men are at home.

A poem for morning

 

Here is a poem I composed while on the CS Lewis Retreat.  The picture above is sunrise at Weston Priory, a Benedictine Monastery, in 2006.

Let the Morning Be Time  

Let the morning be time for

slow moving ink across the page.

 

Let the morning be time for

the sound of the wind coming before its caress of the face

(the rustle of leaves bringing the news of comfort, peace).

 

Let the morning be time for

the hawk, with outstretched wings, hovering in the sky, searching.

 

Let the morning be time for

grace-filled quiet on wood bench, ears listening, at last, to silence.

 

Let the morning be time for

the clink-chock of axe on kindling wood, for December approaches.

 

Let the morning be time for

clarity from the past, revisited.

 

Let the morning be time for

unstilted camaraderie with former strangers, fellow pilgrims- scarves unwound, jackets off, coffee steaming on bright faces.

 

Let the morning be time for

time, told by the sun only, for its measured path across the sky gives us     movement in the Eternal Present, our true home.

 

Let the morning be time for

even the snail, which will see the end of the wall, tomorrow.

 

Let the morning be time for

the deep exhale

that does nothing less than create space in the soul

for the First Breath

given to Adam.

Back from Narnia

“Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.”- CS Lewis, The Four Loves

A place of safety and retreat for me is where I am sitting right now- in the armchair of my library, either reading, or writing, with a big fat mug of coffee or a glass of wine or pint of ale.   My books stand comfortably at their posts on the shelves behind me, and a few of those jolly souls occupy an honored spot of distinction on the end table beside me, a few dog-eared and well worn, others fresh from the field and awaiting perusal.

Many of these books are by or about CS Lewis.  Over the past few years, his books have been the pebble in the pond, sending ripples out to other books, other authors, living and dead, past and present, which now grace my shelves.  Lewis has been that particular member of the communion of saints who has opened door after door after door, engaging me, challenging me, until I learn more about myself as a writer, a teacher, a husband, a father, and a follower of Christ.

And wouldn’t you know it?  I have found others in my own situation.  I registered for the CS Lewis Retreat held in Navasota, TX early, knowing that it would be smack dab in the middle of a busy 1st quarter teaching my rambunctious seniors, but feeling it was high time to engage in person with authors I had only known in black and white thus far, and a hazy coterie of folks who had been touched by Lewis and I knew were out there somewhere and not just on WordPress and Blogger.  Who were the faces behind the fingers tapping at those keyboards?

“So how did you get into Lewis?” Andrew Lazo asked me as I found a seat in the lobby at Camp Allen Retreat Center in Navasota Texas.

I waxed semi-lyrically a rather incoherent reply.

Andrew seemed to get the gist.  And he must have also seen an undercurrent of pleading in my voice and eyes, as in “Did I make the right decision to take a plane and come here?  I’m not here with anybody.  There just seemed to be this necessary pull to…to trust that it wouldn’t be a waste of ti–…”

“Well, it’s great to have you here.  You’re home, my friend.  Welcome home.”

And that was pretty much the whole retreat, folks.  Just one interaction with “home” after another.  Further up and further in.

The primary focus of the retreat centered on Lewis’s The Great Divorce, an allegorical novel about a purgatorial bus ride to the lowlands of Heaven.  Speakers such as Joseph Pearce and Louis Markos expounded on the novel and its understanding of the true nature of sin and its application for us today, especially as (as many were in the audience) writers, teachers, and scholars.  A writer’s track featured Diana Glyer, author of The Company They Keep: Lewis and Tolkien as Writers in Community.  Using Lewis and Tolkien as models, she explained differences and writing styles and importance of recognizing our own styles and playing to their tune instead of the ideal tune we wish to fit ourselves into.  I had the good fortune of arriving early on Thursday and getting to know Diana and her 10 year old daughter Sierra.  Sierra was mid way through a novel with an unmistakable cover which immediately identified the author for me: The Pearls of Lutra, by Brian Jacques, the famous creator of the Redwall series.  So we ended up having a wonderful discussion about hares, squirrels, mice, otters, and the difficulty of mastering mole speech (as in “Burr-oi, soir, oim gurtly afurred of villy-ans.”).  Lancia Smith led a hosted group focusing on CS Lewis and our approach to prayer which was revealing and refreshing.

A highlight for me was Bag End Café, led by Andrew as a sort of open mic night for the retreatants.  Original poetry was read, songs were sung, music was played, and if the cookies and other assorted goodies, as well as the wine and beer, didn’t make you feel like you were sitting in the Green Dragon, I don’t know what else would have.  A few of us continued to burn the midnight oil when others had left, leading to a few more hours of horrible punnery, bad jokes, and multiple toasts to whoever and whatever.

Friends were made quickly and permanently.  A woman named Lani and I shared our stories over coffee.  Lani was friends with Lancia, who introduced me to William, who sat at lunch with Kathleen who pulled me into a fascinating conversation about cathedral architecture with Steve, which resonated with Katie, who introduced me to Thomas, and then there was that great conversation with Crystal, and …you get the picture.  Everywhere and anywhere, conversations abounded and fed our hearts, minds, and spirits.

The Ad Deum Dance Troupe lent movement to many emotions and insights unvoiced in a beautiful performance which made me forget the pain in my knee and just revel in unspoken story.

Thus, after a full weekend of almost too many expectations fulfilled, it was time to say goodbye.  Stan Mattson, president of the CS Lewis Foundation (and may I take this opportunity to just rename him King Frank, as humble, forthright, and good-natured as that character was in The Magician’s Nephew?) led us in an old folk song entitled “Will Ye No Come Back Again,” a fitting, quite emotional end to our time together as our voices (including my reedy tenor) intermingled with a sense of true fellowship and completeness.

I left with a heart a thousand times lighter, with grace and a sense of purpose I haven’t known for a long while.  And with, as the theme of the retreat indicated, a sense of eternity, in the here and now.

Dislocation

On Friday afternoon, I had in mind a relaxing night of pizza and wine.  It had been a busy week, with a full week at school and visiting family from out of town.  I felt it quite reasonable to have some quality time with Erin and Rowan, relaxing in a now empty house and void of any school responsibilities until then following Monday.

My left knee had other ideas, apparently.  Just entering into the house, and setting some grocery bags down, and slipping off my sneakers, I immediately collapsed in gut-wrenching agony as my left knee popped out of its socket and went off exploring the left side of my leg, ripping and straining ligament, tendon, and cartilage along the way.  A sense of shock ripped through me as well, a foreboding realization a split second before the pain hit “Oh, no, not again.”  I was no stranger to the pain which followed, having twenty years ago experienced the same agony in my right knee.  But again, that was twenty years ago as a precocious sophomore in high school.  Only two years away from 40, I once again felt pain which can only be described as excruciating.  To give you some scope of magnitude, an orthopedic once asked his patient, a middle aged woman, what hurt more, a dislocated knee or having a baby?  The woman actually had to pause a bit and think before she replied, “The knee.  Definitely the knee.”

My wife called 911.  My 17 month old son was thankfully out of eyesight, but I could hear his cries of wanting to know what was happening to “Dah-deee.”  EMTs loaded me up onto a stretcher, injected me with morphine, which at least took a slight edge off the pain, and took me to the nearest hospital.

My adrenaline was pumping, but my hand was getting tired.  See, I was using my left hand as a brace against my knee cap so it wouldn’t slide any further.  With each bump in the road, my knee will jolt just a little and a wave of tension would run through my whole body.  My one thought was “Get this thing back in!”

Which thankfully happened, about a half hour later.  An ER doctor came into my sectioned-off area and ironically asked “And how are you today?”  I looked down at my knee and nearly glared at him, but my gratefulness at his impending ability to relieve my agony had me merely shudder out a grim “Could be better.”  I asked for more pain medication, and he looked bemused and commented that “The 10 cc’s we have already given you would have rendered me unconscious!”  But he conceded and gave me a slight bit more before he took my left kneecap in one hand, and just like twisting off a cap of bottled root beer, he popped my kneecap back in place.

That was four days ago.  I’ve been relegated to couch potato status, propped up and splinted in a knee brace, and whacked out with some heavy pain medication that makes me sleep like a log.  One of those nice mossy dead logs in the middle of the forest with lichens covering it and a family of mice in the middle.  I have trouble getting around on crutches.  My wife has been the saint of the household, undertaking everything that needs to be done, from taking out the trash to changing little Rowan’s diapers.  My gratefulness often turns into a guilt complex as I look into her exhausted eyes.

I’ve actually been dreading this time, as the pain somewhat subsides and the reality of my situation dawns upon me.  It is time to process, to face this new hurtle and the new challenges that lie ahead.  And this is falling upon a person who in a split second would rather turn on the TV and veg out to utter banality, or scour the internet for virtually any distraction, or, in the best scenario, pick out a good book and get lost in someone else’s narrative except my own.  But this is also falling upon a person who cried out to God in the midst of utter agony and said “Lord, please turn this into something good.”

I already knew a major change was in store when I collapsed, and not just a physical one.  I had been the hamster on the wheel again, running a hundred miles an hour, but getting nowhere fast.  Like the name o this blog suggests, I was the Wandering Tree, constantly looking for a way to move sideways when I should have been reaching up.  The cycle was tiring, I was feeling fatigued in mind, body, and spirit.  I resisted times of quiet, filling it instead with more noise, more activity, more stuff than I could handle.  The good gifts of God started being taken for granted: my health, my family, my house, my friends, my job.  I chocked it up to my personality, and while it is true that the good Lord takes pity on the nervous, jittery types like me, sometimes the one thing we need is to stop being nervous and jittery, put the brakes on, and let God show us what we need to see.  And the mirror which God holds up is often one I least want to look into.

Dislocation.  Not just my knee, but often my life.

The name of my injury doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  It’s not like its cousin, subluxation, which is a partial dislocating of a joint- where the joint goes back in on its own after figuring out it is not where it should be.  Subluxation sounds like it could be anything, perhaps even relating to some sort of accounting.  Dislocating is straightforward and to the point:  “not in right location.”  There’s no skirting around the reality.  Something is out of whack, literally out of joint.

And it hits all my vulnerable points: it was sudden and unexpected, it left me helpless and in need of others’ assistance.  I was stripped of my ability to ignore weakness, to soldier on in my relentless pursuit of whatever.  And it hurt, real bad.  Real bad.  And the fear of that pain coming back sometimes freezes me where I stand (or lay, anyway).

So whither to now?  What about school, upcoming projects, trips out of state, family, the holidays?  Well, perhaps it is good that these things are up in the air.  Maybe I need to dislocate from my expectations, and allow blessings as well as tragedy to come by surprise.  Maybe I need to keep my eye on the moment, and not worry.  After all, people have been coming out of the woodwork- people I haven’t spoken to in ages- wishing me well, and offering prayers toward my recovery.  My classes are running well without me for the moment.  That’s a sign in and of itself.

No real epiphanies have been forthcoming yet, just inklings.  I pray that I take the time to linger on these inklings, to allow whatever wisdom to dawn upon me slowly, like the first rays of sun through a foggy misty forest.

Now it’s about time for that slice of pizza…

Poem: Incarnation from the Weight of Water…

 

Incarnation from the Weight of Water: A Pebble’s Response to Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’

 

The ocean loves like a terrible father

The rushing roars and pounding above bringing us up to the darkling plain;

A slap turned to foam, the hiss of retreat.

A stripped froth sheet curls back to reveal

 

We as stones and pebbles left behind,

Jagged and curled over, tossed up from the depths:

Sediment tapping sediment

A cold breeze and the click and scrape

Of alienated beings jostling back toward the sea

Anxious for the pressure and weight of the known and familiar.

 

Morning comes.  Overhead, we hear the sea gulls call, the wind carrying

Their cries to less dangerous places,

Keeping afloat plaintive questions left unanswered or answered

Until silence falls from azure sky.

 

We in peace are left to open,

the salt spray a ghostly white shimmering

Weaves wings onto our cracked,

Stinging, mineral backs:

The unfurling a second birth;

The wet sand spotted with shells our delivery blanket,

 

Our new father the simple weight of breeze on our shoulders.

On Owen Barfield- Insightful Sources

I briefly need to share some illuminating videos I have come across on Owen Barfield, a member of the Inklings, though not as celebrated or recognized, perhaps, as JRR Tolkien or CS Lewis.  This is unfortunate in a way, Lewis once said of Barfield he was a friend “who challenge[s] and prod[s] one to a new understanding,” and who “could not speak on any subject without illuminating it.”   G.B. Tennyson, a longtime friend of Barfield, and Malcolm Guite, poet, priest and teacher at the University of Cambridge, offer insightful commentary into Barfield’s work, which include treatises on Poetry, the Imagination, Meaning, and Language.