Becoming


 

 

Change

Comes with each moment

Each wave on the beach

Changes

The beach

The observer

Itself

Transforming all there is

In different ways

Renewing, reforming, recreating—

Over time, the difference obvious

A new reality, a new experience

And from that, comes change, again.

 

Change is in our nature – it is what we do,

Who we are, beings in motion

Observing, experiencing, adapting—

Becoming something new, an evolving

Seeking our light, becoming who we are meant to be

Meant to becoming, again and again.

 

Our destiny is in the moment, in the changing, in the becoming—

I am

Ever renewing, ever changing

Ever becoming.

 

—Neal Lemery, 10/7/2018

Listening, With Respect


 

 

—Neal Lemery

 

I’ve listened to a lot of stories, especially stories of pain, trauma, embarrassment, and horror; people telling me the deeply personal, intimate, and heart-wrenching tales of their lives, unburdening themselves, or just sharing so that I could understand their lives better.

When I became a lawyer, the judge swearing in all the new lawyers reminded us that we new attorneys were also counselors at law, that we were healers of social ills and menders of the social fabric.

A friend of mine, a priest, kept reminding me that I, too, wore a collar and people came to me to make confession, and receive absolution and a sense of peace and healing.

“Forgiveness,” he would say, “is what we both offer the world.”

My professional life has involved a great deal of truth seeking and pursuing justice.  That work necessitates actively listening, involving more than wiling ears and a reasoning, analytical mind.  There is also heavy lifting for the soul, and one’s gut and heart.

One’s life experiences and one’s very essences of humanity are also in play.

And just when I think I am old enough, experienced enough, to have mastered my listening and my truth detection, life throws me a new curve ball, renewing my challenge to be the consummate and empathetic discerner of reality – the knower of Truth.

Everyone’s story, everyone’s reality and truth, is different.  Shaped by their experiences, their circumstances, their own truth is unique to them.  And whether I judge their story as subjective, relative truth, or objective, absolute truth, it is still their story and their reality.

And I filter their story through my own lenses, my own experiences and reality, both good and bad, often flawed and more self-serving that I am inclined to confess.  I’m a work in progress myself.

The wearing of the judge’s robe is too often only a symbol of the values of impartiality, truth seeking, and justice. Judging is, after all, an art and not a science.  Bias, prejudice, and intolerance aren’t left at the courtroom door.  Judges, after all, should see our own flaws.

Like the rest of America, I’ve been awash in the politics and story telling of seating our new justice of the Supreme Court.  That process should call upon our highest and most sacred ideals as citizens.  Lately, we’ve fallen far from that standard.

My senses have been flooded with profoundly emotional storytelling and speech making.

My own experiences, recollections and often buried memories of my own alcohol-infused youth have risen to the surface, adding intense anguish, empathy, and revulsion to what I am seeing on the TV news and reading in the media. The needed discussions and accountability work haven’t been at center stage.

The stories and the memories are disquieting, uncomfortable.  But they need to be told.  We as a society need to take on the traumas of sexual violence and over-indulgence of alcohol.  The issues and questions are vital social concerns that affect all our lives and the well-being of our society.

Like other personal and societal secrets and tragedies, these stories need to be shared and understood in the bright sunshine of thoughtful and compassionate conversations and meaningful discussions.

In their telling, and in the presence of empathetic listening, there can finally be a release and an understanding, even acceptance, of history that can empower us and begin to heal us, so we are able to move ahead. Their story can no longer be locked away and buried.

Hopefully, in the telling, and the sharing, the darkness fades and fresh bright light can offer some cleansing.  The festering wounds can drain and begin to heal.  We all deserve to heal.

We can offer each other the gift of catharsis, the purging of infection and disease, the enlightenment of confession and forgiveness.  The power of truth telling is an act of personal liberation, of empowerment.

Ending the silence is an act of disarming the abuser, a cutting of chains that have kept so much of our souls in captivity.  It is an art of taking back our power and our human spirit.

In that work, that telling and sharing, there is liberation, an act of self-affirmation.  When that work is being done, one gains a new sense of self-esteem and power over one’s life. It is a gift to yourself that does change your life.  It is an act of self-kindness and self-respect.

It seems easy for us to recognize the truth in another person’s story.  We are often quick to judge.  In recent years, that rush to judgement often is skewed by labeling, blaming, categorizing, and simply being mean and vindictive.  The polarizing, divisive lens of national politics artificially is shined on the story, encouraging us to quickly, and with little fact gathering or reason, qualify a tale as true or false.  We have polarized compassion and patriotism.

Such a twenty second sound bite approach ill suits the truth seeking that we would want others to apply as they listen to our own stories. Don’t we want the listener of our own tale to be compassionate, wise, and a healer of our fellow human beings?

I’ve learned, as a lawyer and a judge, to be not so quick to judge, and to not rapidly label or categorize.  Reality is complicated, and we can be inclined to edit and change our own stories. Each of our own viewpoints, our perspectives, are unique. Guilt, shame, self-protection, and ego all come into play so we can prepare to step out onto the stage and share our story, even if it will be told only to a trusted friend over a cup of coffee.

On the national political stage, where the stakes are higher, I think we often edit and rearrange and alter the story to attract a more receptive audience. We play the game of politics. Yet, the naked, raw truth can be brilliant and illuminated, shining through all the political and moral clutter. Bare truth can be frightening to the politicians, because of its purity and reality.  Real, pure truth is not playing the game according to the rules.

For some time, I mentored a young man, holding him close as a son.  He had a troubled, angry life, dealing with many problems and issues.  He felt worthless and unloved.  His soul pain bled all over his life.

One day, he and I took that pain on and explored his wound, looking for his truth. Years of shame, guilt and self-loathing stood in the way, but he persisted with profound courage and intestinal fortitude.  In all that muck, he found his truth and spoke it out loud, so we could better hear it. It was awful, horrific, heart-wrenching. But, his truth was his and he spoke it.

And, I listened and I believed him.  Believing someone’s story is so amazingly powerful and liberating.  Much of his pain and anguish began to be released. And the healing began for him.

I was reminded that day of the power of unconditional love.  And not the unconditional love of a listener, but that very special unconditional love he found that day for himself, that he really could speak and share his truth.

We have all hear true stories.  Honest, open heart surgery kinds of experiences, unadorned by excuse making, window dressing, and self-glorification.  We know it is true because our very being senses that.  Our soul knows it is truth.

“You will know the Truth, and it shall set you free.”  (John, 8:32)

I hope that we, as individuals, and as a country, can honor our respective truths, and in that recognition, find our common humanity.

 

–October 6, 2018

Painting


                        Painting Project

New over old

Fresh over stale

Bright over faded.

My brush, my roller, slippery wet

A little sloppy, drippy, noisy

Over faded dry, bright new color,

Fresh covering stale—

In the drying, turning even another color,

In the silence after I am gone—

Magic.

Second century of color

Of care

Old building

Repurposed

To be again

 a place to come together — just be together–

Community

Fellowship, camaraderie

A gathering of like-minded, like purposed,

Common need.

Rebuilding, reforming

Refurbishing, renewing

One coat at a time,

One gathering at a time—-

More than fresh paint on a wall—

Renewal.

                        –Neal Lemery, October 4, 2018

Smelling the Petrichor


 

That afternoon, I watched the clouds start to move in, like soldiers in a parade.  First the thin wisps, string like, faint white against the summer blue sky that was the hallmark of our warm and dry summer.

The grass crunched under my shoes as I made my way out to my favorite chair in the front yard, the place of lemonade sipping, book reading, and enjoying the bees, birds and summer afternoons.  Even where we had watered, the leaves of shrubs and flowers looked thirsty, wilting and brittle.

I tried reading my book, but I was soon lost in watching the weather change, thin white streaks, then horsetail clouds, looking more like breaking surf at the beach.  Popcorn clouds came next, all in a checkerboard, neatly separated by the blue border of sky.

Something deep inside of me, something primeval, told me to focus, and pay attention to this change, this moment in time.

White gave way to shades of gray, as the checkerboard thickened, and turned into ropey strands, making a basket weave pattern across the western sky.  The bright summer sun dimmed, turning to silver, and then a platinum blue, behind the new curtain of clouds.

The wind stilled, then freshened, and changed direction, as the afternoon parade marched by.  Faint odors of cut hay, newly harrowed dirt, and summer dried forest spiced up the air.  Even a bit of salt from the ocean ten miles away caught my nose, reminding me the weather was changing, and rain was on its way.

The wind shifted again, and more open blue sky appeared above me, and then more of the checkerboard and then the ripples of an ever thickening cloud cover.

My chair was a good place to practice my guitar, serenading the hummingbirds and late summer robins and sparrows, and sometimes the neighbor’s dog, who comes by often to visit, and bark when I play Johnny Cash. Today, though, the guitar strings were fussy, needing to be retuned again and again, as the air pressure changed, making all my notes go flat. My wooden barometer was falling, and I had to readjust.

After dinner, I returned to my chair, to enjoy my book again in the falling light of the evening, and to savor perhaps what was the last dry evening of summer. I wanted the rain, yet I didn’t want to let the summer slip out of my hands.

When it was finally too dark to read, I abandoned my post as the weather watcher of the yard, disappointed that I hadn’t felt that first drop of rain on my arm and my face, alive, almost electric.  The clouds had thickened, gray turning to black.

Just before bed, I checked again.  Still no rain.  The yard was silent in anticipation.

I awoke at two, stirred by a sound, something new. I felt called, a muted voice telling me to check it out.  Something had changed. It was time to pay attention.

As I opened the door, my nose came alive with the smell I’d been yearning for.  Alive, yet with some musk, something smelling dry but damp, both stale and fresh.

Petrichor.  The name of that smell.

“…the term was coined in 1964 by two Australian scientists studying the smells of wet weather — is derived from a pair of chemical reactions.

“Some plants secrete oils during dry periods, and when it rains, these oils are released into the air. The second reaction that creates petrichor occurs when chemicals produced by soil-dwelling bacteria… are released. These aromatic compounds combine to create the pleasant petrichor scent when rain hits the ground.” (livescience.com, 2013)

 

The word petrichor is created from joining the Greek words for stone and the blood of the gods. It is a word that is conflicted, just like what it tries to describe.  Inert, yet alive. Solid, yet flowing.

 

Deep in the lower reaches of my brain, the place where my ancestors’ voices can be heard, where I think ancient memories reside, there arose a sense of familiarity and comfort. Petrichor.  My ancestors knew it well.

And it was raining and I was satisfied, relieved. The deck and the leaves of the roses were wet and shiny, even in the dim light of the night. Fresh and new, coming alive.

The arrival of the rains mark the new year for me. September is a time of great change. The cool, wet weather, the start of school, the approach of the fall Equinox, harvest time, historically the beginnings of war.

Now is the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana.  It literally means the head of the year. This is the beginning of the agricultural year in the Mideast.  The tradition has been traced to the earliest times in Egypt.

The garden is alive again, leaves are full of moisture, the grapes are fattening and ripening in new found wetness. I’m coming alive, too. My creative juices are flowing, and I’m creating new art. The late summer doldrums are giving way to new energies and ideas.

It is time to grasp the possibilities of the new year. Have a good and sweet year!

 

–Neal Lemery, 9/13/2018

On Creativity


 

 

I’ve always felt that what I create isn’t really much about me. In what I do, the writing, painting, gardening, photography, and music, I feel that I am often only a conduit for what comes out of the word processor, the paint brush, the guitar, the camera lens, and the garden trowel.

I don’t “own” my creations; I just put them into a form for others to experience. And I certainly don’t want the responsibility for what people might think about my art, or how to react to it and apply it, or not, to their lives.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful way of expressing this idea:

“…my deep and lifelong conviction (is) that the results of my work don’t have much to do with me.  I can only be in charge of producing the work itself.  That a hard enough job.  I refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to police what anybody thinks about my work once it leaves my desk.” Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, (2015, p 123).

I’m just the curator, the presenter of an idea, a concept, perhaps a new way of looking and thinking about something.  It passes through me, and goes on to others. They can do what they will with the idea, the experience. Or not. It is out of my hands.

Looking at my art this way takes a burden off of me.  I’m really not responsible for what people do with my art, what they experience and where they go with it.  My job is to respond to the creative spirit in and around me, and create.

As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Just keep doing your own thing.”

 

–Neal Lemery, August 23, 2018

Renewal


 

 

Before me stood only a few–

Second step up, paint can and brush,

High above the entry way, up where no one would look,

Except we few painters, every generation or two.

 

I am a chosen one, honored to stand in this place, the air still, dusty with time —

adding a new color to the layers of time.

Those who came here before me  —

Their paint splattered fingers on mine, gripping the brush,

whisper bits of history to me in the hot afternoon air.

 

Some sixty years ago, the painter before me dreamed with turquoise,

Covering up the brown of the Depression, and the

Burnt orange of origin, back in 1912.

My turn now, renewal, out of new dreams, an old building.

 

He, too, thought of this place, its stories, as he dipped his brush.

How it came to be, out of the dreams of farmers and loggers.

A place to dance on a Saturday night,

Seeing friends, and sharing a meal,

Simply being together, maybe falling in love,

Building lives.

 

Since then, only spiders and a few flies, and dust,

The still air and silence of the old hall, broken by the rumbling of log trucks,

Milk trucks, and cars on the road nearby —

Daily lives, generations lived, driving by the Grange.

 

The first one, a carpenter, and his helpers —

Farmers, loggers, maybe a store clerk  —

Built this place with calloused hands.

Then the painters, each standing where I am, brush in hand.

Their voices now, in the stillness:

My turn now, to be its steward.

 

Standing on the second step, history in the layers,

I am number five,

Each one writing the same poem,

Hoping I’d show up

With fresh paint.

 

—Neal Lemery, August 6, 2018

 

Celebrating Fathers’ Day


 

 

Tomorrow is Fathers’ Day, and I know we are all expected to celebrate it. Fathers are special and should be honored on their special day.  It is supposed to be a day of wholesomeness, warm feelings, sentimentality, and unbounded familial love. That’s what all the Fathers’ Day cards say, anyway.

But, there’s a lot of mixed emotions, and turmoil under the surface of having the barbeque, giving a card, and a nice present.  Or, to be on the receiving end, and be thanked as a father in someone’s life.

There are so many strings attached, so many thoughts and memories that come to the surface, so many conflicting and unsettling experiences to sort through and try to make sense of. All the sentimentality and idealism can be a trap for the emotionally wounded, those of us who have other emotions and memories about fathers, the ones you can’t find in a Hallmark card.

And if Dad has passed away, or is otherwise absent in one’s life, there’s grief and the psychological jungle of things left unsaid, words that we regret, or words that we are desperate to hear or speak.  Those children have no place and no role to play in a day of a sentimental card, a barbeque, or a gift of golf balls.

We don’t talk about that emptiness, that pain, but we should.

What is a good father?  Even our cultural heroes and role models aren’t really what we had imagined, or thought of as solid, stable figures in our lives.  When my wife and I were raising my stepson, we watched Bill Cosby’s show, and I thought he was the good dad — sensitive, kind, compassionate, the kind of dad I wanted my son to emulate in his life.  Yet, that image of wholesomeness and stability has been dashed on the rocks of reality, and a conviction for predatory abuse and exploitation.

In my own life, I have seen stories and accepted history and experiences being altered by unsettling revelations, confessions, and recovered memories.  The charming and comfortable portrayals of healthy and good parents have shifted, from the fall of Dr. Huxtable as the all wise and kind father figure to the realization that real life isn’t always the story of Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best.

 

 

One thing that is absent in our society’s Fathers’ Day celebrations is a conversation about what is good fathering, and how we can strive to be better fathers, and better sons and daughters.  We need to look at new gifts to give on dad’s special day, other than a new tie, tools for the barbeque, or golf balls.

Good parenting is a skill, and we need a day to ponder that, and have a real conversation about being the great dad, and how we can build healthier families.

In reality, living in the world of truth really is better for me than fiction, the fantasized and idealized “perfect world” created by Hollywood and our society’s desire to sugarcoat our historical reality.

Though, part of me longs for the dream world of the idealized childhood, and the warm and fuzzy images of the ideal Fathers’ Day experience. Part of me wants the nice sweetness of Dr. Huxtable, Ward Cleaver, and Sheriff Andy Griffith to be part of my Fathers’ Day party.  But, those icons of healthy fathering aren’t in my reality, and I’ve hopefully learned how to separate the television fantasies from truth.

If fatherhood had a god, it would probably be Janus, looking both forward and back, showing us how those two perspectives can often be contradictory.  Life is messy.

My experiences as a father always involves looking back as my experience as the son, and realizing that much of my fathering work is shaped by how I saw my father parented me. I’ve had other men who parented me, too, sometimes in momentary blips of insight, compassion, and correction.  And, I’ve become increasingly grateful for those fathers who took it upon themselves to get my attention and offer some kindly, and often needed, direction and counsel.

Like Janus, I’ve looked back on that work and hopefully used that wisdom in my own work as a father.

I’ve mentored a number of young men who have needed some fathering and attention to the tough business of growing up in this world.  I’ve drawn upon my own experiences as a son, and as a father, and helped guide them through their own storms and battles.

The reward in that is to hopefully give them a better experience that I’ve had as a son, giving direction and guidance, without a lot of the harsh judgment and anger that can easily derail a young man in his journey.

I’m not the perfect father.  And, I certainly wasn’t the perfect son.  I’m content with that, but I also know that this work of fathering is really never completed, that there are always going to be opportunities to be fatherly, and to give to others what I have needed in my past.

If we are mindful of that work, and those challenges, perhaps that is what we should be thinking about on Fathers’ Day.

6/20/2018