Sunday, March 30, 2014

Precious and Painful

Life is precious and wonderful.  

I learned that lesson again this week, a week of turmoil, grief, and new beginnings.  

A good friend, suffering from a deadly, debilitating disease, moved on out of this world, taking charge of his life, and saying his good byes, and teaching us about life, its joys, and the wonderment of each day.  His final days offered new lessons to me about courage, and what one person can achieve in their life, about relationships, and the sacredness of a simple act of kindness.

I never got to express everything I feel about him, but then, we never do.  Life is like that, never having enough time to really fully communicate what another person means to us, how precious is our relationship with someone.  Too often, we live in the moment, and dance around the profound, the universal truth of the gifts others bring into our lives.  

A family member ended their life, leaving us with deep questions, and the pain of sudden grief, paradoxes, and the reopening of old wounds, and old questions about life.  Pain wracked my heart, bringing me closer to family, and reminding me of the importance of how we all need to care for and parent the survivors.  Two young children now don’t have a mother, but they do have our family, and we have a deeper appreciation of the time that we have with each other.

I helped a young man being released from prison.  I walked with him out of the prison gate, having him hear that metal slam behind him, and I drove him into the rest of his life.  Five years behind bars, ten years of foster care, two failed adoptions, the emptiness of no one visiting him these last five years. 

We loaded up all of his worldly possessions into my car, and drove off into the early morning gloam, the heavy rain attempting to drown our joy of that moment, and the prospects of a bright life ahead for this young man.  

We greeted the dawn at the beach, his first view of the ocean in five years, his first hour of only the sound of the wind and the waves, not sharing the dawn with twenty five other inmates in a prison dorm.  

There was ice cream with breakfast, and buying a new book by his favorite author, and a long drive through the forest, where each turn in the road offered yet another view of the world, without bars and fences.  

We dealt with bureaucracy, mind-numbing forms and questionnaires, more waiting, and more interviews.  Yet, in all that, I witnessed his courage, his determination to move ahead, and begin his new life.  He knew where he was going, and he was prepared to forge ahead, on his own at last.

Through his eyes, I saw the world anew, and got a glimpse of what opportunity and hope can mean for one’s soul.  When all things are possible, and when you now have freedom to move ahead, and to take your first steps into a new world, to create your life, and move towards your dreams, then life is sweet and amazing.  

I walked with him, sitting in the dank waiting rooms of the probation office, transitional housing, the world of food stamps and public assistance.  I felt the cold stares of the security guards and the bureaucrats, their unfeeling hands as they searched me, judging me as a suspicious troublemaker, labeling me without knowing me.  This was just another day of institutional life for my young friend, and he flashed me a grin, letting me know that you can endure the labeling, the indifferent bureaucrats, and mind-numbing waiting, because today was his first day of freedom.  

At dinner, we toasted his freedom, and the future that he now held in his hand.  He chatted with the waitress about looking for work, about being young and moving to the big city.   He laughed and grinned at the idea of a menu, and a linen table cloth, and a candle on the table, real silverware and real plates.  And, when the giant piece of chocolate cake was too much for him to eat, he laughed at the idea of taking the rest home to his new room, a midnight snack just for him, to eat it all by himself, his first night sleeping alone in five long years.  

This week offered me many lessons, and many voices on how life is precious, and wonderful, and not to be taken for granted.  In all of this, I played many roles, and was called upon to be the best of friends, the best of uncles, and the best of the driver and companion of a young man whose world was opening up, his life ready to fully bloom in the glories of the coming spring.  


Neal Lemery 3/30/2014

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dancing Down The Road


Morning radio talks on, all the local stuff,
garage sales and obits, next summer’s home grown fair,
country song blaring loud, left foot tapping,
smattering of rain dancing cold, across the glass.

Left I turn, past yellow dog espresso,
old yellow tail wagging as I pass, 
the chicken that owns this road every time I go,
hiding in the barn, away from March wind. 

Crow dance, hop and soar,
crying into that sun, holding on
bright and shiny, crow treasure
held tight against the world.

Tree tops reaching high, dancing in the breeze,
spring growth still held tight
against late winter chill,
tomorrow's storm coming down the line—
hope I’m home before it breaks.

Son’s college town comes up, just on time,
right at the light, off this road, at last;
truck man, riding my butt, rushing on by,
snow covered logs to the mill, then back, three times a day.

Back in the woods, faller's saw loud, 
another one falling, sawdust in a cloud,
big tree dances, then rolling down,
tomorrow’s truck, tomorrow’s road, same-o, same-o.

Early here, son still in class,
Time for a cup, a break from the road,
outside winds against the glass
Espresso steam and music pulse strong.

College man deeply reading,
pulling out laptop, fingers in motion
Brain wheels moving, ideas flowing,
term paper starting, coffee cooling.

Soon to lunch, to meet my boy
college man, day's classes done,
catching up, seeing how he's grown,
his brain, his life, all fourth gear motion.


Then back to the road, just in reverse,
log trucks, empty, flying fast, before the storm
Afternoon radio, now this month’s war, getting worse.
Duets sung, with old friends’ songs,
home soon, young man tales to tell.

Winter storm comes, hitting hard,
Not quite light, truck driving man, he’s already awake,
wind and rain, I find my pen,
coffee made, my poem awaits.


Neal Lemery, 3/7/2014






Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Letter To My Son

March 2, 2014
Dear Son:
I struggle with this language. Greek has seven words for love. We have one. Often, what I really want to say doesn’t have a word that fits. Often, the better word is in another language. What I really want to say is still inside of my guitar, waiting for my fingers and my lips to get into gear, and write a really good song.
The best things in life don’t suddenly appear. They quietly show up, and slip into your life, until, one morning, over coffee, you realize they are there. The best things don’t make a lot of noise, and don’t draw a lot of attention. Yet, they become part of the foundations in your life, just part of the granite that you build your life on.
And when you need that strength, that presence of those things in life that are truly good, truly part of your heart, you realize that they are simply there, and have become a big part of who you are, and who you want to be, that what you’ve been dreaming about, has softly become a part of your life.
You quietly came into my life. And, looking back, I realized you were now part of my life, part of who I was, and who I was becoming. And, to be part of who I will become later on.
Living my life is sometimes like a jigsaw puzzle, looking for that particular piece, searching out patterns, trying to find a match, so that things that don’t fit together, can fit together. Often I don’t see the whole picture, until some pretty big pieces of the puzzle come together, and then, I get it. I see what I’ve been working on, what is really going on.
I was helping you, yet in that, I saw myself, and figured out some things that I needed some help on. But, that is how life works; helping others helps the helper, especially when you don’t realize what is going on.
In watching you work through the tasks you have had to get where you wanted and needed to go, I saw my own journey, and gained perspective on what that time in my life was like for me, and how I managed. I saw you struggle, and I gained wisdom on my own struggles. You gained wisdom, and shared it with me. In that, you held up a mirror and I saw myself, in ways I hadn’t noticed before.
Around my birthday each year, I try to take some time to “count my gold” in my life, to take inventory, and to reassess. Who am I? What am I becoming? Am I on the right path?
Seeing you on your path, hearing of your adventures, watching you face your challenges and move on with your life, realizing your dreams, brings a big smile to my face. You share all that with me, and bring me into your life, opening your heart.
That is a great gift, to me.
You may think I give a lot to you, and that what we have between us is a one way street, all flowing to you. But, the street goes both ways.
You show me courage, determination, how to love one’s self and strive to walk towards your dreams and challenges, shoulders back, ready to face the day head on. You show me the joy in challenging one’s self, and in going out in the world with determination, with strong values.
You don’t take no for an answer very easily. You question, you challenge obstacles, and you look for solutions.
And, I learn from that. I take notes. I look at who you are and who you are becoming, and I mirror that back to me, and assess who I am , and where I am going, and who I am becoming.
I take a bit of your strength, your energy, your mojo, and I grow it inside of my heart, and I try to share it with others. You probably do that with me, and what you get from me. But, this is a two way street, and we both are challenged and we both grow.
I expect both of us to be challenged in what we are to each other. I expect us to butt heads, to argue, to struggle at times. In that, we both become stronger, and we both have to confront who we are inside, and what our relationship really is. Yet, that is the power of a healthy relationship.
A real, a strong relationship has those struggles. Such a relationship will only grow stronger, and deeper. Out of those conversations comes strength, and a knowing, a deeper understanding of who each of us truly is, deep inside. Such a relationship makes each of us journey deep into our souls, and truly realize who we are inside.
I want you to have those struggles, and those challenges in the important relationships in your life, and with your relationship with your own soul. This is work, but it is good work. It makes you stronger, deeper, more complete.
Such is the journey of a real man, a complete person.
The Maori in New Zealand have a word for this value, this attribute of a healthy man, mana. The Aborigines of Australia, native Americans, and most cultures throughout the world have a sense of this value, this journey, this aspect of character.
This week, President Obama talked about this, as he talked about the crisis of African American young men, growing up fatherless and aimless. He shared about how he would smoke dope as a teenager, struggling with a father who abandoned him and his mother, about trying to find his way into manhood, as a Black kid on the streets, not sure where he wanted to go in life.
It is a familiar story, and an uncomfortable one. Most people don’t want to hear it. But, when the President of the United States tells that story, and says that it is his story, I hope that a lot of people listened.
It was a powerful speech, and his initiative is a powerful, thought provoking message to our country. He called for a conversation about how we raise kids, and how we need to bring boys into their manhood, and offer them a role in this world, and a purpose in their lives.
In my little town, heroin is the most popular street drug, and many of the people in jail are junkies. Our dropout rate in school is substantial, and a lot of young people are unemployed, under-employed, and not challenged to be a vibrant part of our community. Most of them are lost, too, just like the young men President Obama is talking about. The issues aren’t abstract, and they aren’t just a “national” issue. These are the issues in my neighborhood, too. The President could give the same speech right here on our Main Street, and just refer to what is going on here, right here in my “hood”.
Yesterday, I was a guest at “J’s” 21st birthday party (he is an inmate at the prison where I mentor young men), and we had a similar conversation. And, I saw such a hunger in the room, young men seeking direction and purpose in their lives, young men doubting their journeys and questioning their strengths. And, how they listened to the three mentors in the room, and to each other, talking about strengths and talents, and directions to take in their lives.
“J” wept at the words of others, words of value and admiration. And, when he spoke of his own strengths, and his own value in the world, we all wept.All of us needed that conversation, and needed to hear those words, and feel the pain and the love that was part of that conversation. I needed to hear a young man, talking about his values, and his strengths.
I felt honored to be in the room, to hear those words, to have that conversation, to talk about what really matters in life. And, if President Obama and “J” are on the same page, maybe this country is changing.
Son, I felt you in that room, your spirit of guidance and courage. You have journeyed in those questions and doubts, and you have found direction and answers, and wisdom.
And, when it was my turn to speak and offer wisdom and guidance to those young men, I heard your voice in my heart, and I felt your guidance and your wisdom in the room. And, I was filled with gratitude, gratitude for what you have brought to my life.
Thank you, son, for all of that.
Last summer, I shocked you, telling you that I don’t want a perfect son. I still don’t. But, I do want a son in my life who uses his brain, and is comfortable in his own soul, and who dares to question himself, and where he is going. I want a son who takes on a challenge, and who confronts his dragons and demons.
I want a son who isn’t afraid of saying no, who isn’t afraid of his weaknesses, and doesn’t run from the possibility of “failure”. I think the only time a person can “fail” is when you don’t even try.
I want a son who embraces his journey into manhood, and takes life’s challenges head on, and who is not afraid to ask for some tools and help as he goes about his work. I want a son who reaches out to the stars, and who lives life to the richest and fullest.
I’m not perfect either. I mess up, I run from challenges sometime, and I’m not the perfect father for you. I am on my own journey, and need to have my own challenges and make my own mistakes.
I’ve made mistakes in our relationship. I’ll make more. And, I expect you to call me on those, to be critical, to be a good observer, and a good communicator. I expect us to have rich dialogues about who we are, and who and what we are to each other. In that, our relationship will grow.
I’ll try to show you how I do my own journey in life, warts and all. I’l try to be open about my blunders and my errors, as well as my achievements and my successes. I won’t be perfect for you, but I will try to be honest with you. I’ll try to be open and transparent.
Let this journey continue!
Love,

Neal
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