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


Making Inquiry

Courage came into my life the other day, and taught me a few lessons.

It is not often that we are given the opportunity to look back in our lives, to take a deep look at a dark time, and reflect on what we have learned, and what we still need to do.

He had asked me for help.

“I’m not sure what to say here,” he said.

The counselor had given him a big assignment, the last challenge he had to complete to finish the treatment program.

He had to write down his thoughts about a terrible time in his childhood, a time that still causes him nightmares. Once this was done, he could move on with his life.

I read the assignment out loud, giving voice to the three pages of questions and the writing assignment that required him to relive the bad times, and maybe make some sense of it.

To do this work, he had to look to a time when life for him was upside down, nonsensical. He knew that now. Time away from all of that had given him some perspective, some maturity, an ability to see all of that for what it was, and understand the why of it all.

The questions shook me to my core. If this was my book, my treatment program, could I be strong enough to answer all of this, to put into words the thoughts I’d had? Could I be objective about the actions I took, way back then, and reflect on what I’d learned, how I had changed?
Or would I run away from that, ignoring these questions, and pretend it had never happened? Often, I see that as the easier path.

“Could you write it down for me?” he asked. “I’ll just talk and you put it into words on the paper.”

I could do that, to be his witness, his scribe.

He was Courage today, and I was his student.

He took a breath and began.

Almost matter of fact, he told his story and answered the questions in order, detached at times, reflecting on a long ago life, seen now from a safe distance. Now, an adult, a graduate of years of treatment and therapy and discussion groups, he spoke with authority. Everything was clear to him. What had happened, what he did was in the past; it was that old way of life, that old way of thinking.

His words flowed, organized, methodical, and I wrote them all down. Sometimes, I’d prompt him with the next question, the next exercise in the book where I wrote.

I looked into his eyes, and saw glimmers of the old pain, the guilt, the shame; tempered now with a blaze of forgiveness and wisdom. The time of judgment and condemnation had long passed, and today, we were moving on. I witnessed his fire, the spirit of a new man, who had grown beyond the old, and was able to make sense of that story, his story — history.

Those questions he had had long ago now were answered. He’s made a new life for himself, orderly, peaceful. He had a purpose now, a direction. It was down on paper, proof that he’d moved on.

The poet Rainer Rilke writes:
“Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually live your way into the answer.”

My young friend is doing his work, looking at those questions, breathing in the answers, and figuring out who he is, and how to move on.

Our journeys through life are not without challenge, and not without peril. Seeking the truth is not for the meek or the timid.

Were I to be as wise as him, as determined, I, too, could ask my friend to take his pen and write down what I had to say.

Making inquiry is part of our work here as we live our lives, pausing now and then to look inside.

–Neal Lemery
July 10, 2016