Grieving and Growing


 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

The weeks before spring, before the world comes fully awake from its winter slumber, and bursts forth with flowers and growth and new hope for a bright and joyous planet, is a time of contemplation for me. And now is a time for me to grieve, as lately I have lost some good friends.

 

Once again, the world is teaching me, and today’s lessons are about loss and leaving, about life and what we are here for. Like everything else in the School of Life, I don’t have much say in the curriculum or the class schedule. Yet, it is my job to show up and learn the lessons of the day.

 

My friends’ time has come and they have moved on, leaving this world.  I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but then, I never am. I can rage and scream and cry, but all that is not very productive.  I still feel empty inside, and not really sure I know how to honor their lives.  I look at how their lives have shaped my own, enriching me, and given me tools and ideas from which I can be a better person, and make a bigger difference in the world. There are always lessons to be learned, and ways for me to improve myself.

 

The spaces they filled in my life are empty, though I try to fill that up with something creative, something that will make a difference in this world, as if to make up for what they aren’t doing in the world anymore.  But, that’s a fool’s errand.  I can’t fill in the gaps that they have left in my life, and I can’t duplicate what they did, or would be doing now if they hadn’t died. Each of us is special, unique. I don’t think we are here to be clones of those who have moved on. Each of us has our own work to do here.

 

In my own life, though, I can better my own life, being more of a giver, a teacher, a creator, and a lover of the world.  That’s what my lately departed friends would want too, if they were sitting here having a cup of coffee with me.  They’d be pretty insistent with me, not being people who would cry in their beer, or host a pity party on their untimely and undesired demise.  They wouldn’t want me to be doing that either.

 

“Get on with life,” I can hear several of them say. “You’ve got more work to do. Now, get to it.”

 

Look at what you have taught, what you have created with your hands, and how much love you have spread. That’s the directive I’m getting from the Universe, as I wake to another day, and wonder, once again, what I am here for.

 

It’s not my time yet to go.  So I must go on.  I must spend less time thinking about those tears in my beer, and get out into the world, get a move on.  The departed ones are still with me, in many ways, and I still hear their voices, and their ideas and wisdom.  They were in my life for many reasons, and it is up to me to discover all that they have given me in our all too brief time together on this planet.

 

I have much to learn. The days are getting longer now, and the sunshine is warmer. Spring is coming, and life is renewing. It is time for me to grow, and to love more than I have ever thought possible.

Changing My Attitude


 

–by Neal Lemery

 

A friend recently asked me how can we change, how can we transform ourselves from who we are, into something that is less of what we don’t like about ourselves. What will be our legacy? How will we be remembered? How can we become our best?

 

“When you die, only three things will remain of you, since you will abandon all material things on the threshold of the Otherworld: what you have taught to others, what you have created with your hands, and how much love you have spread. So learn more and more in order to teach wise, long-lasting values.  Work more and more to leave to the world things of great beauty. And love, love, love people around you for the light of love heals everything.”

— Francois Bourillon

 

Our creativity is a force, not only to fuel the light in our hearts, but to give light to others, to express thoughts that perhaps are inadequately expressed by words.  Rather, we communicate with the light in our souls. Our own creativity, our own ways of expressing love, are unique to ourselves, and we are in control of that process, that message that we choose to share.

 

“But should you continue to be a respectful and helpful neighbor to her? Yes you should.  Your behavior should reflect who you are, not who she is.”

–Advice columnist Ask Amy

 

“We have to change our thinking.

 

“…how to move forward into the future in such a way as to not leave the past behind, to once and forever destroy the idea that to live one kind of life meant shedding the other; and to find some productive balance between growth and violence, between destruction and regeneration.”

–Bobby Matthews, quoted in The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, (2019) by David Treuer

 

Each of our journeys is unique, wholly owned by ourselves, and what we learn from this, and how we choose to express our knowledge and our wisdom is ours alone to communicate and share.

 

Today, I am a different person from who I was yesterday.  And, tomorrow, I will again be different, changed, transformed by today, and tomorrow, and also all that is in my past, my origins, the society in which I have lived my life.

 

The past is part of me, yet I can choose how I let it be a part of me, how it may be the cause of who I am, and who I am becoming.  The past is a teacher, and, at times, a guide, but it is not my god, it is not directing me, nor does it command me to follow a certain path.  There are many paths to wisdom and knowledge, and I am able to choose the paths that will best shape and enlighten my own journey.

 

I choose to build community, to find strength, determination, purpose, and resiliency.  In seeking others to be my compatriots and fellow journeyers, the question of where we each have come from seems to matter less and less to me.  More important is the direction that we are going.

 

“Bending to a common purpose is more important than arising from a common place.”

David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present.

 

3/4/1019

Thoughts On Creativity


 

— Neal Lemery

 

“Creativity is just connecting things.  When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

— Steve Jobs

 

Creativity is a door to be opened, letting in fresh air, ideas to be rearranged, reordered, pursuing new ways, the old redone.

 

Becoming Evolving Changing Growing Progressing — a human being, not a human doing

Artist Creative Painter Musician Nurturer Convener Grower Planter Weeder Harvester Naturalist Scientist Poet Writer Observer Listener Sensate Kind Intuitive Patient Tolerant Righteous Advocate Teacher Healer Mediator Verbal Curious Student Activist Doer Changer Leader Introvert Parent Child Partner Journeyer Traveler Understanding Compassionate Inquisitive Thoughtful Watchful Mindful

Looking at it from all angles, taking a different perspective, a fresh viewpoint

Not satisfied with others’ opinions and thoughts

Asking why, again and again

Enjoying the stillness, before the answer

Not the easy way out, the obvious

Taking the road not taken

Hearing the different drummer

 

“…

 

“For what is man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.”

 

“My Way”, sung by Frank Sinatra  (Songwriters: Claude Francois/ Gilles Thibaut/ Jacques Revaus/ Paul Anka. My Way lyrics © Warner Chappell Music France, Jeune Misique Editions, MBG Rights Management.

 

Space will open up, allowing the mind to breathe, to ponder, to be still.  And, in that stillness, ideas which have been floating around, coming close, can be allowed to come into me and settle, to take form, and find expression, becoming thoughts.  They will find form, and allow themselves to weave and dance with other ideas, new creations, almost ready to take on a name and an identity.

 

“As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming . . . ’cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

“The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.”

“And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, on the poet, Ruth Stone

 

I dare to be different, to think outside the box, or not even believe in boxes, to imagine the “unbox” or the “anti-box”. I strive to celebrate my differences, to be and act different.  Just me, without the need for others, for their defining of the creative, the becoming imagined, the shaper of the creation. It is enough for all that to be within and through me; the undefinable.

The Muse will come.  The Muse has come in the past, and is present, or close enough to be felt in this here and now. I am merely the provider of the space, the place, the keeper of the kindling awaiting the match.

I am often only the vessel, the instrument, the mover of the pen or the brush, the picker of the guitar, the hand, the embodiment of the vibrations, the something through which the work is passing through.

And that is enough, in a moment. I am a holder of a space, that which embraces and gives shape and movement, the true expression to that which is moving through me in a certain space and time.

 

 

February 13, 2019

 

A Day of Kindness


 

–by Neal Lemery

 

I had a big dose of soul medicine and human kindness last week.  The experience restored my faith in humanity and the power of unconditional love. I saw my community at its best.

A friend invited me to Homeless Connect, a community effort to provide basic needs to those among us who find themselves without shelter and other necessities.

The weather was bitter. Cold winds blew and temperatures were in the 20s at night. It wasn’t so rough that the local warming shelter would be open, but it was still promising to be a miserable night.

My task was to be the greeter and the poll taker as folks left.

“Did you get what you needed?” and “What could we do better?”

I met a steady stream of people, people of all ages and circumstances.  I didn’t know their stories, and that kind of personal information was thankfully unwanted.   We simply welcomed everyone who showed up and took care of basic needs. The red tape of bureaucracy was nowhere to be found. We did keep track of how many people came, as those without shelter are nearly invisible in our culture.

I saw a lot of smiles. Their pets were cared for, vaccinated, and fed. They had a hot meal and haircuts, were tended by health care providers, and connected with services by nearly every social service agency in town. They could pick up clean, warm clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, shoes, coats, tarps, and tents.

They made connections, not just with people and agencies who could offer a helping hand, but also with each other.

I saw connections made and strengthened with friends, family, an abundance of job prospects and housing tips. There was a spirit of fellowship and camaraderie filling the church gym where we had all gathered.

People were helping people, giving a helping hand, a ride, ideas and where to get help for a particular problem, connecting with others who cared.  There was dignity and love.

It was an afternoon of suspended judgement and the absence of loudly voiced opinions and political rhetoric, blaming and stereotyping.  Instead, it was a time of getting the right size of winter coat, a sleeping bag, a bag of food for someone’s dog, a haircut, a hot meal, and a tip on a decent, safe place to pitch a tent.

Everyone helped everyone else.  No one left without something to help them take better care of themselves, make their lives a little easier, and a feeling that they were an important part of the community.

Community.  That was the unpublished message of the day.  People had generously donated the food, clothing, bedding, pet care, medical care, and an afternoon of services to reach out to and help their fellow community members.

There were great conversations, interactions on problem solving and connecting people to each other, sharing resources and knowledge, being human and acting with kindness and compassion.  There was respect.

The sun moved lower and the cold wind off the mountains pushed deeper through my coat, reminding me that night was coming.  The people I was talking with were slowly drifting away, off to spend this night sleeping on the ground, with maybe only a tarp, a tent, and a sleeping bag to ward off the frosty air, and the loneliness of yet another night without permanent shelter.

I struggled to relate, to comprehend their lives.

I knew that I had a warm home to return to when my volunteer shift came to an end. There would be family to greet me, a hot meal on the stove, a comfortable chair, a good book, a warm, clean bed, and a bathroom with hot water and clean towels. I would not have to move on when the sun came up, putting all of my possessions into a plastic garbage bag, and maybe a backpack, and wondering where my next meal was coming from.

Also at home would be my assumptions about life, about meeting a person’s basic needs and how people live in our community.

I assume a lot, yet I’m complacent, ignorant about how so many people in our community live, what they don’t have, and what they can expect in the days to come. I find myself too often acting blind to the dilemma of such need in a society where some are wealthy, and there is an abundance of necessities, yet out of reach of so many.

For that afternoon at least, there was compassion, service, charity, and a common fellowship of people helping each other, of making lives more comfortable, more bearable. Another cold winter’s night was coming, and dedicated community members had made a small effort to help ease people’s circumstances, maybe helping them step forward into better times.

I learned, again, that in our humanity, it is not difficult to act with kindness and compassion. If I suspend judgement and comparison, if I try to walk a mile in another’s shoes, then I can look at the world with greater understanding.

And, I can renew myself, and again be connected to the true purpose of our lives.

 

2/4/2019

Exploring Toxic Masculinity


 

 

–by Neal Lemery

 

What is it to be a man in these times?

There are a lot of mixed messages, and outright confusing and contradictory “principles” and models for behavior. It is easy to get lost in the wilderness of our social contract.

The “#MeToo” Movement and the rhetoric and behavior of popular politicians and popular culture figures send conflicting messages. One is often left confused about what is accepted, what is appropriate moral behavior and thinking. Political and religious leaders, who should be exercising healthy leadership and conversation about these issues, are themselves in the center of the storms of outrage, of being called out for their own transgressions and immoral acts.  And, their failure to be effective spokespersons for what should be healthy masculinity.

For many of them, there seems to be no consequence for their words or their actions.

The goalposts of morality and decency seem to have fallen into quicksand.

For most of my life, the most popular “templates” for manhood involved being the tough, aggressive guy, who was focused on “scoring” with women, drinking, smoking, and pushing others around in order to get his way. Aggression and being emotionally cold were the benchmarks of a true man, the battle flags of male privilege.

The “soft” man was seen as weak and sissified, certainly not a real man.  The consequences for that were brutal: verbal and physical abuse, ostracism, and being branded as “not a real man”, inadequate, a failure. Shame and guilt were powerful weapons to destroy a boy’s soul.

When I was growing up, the real question of the day was “how tough am I?” The unforgiving world of the school playground was also the world of work and the world I grew up in and raised a family.

That methodology of raising boys unfortunately remains a part of our culture today, often perpetuated by our language, marketing, politics, and acceptance of the idea that such thinking and acting are just who we are, inadequate and deficient as men. A big challenge I faced when I was raising my kids was to not repeat the harmful actions and words of those who raised and influenced me as a kid.

Treating others with kindness, being artistic and creative, being one of those “sensitive, soft men”, was subject to being thought of as not a real man, not “macho”, and certainly not a role model.  Unless, of course, you wrapped yourself in the armor of a warrior, and couched your rhetoric in the language of the soldier, the athlete, and an all-around tough guy. Only a few savvy men were able to pull that off.

I struggled to find a new template, new words, and new actions. The role models for that were few and far between. Yet, I am grateful for their courage, and for showing me that there was an alternative path to masculinity.

A lot of that attitude of intolerance, of cloaking one’s self in armor, so no one could see your tenderness, or get close to your kind heart, has eased off lately, in spite of the power and tenacity of the “old thinking”. Change is scary, and acting differently leads one into uncharted waters, marked with fear and self-doubt. Even toxic familiarity offers comfort.

Today, I see young men publicly being attentive, kind fathers. They speak out about treating others with kindness and compassion.  They not only “talk the talk”, but they “walk the walk”.

Expressing your creativity, and being open about one’s fears and uncertainties, and struggles to be a good person are becoming widely accepted and appreciated. The times, they are a changing, and that is good news.

The good role models, the brave men who cracked open their own armor, and were able to express their worries, their doubts, their insecurities, have taken a lot of heat.  They have often been shamed and derided, mocked and scorned.  Years later, when we take another look at what they’ve said and what they have done, what they have revealed about their innermost selves, we often just take such courage for granted, and assume that we as a society have always explored those issues, and those personal stories, with sensitivity and appreciation.

We live in challenging times, but we always have.  Engaging one’s own courage, determination and self-confidence to know and live your own core values, to truly be yourself, to be genuine, has always been challenging.  You need to take risks, and to step out on shaky ground.  Each one of us has those doubts, those uncertainties inside of us.

“What is it to be a man?” I still ask myself.  Each day offers a new challenge, with obstacles both inside of me and in our society.  I often think it is easier if I just kept quiet, if I just put these questions aside, and focused on something else, anything else, for the day ahead.  But, healthy masculinity, true manhood, calls me to take on these questions, and to take a hard look at myself, and to take steps today to be a real man.

 

 

–1/23/19

Anticipation


 

 

The mid-day sun still low,

The sky’s blue subdued, mellow—

Fog and mist rise from the river

Swirling amongst the moss, the limbs, river rocks, and hills,

A winter’s day dance.

 

Background for the naked trees, gray and white bark

Camouflage in winter mode,

Against ever-green dark—

the metallic river soloing in the still,

Its aria loud after winter rains.

 

Winter’s chill not quite done,

Last year’s leaves still on the ground.

Weeks still to go, hoping for snow,

Long icicles, crunchy steps on icy mud,

Being dressed all in white.

 

I know hints of spring hang in the air,

Only because I’ve seen this play many times,

Each day’s sun only a minute longer,

My third eye beginning to notice–

Almost blooms of alder, witchhazel, cedar

Needing just a little more sun, some more

Sunny days to come.

 

–Neal Lemery, 1/12/2019

 

 

Passing On


 

 

They say life’s a journey and time moves on

And lives end and and now you are gone.

When someone goes, it’s never on my schedule

And I can mourn, I can scream, and

I can cry.

But our lives move on, and my friend has passed.

 

They say your time had come, your work was done

You were letting go, and moving on.

You let me know in many ways that this was goodbye,

And that was fine, this was what would be—

And life goes on, so the well-wishers say.

 

I’m not done with you, I scream in my head

In the darkest of my thoughts, not wanting to know

You are gone, that you have passed, before I was willing

To say good-bye.

 

You are right, I’ll hear you say,

Seeing a spark of light in the darkest of the night —-

The ache remains, the emptiness unrelieved,

Your absence is what I resent.

 

The path you made through life still guides my steps

Your smile, now just a memory—

Your voice still whispers in my ear

When the path gets rough.

You letting me know it will work out,

That I’ll know the way, the path will clear,

You still by my side, you still lighting my way.

 

—Neal Lemery 1/9/2019