Monday, December 28, 2015

The New Year Comes

The New Year Comes

“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.”

            The new year is almost here.  I’m ready for a change, to go with the new calendar on the wall.  Soon, there will be a new month, a new year, and the rest of winter.   But, I’ve been adrift, not quite able to put words to this feeling, this restlessness for looking at life in a new way, with new words.
            A new friend and I meet, sipping coffee milkshakes, as he tells me of his life and his hopes for the future.  He is full of optimism, and hope for a new beginning.  His life is changing, much for the better, as he distances himself from chaos and anger, to curiosity and new vocabulary. 
            He thinks I’m wise, and I can teach him much.  Truth be known, he is my teacher, my spiritual guru today. Like him, I need to free myself from old patterns, old demons, and look ahead. I need a new vocabulary, and fresh eyes to see the world unfolding before me. 
            “I want to explore so much,” my friend says. 
            I could easily define him as a failure, a cast off, for something he did several years ago.  His family has rejected him, and society has sent him to prison.
            He’s a prisoner, I thought, but really, he’s free now. He’s been released, and can now truly live his life.  One person’s idea of prison is another’s university of life. 
            A paradox. Yet, he feels free now, for the first time, to be who he wants to be, to stretch himself and move ahead in his life.  For the first time, he is with people his own age, making friends, going to school, and learning to write. He’s waking up every morning in a place where he is not beaten, screamed at, or kept away from the world. He’s escaped from the darkness of his family’s chamber of horrors, and has come into the light, joining the world as a real person. 
            He searches for words to express himself, and the words for his waves of emotion, all new to him.  This coming year is a new beginning for him, a gift to be opened and cherished, with words and emotions he has never known before. 
            We discover we are both gardeners, in every nuance of the word. Like me, he’s browsing the seed catalogs, and placing his order, dreaming of the coming springtime, where one plants and brings forth new life. He yearns to nurture the garden of his own soul.
            “Who am I?” he asks. 
            “Anything you want to be,” I reply.  “You can choose now.  The world is yours to explore.”
            And, not just for him, I realize.  It is my choice, too.  I, too, am in this world, and I also can make those choices and have those opportunities. We are both gardeners and poets, thinking of spring. 
            And we are both prisoners, of our thoughts, our old perceptions of the world and how we fit into the mold of what others expect of us, how they think we should act and think. 
            Like my buddy, I too can be free, and move on towards the coming newness and freedom of the new year, and be who I really want to be. 


Neal Lemery

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Few Hands of Rummy


            The week before Christmas is always hectic.  So much to get ready for, so many little errands, the to do list that doesn’t seem to stop.  And, part of me struggles with the short days and the long dark and cold nights.  There’s a big part of me that just wants to eat comfort food, ingest lots of sugar, and snuggle under a blanket with a mug of tea. 

            I  recently stopped by the nearby youth prison for my weekly visit with a guy.  No one has come to see him in the last four years, so I’ve been asked to come and say hi, be his friend, so he can gain some people skills.  Soon, he’ll be out in the world, and will need to be able to interact with the world. Spending some time with me is a start in all that.

            Once a week, we play cards.  He’s teaching me rummy.  I’m not sure of the rules, andI think we have our own version of the game going on.  He’s the teacher, a new role for him, and he’s starting to enjoy teaching this old man a few things. 

            The conversation is a little one sided.  He’s not used to company and making small talk.  He’s struggling with math at school, so keeping score in the game of rummy is good for him.  He’s making something in wood shop.  He’s keeping it mysterious, so I think its my Christmas present.

            I’m getting him a blanket for Christmas, one that features his favorite football team.  He mentioned he’d like that a few weeks ago. But, now he’s claiming he can’t remember what he asked me for Christmas.  I wouldn’t tell him today.  It’s a surprise, a part of the excitement of the season.

            Except for what he’s getting from the prison, and a local fraternal organization, no one else is getting him a present.   

He said he liked the Christmas card I sent him this week.  He mentioned it several times, but not finding the words he wanted to say.

            He showed me the card he was making for his grandma.  It was sweet, with a little Christmas tree and the ornaments, Charlie Brown style, made from a sheet of copy paper, colored with crayons, and hand blocked letters.  He’s sixteen now, but the card had the look of something from an art class a long time ago.  Yet, it was something from his sweet heart. I’m hoping I get one, too.  It would go on the frig, and I’d show it off to my friends and family. 

            “My gin rummy buddy gave that to me,” I’d say.  “He’s quite a guy.”

            We play a few hands, and discover we have an extra Queen of Clubs.  He doesn’t know what to do, so we change the rules and play 53 card, five queen rummy.  It really is our own game now.  We’re just making it up as we go along.

            The hour flies by.  We’re busy shuffling, dealing, laying down some runs, and adding up our points.  He’s beating me, big time. We don’t talk about much.  But, we don’t need to.  We’re just hanging out, two guys having a good time, playing some cards.

            “Are you having a good time?” I ask.

            “Oh, this is great,” he says.  “Yeah.”

            “I’m really glad you come to see me,” he says.  “Otherwise, I’d be all alone.”

            The other guys here are busy, and the room where we play can get pretty noisy.  But, my buddy is zeroed in on our card game, intent on adding up his points, and beating me. 

            “I’ll see you at the Christmas party next week,” he says. “And, don’t forget my gift.”

            I’ll get one from him, too.  But, he’s already given me the best present, the simple gift of an hour, a little conversation, and some hands of cards, and his face breaking out into a little smile.

            And, maybe that’s the best gift I could ever have for Christmas.


--Neal Lemery

Sunday, December 6, 2015

                                                Bringing In the Light

            I take so many things for granted.  And, I often think there aren’t many miracles in life, in the ordinariness of the day. That is, until we pay attention, until we make room for them to happen. 
            In the rush of daily life, I almost let this one slip past me, unnoticed.
He asked me to help build the campfire so he could get it just right.  Everyone was depending on him. It had to be perfect. This was his task, and he wanted to do it perfectly.  He’d never been asked to do this before.  It was the most anyone had every asked him to do.
Only men built fires, and wasn’t he just a boy?
We gathered his chosen sticks of wood, dry and perfect for his fire.  He picked up the kindling, methodically splintering it over his knee. Even the paper was torn just so, all arranged, ready for the match.
            We had to wait, a friend had to get the matches. We had some time, and I asked him about his campfires past, who had built them, what happened around them.
            It was small talk for me, until he spoke.  His voice got quiet, his eyes wet, his hands shaking. No, this was big talk, big stuff, big wounds.
Only a few campfires, only a few of the only good times in his past, what he could remember of them.  Most of childhood was just a fog; he couldn’t remember.
            He thought this fire would fail, it would not burn, and everyone here would think he was a failure.  It was the old familiar story, it was the ending that he expected. Wasn’t that the story of his life?
This was his fire, his first fire he had built. He wanted to say his dad would be proud of him, but halfway through the words, he choked, looked away, not able to say that, that dad would be proud.
            The matches arrived, and I handed them to him.
            “Light your fire, son,” I said. “You can do this.”
            There was a spark, a small flame that grew, catching the paper and kindling he had laid so carefully, his most important task ever in his young life.
            I asked him to blow on the small flame, to make it grow. And he did, a smile breaking across his face. 
            The fire, his fire, was ablaze, catching the big sticks, sending flames up high.
            “Good job,” I said.  “You did well.  I’m proud of you.”
            Those words, ones he had never heard before, filled the air, filled his heart.  The words he had never heard, until now.
            He nodded, not saying a word.  The fire crackled, as we let those simple words sink in, letting him really hear them.
He built the good fire, the fire everyone liked. Soon everyone crowded around to feel its heat on this chilly morning, to cook our lunch, warm our hands and our hearts. 
The others, the builder of the fire, and I sat around the fire, sharing our lunch, a few stories, our friendship. 
“Great fire,” they said.  “Thanks.”
He looked down at his shoes, and then at the fire, taking it all in, feeling the warmth of their praise, their thanks, warming his heart on this cold winter’s day.
His big smile lit up his face, and added more light to our day together.
            A miracle, in the coldest, most ordinary of places.  But that’s where miracles happen, when its cold and lonely, and you think your life isn’t all that special.
            We just need to be ready to let the light in. 

                        Neal Lemery, 12/6/2015