Changing Times


 

Change is all around me. I look outside and there is more than a hint of Fall in the air. Leaves are changing color, my garden is in harvest mode, and the air is cool and damp.

After a summer of unusual warmth and dryness, we have had some rain, and plants are reviving, coming alive again.

I turn the calendar to a new month. Summer vacations are ending, and there is a flurry of activities. Classes, meetings, events are happening. Community life is coming alive again. There are things to do and opportunities to grow.

Driving by my neighborhood school, I see it coming alive after the summer break. The parking lot is crowded, and families are heading inside to an evening welcoming, celebrating the opening of school. Excited, nervous little kids break into an enthusiastic skip as they walk into the school, parents smiling with pride.

Their child is starting school, and opportunity awaits. Anything is possible. I see that in their faces, in how they walk, and hold their kids’ hands.

At the store, I navigate through the hordes of tourists and weekenders, and I run into old friends. We reconnect, realizing we haven’t seen each other all summer. We pause to catch up, and reconnect, reweaving the fabric of community. This weekend marks the end of the high season, the wave after wave of visitors who crowd our roads, and walk our beaches and trails. Soon, it will be quieter here, and we locals will breathe big sighs of relief, and reclaim our peaceful moments in the places we treasure.

They, too, are caught up in this sense of change and transformation. It is a new season, a new beginning.

Before yesterday’s rain, I planted a new crop of peas, beets, and radishes. My new lettuce rows are already up. I harvest more broccoli for our dinner, knowing that my work will bring on yet another feast in another month.

A friend is soon off to college, and we pause for coffee, and share his excitement for his new adventure. He’s ordered his textbooks, and is already packing for his move to a new city, and a new school. Excitement is in the air and in his eyes. His future is happening, and he’s ready to grow.

All this newness and excitement. I feel alive and invigorated. Anything is possible. Anything can happen. I am part of that, and I am all of that.

Change. It is in the air, and I am ready to take a deep breath, and move ahead.

 

Neal Lemery

9/7/15

 

Taking Flight


Taking Flight

Young eagle in flight,
soaring on the last of the storm winds,
the end of the hurricane that shook his soul,
that darkness testing his manhood to his sweet core.

Today’s sun rises bright, fresh with promise,
of all his possibilities, all of his hopes;
challenges push and pull,
testing his heart, his young wings.

He looks deep into his heart, finding his direction,
and faces life head-on, confident in
direction, rich in determination,
rich in possibilities and well-chosen dreams.

He takes the best from the past,
and plots his course with care;
moves ahead, heart filled with love,
focused, loved, and whole.

Neal Lemery 1/29/2014

Perseverance


Perseverance

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
― Maya Angelou

I’ve been learning about perseverance lately. Springtime brings out the gardener in me. I watch tiny seeds sprout and then miraculously grow into healthy green plants. I transplanted and divided a rose bush, and a stalk with just a few leaves and a bit of root now is thriving, and sending out new growth.

Those tiny seeds, lost in my dirty fingers, turn into plants for my garden and the promise of a bountiful harvest in a few months.

People around me are like those seeds. Full of promise and determination, they “plant” themselves in the challenges and struggles of our world, and grow themselves into beautiful, productive, and love filled people.

A few days ago, I heard the poet Nikki Finney read some of her poems and talk about her life and her work. She is a naturally gifted writer and teacher, using words to create rich, abundant images, and beautiful poems. She is inspiration and talent, and her passion for caring about life and our world electrified me and the other 2,000 people who listened to her every word.

When she was eighteen, she read a poem at a workshop. A wise woman commented that her words were pretty, but wondered what she was going to do with those pretty words, and how she was going to use those pretty words to make a difference in the world.

“What is your plan?” the woman asked.

Indeed, what is anyone’s plan for their life? What am I going to do with what I have?

Several of the young men I mentor at the local youth prison are now gardeners. The master gardeners from the local farm extension service visit now, and have shared their passion for gardening. These young men, perceived by some as criminals who need to be locked up and forgotten about, are becoming skilled gardeners and farmers. They understand the importance of weeding, pruning, and watering in order to grow for the coming summers in their lives, nurturing their souls and living the metaphor of sowing crops in fertile soil.

They persevere. They overcome the obstacles of their lives. They take risks, putting their souls into inhospitable conditions, knowing that there will be sunshine to grow their tender new leaves and nutrients to feed their roots growing deep into rich soil. There will be frosts and cold rains, and bugs and weeds. But, they keep working at the task at hand, at life, and in growing strong.

They learn new skills, and they heal from the wounds and struggles of the past, becoming part of a community, moving into their manhood.

It is hard work, as any seedling knows, settling in and putting down roots in the garden we call the adult world. Yet, they keep at it, and they move on.

Almost all of them wouldn’t finish high school, outside of prison. Yet, this spring, a record number of them will become high school graduates. They don’t opt for a GED, and instead, they choose to go to school, learn with others, and do the work they need to go in order to pass a challenging high school curriculum.

Many of them move on to college, taking college classes. One of my young friends there became the first inmate to achieve his associates degree, becoming the first college graduate in his family. Others saw how he worked, and how he dreamed, and they, too, are working on their degrees.

They are going beyond what they thought they could ever accomplish in their lives, and they are moving ahead. They can dream, now, and know that if they work hard, if they are like the tough little seed thrown into the garden soil, they will sprout and grow, they will move ahead in life.

They persevere.

—Neal Lemery, April 25, 2013

A Letter to My Young Friend in Prison


A Letter to My Young Friend in Prison

Dear ____________:

It was good to go deep with you today.

As always, I found you working on several difficult issues, and moving forward with all of them. You have healthy goals, and you have worthy dreams. You always do.

Young men worry about who they are, and what they want to accomplish, and what is their destiny. And, actually, we all worry about that. At least, I do.

I don’t always count my blessings, and I can worry about things that I have no control over, or things that turn out to be pretty insignificant. I struggle with feelings and emotions, and I get myself tied up in knots about things. Another young man I know calls that “catastrophizing”. A good term for that “tie my stomach in knots” feeling.

So, when you struggle, and doubt, and worry, you are not alone. And, when you see some people and situations in your life that need some fixing, and things aren’t getting fixed, that is normal.

Each of us can only fix ourselves. We aren’t the mechanics for other people. We don’t lead their lives. And, we aren’t the boss. Well, we are the boss of ourselves. We do have the ability to direct our own lives, and to manage our own affairs. And, what other people do and what other people might think of us — well, not much we can do about that.

You are a normal guy. You have normal worries, and normal doubts and normal insecurities. You get frustrated when relationships and other things don’t get “fixed”. That’s normal.

I see you accomplishing a whole lot. Certainly more than most 21 year old men I have known. OK, you are in prison and you don’t have a lot of “freedom”. Yet, you have done a great deal of hard work in getting your own house in order, and healing yourself. You have educated yourself a great deal about who you are, where you come from, and who you want to be.

Most young men haven’t done that. Most young men haven’t laid out the high moral standards and ethics you have set for yourself. The work you have done has been very valuable, and very important. I think you see that, sometimes. In a few years, you will see this time as a very rich, and a very valuable experience.

As you do your heart work, know that I support you, and I believe in you. I am grateful you have this opportunity, to know yourself better, and to gain information which will lead to even more self discovery, and to more healing of whatever wounds you discover.

Part of that healing work involves forgiveness.

I hope that you are doing some forgiveness of yourself in all this. Forgiveness is a very good gift to give to yourself. It is part of that struggle you have with accepting a gift.

You want to “pay off your restitution”. “Restitution” means “to restore, to put back”. Part of restitution is forgiving yourself. That will be harder to do than sending money off to the State. But, more rewarding, and more freeing.

You are doing all of this work for the right reasons: self understanding.

Most every time I leave prison after a visit with you, I say to myself “Wow. I don’t know if I could deal with that.”

A lot of the stuff you talk about that you have experienced, well, I think I might just want to find a dark corner and pull a blanket over my head, and slip away into a bit of self imposed craziness.

But, you don’t take that cheap route. You dig in and work through the crap that you have to deal with sometimes, and you get it on. You sort through it, and you do what is needed to be healthy, and sane, and whole.

You may think you don’t get much support from other folks on what you are going through and what you are doing. But, you do. Your Team is out there, cheering you on.

I try to be a good cheerleader, a good support person for you. I don’t always do a great job, and I often don’t have the tools and the pompoms and the special cheerleader cheers that work for you. But, I still show up and I still cheer you on.

I believe in you and I believe in your journey.

And, you teach me more about courage and decency and character than anything else in my life.

I thank you for that, from deep in my heart.

Sincerely,

Neal C. Lemery