A Day Without Time

A Day Without Time

Almost summer, and the early June morning breathes cool on my face. I amble through the remnants of this old ranching town, really more of a wide spot in the road, taking in the ruins of the old store, a few weathered barns and outbuildings, a single house, long past its prime.

Back in the day, 35 people called this place home, and today, only five. Or so the old weathered sign says.

The dance hall now lacks a roof, and the last sale in the mercantile was a mere sixty years distant. Even the newest building, now a wood shed adorned with deer and elk antlers, is getting old. We share a birth year, and have both turned gray.

Down the road a mile, the one room school finished the year last week. There was a community picnic honoring all three of the students. Next year, two are off to boarding school, but there’s two first graders coming in.

At dinner, the innkeeper spoke their names, and of their plans for the future, and the names of the ranches where they were raised. Good people here, I thought, people keeping track of what’s important around here, what’s important in life.

Near perfect silence fills the air, interrupted by some crows, a chattering redwing blackbird, a far off rooster, and mosquitoes buzzing around me, wanting me for their breakfast. In a few minutes, they will chase me back to the hotel at the end of the only side street in this place, for coffee and breakfast with the other travelers who have come here to find their own peace.

The cattle in the field are quiet, busy enjoying the green grass of June, and promises of next week’s move to the higher pastures. So far, it’s been a good grass year, that’s what the locals are saying.

A hundred and twenty years ago, the new hotel opened, welcoming the three times a week stage, travelers and ranchers mingling, much like they do today, around the big tables by the kitchen. The conversation hasn’t changed much, I suspect: the weather, where we’re from, where we are going, the price of cattle, where’s the best birding, the hottest fishing. The coffee’s still strong, the food’s homemade, and the fresh cobbler hot out of the oven is still delicious.

The screen door slams one last time, as we load up the pickup and head out for our day’s adventures, the sun starting its climb into the blue sky of the day. We’ll stop for lunch, overlooking the valley, binoculars up, spotting a few hawks and an eagle catching thermals, silhouetted against the distant mountain still covered with snow.

Ten, maybe twenty, thirty thousand years ago, this valley was an inland sea, waves lapping against that ridge, leaving a beach we can still see, a pebbled ribbon halfway up the hillside. It lies below the rimrock left by a forgotten volcano, stark against the gray and green of the sagebrush and the junipers. Even now, the ancient voices of that era, the Pleistocene age, fill the meadow as we stop to watch the baby quail, and the avocets staking out their nests, pairs of mallards and grebes and tundra swans sailing on the pond, the last remnant of that long ago sea.

Pronghorn sheep, coyotes, and even a few sandhill cranes ready to take flight for their Siberian nesting areas look at us, the newcomers in this land.

“What time is it?” my traveling partner wonders.

I glance at my cell phone, rather than look at where the sun shines in the sky two weeks before its Equinox dance with the earth. I’m so removed from the astronomical rhythms here that I would be clueless without my twenty first century gadgets. The generations before me, hunters in this valley, would think of me as lost, worthless as the tribe goes about its daily tasks.

Our plans for the day don’t seem to require much precision or attention to my digital data. We’re on vacation, out for an adventure, and our only task is to check in for dinner at the only other old hotel around, at the other end of the valley. Our bellies are our timekeepers today, and the sun in the sky will remind us to be on our way. Perhaps, after a few weeks here, I could regain my Pleistocene manhood skills and be welcomed around the evening fire.

We laugh, chuckling over the thought of time, and hours and why that might matter to some folks. That idea of time, it’s important to me, at least modern life tells me. Today, we’re on Pleistocene time, where the migration of the birds, this spring’s snowmelt in the river, June flowers bursting into bloom rule the day.

The birds here, and the mule deer we spot don’t seem to care. My gadgets don’t go that far back, maybe forty thousand years, to Pleistocene time, when every living thing around us, except for the cattle and we tourists in our pickup, was already here, enjoying the early summer morning, in the near silence of this sacred place.

The rest of the day passes in a different rhythm, my cell phone turned off, put away so that I can perhaps gain some feeling of the ancestors, of Pleistocene man, and all the beauty of this quiet place.

We came here searching for something we needed. Some “thing” we thought. We are, after all, Americans, consumers of all those “things”. Yet at the end of the day, what we found instead was the absence of “things”, the trappings and noise of modern life. We discovered the quiet of the summer afternoon, the sight of a swan teaching its goslings to swim, and a pair of baby owls perched on a limb, waiting for their mama’s next hunting lesson.

We lived a day without “breaking news”, and the din of “news feeds” and instant communications.

“Silence” we said.

It was the quiet we wanted, what we had truly come here to find. We spotted soaring vultures, the red flash of a blackbird’s wing, and tuned our ears to the rustle of a snake in drying grass. Our Pleistocene selves came alive again, and we became a part of another time. Our voices quieted, respectful of this great cathedral we’d found in this desert valley, so close to the divine.

–Neal Lemery June 23, 2016

Making Sense, Making Peace

Making Sense, Making Peace

Today is yet another day of this chaotic week. The national news is overrun with bombings, shootings, explosions, and controversial political decisions over guns.
In Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, there are more bombings, more attacks, more deaths. American troops are now in Jordan, staging for humanitarian aid in Syria, but also a rocket’s path away from that civil war.
We are so interconnected, so aware now of such violence, such chaos and uncertainty. Our technology and our mass media culture now brings such events into our living rooms, into our pants pockets, as we seem to be compelled to check on the state of the world in a spare moment.
I turn off the TV. I can’t stand the instant news, the hours of rehashing, and dramatizing, and speculation. My blood pressure goes up, and there’s a knot in my stomach. My sense of powerlessness and frustration gets tossed into the energies of the commentators, the marketers of “crisis” and “terror” and catastrophe.
A friend of mine tells me that he gets anxious about a lot of things in life, that he’s a worry wort, and has to consciously avoid “catatrophizing” much of life’s concerns. When I watch the “instant news” channel, it seems like a flash mob of “catastrophizers”.
That is not how I want to live my life, and to get through my day, and be a healthy human being. I have decided not to be part of that “flash mob”, and I click off the offending noise and chaos that has filled my living room.
I soak up the peace, when the TV goes silent. I look around for a bit of beauty, maybe pick up my guitar and strum a song. But, the craziness of the events in Boston and all the rest of the news still tightens up my shoulders, still nags at me.
Yet, how do I respond? How do I react? It is not like I can change the outcome of bombs in Boston, or the national epidemic of gun-related homicides in this country, or even the violence in my own community.
Or can I? Certainly I have a big voice in how I go about my life, and I would like to think I have a big impact on people in my family, my neighborhood, even the emotional atmosphere of the line at the grocery store, or the post office, or the place I had lunch with a friend yesterday.
I’m just one guy. But, I do interact with others during the day. I have conversations, I conduct a little business, I say hi to folks I know around town. I put stuff up on Facebook and my blog. I chat with the guy who fills up my gas tank, and tell him thanks, and ask how he’s doing. And, then, I really listen to what he has to say. We connect, and we have a real conversation. And, that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. It’s part of my job as a member of my community.
In all of that, I can set an example, and I can give out a sense of compassion and peaceful living, and I can listen. My little efforts may not change the world overnight, and the Nobel Peace Prize committee may not be reading all of my blog posts and finding out my phone number.
But, I can create a little peace in this world, and that little bit of peace can spread out, and be the ripple in the pond of how we all interact.
Yesterday, I joked and laughed with an old friend, and we gave each other some ideas on how we each can grow and change, and become more skilled in the arts of peacemaking, listening, and compassion. I’m going to try out some new things, and I found a class that would help me be a better member of the community, of being of better service to others.
I’m planting my garden, I’m playing my guitar, I’m sending a poem to several young men to give them some inspiration, and let them know, again, that I care about them, and that they have amazing possibilities in their lives.
Last night, one of the young men I’m mentoring in prison called. He’s getting out soon, and will, for the first time in his life, be out in the world, looking for a job, and being a healthy member of society. He’s worried about all the changes, and all the responsibility. And, he’s worried about how he’s going to manage all of that, and to deal with a lot of his anger that has been simmering in his soul most of his life.
He isn’t one to come right out and talk about his worries, and his anxiety, but it is there, right below the surface.
So, we talked, and he told me more about himself, and what he is doing to prepare for being in the world, and the things he’s looking forward to. It wasn’t a deep, soul changing conversation, but it was a conversation. I listened. I cared. I told him I worry about him and that I’d be with him on that day the prison door slams behind him and he can make his own way in the world.
I could hear in his voice that not too many people listen to him, or even care that he is getting out of prison soon. But, I cared, and I listened. And, when we ended our call, I could tell he’d unwound, he felt better about himself and he felt he mattered to someone. We have a deeper friendship now. We have a better connection.
One phone call may not heal the pain that Boston is going through, or stop someone from planning to detonate a bomb in the middle of a sporting event, and kill and maim innocent people.
But, maybe, just maybe, that phone call, that listening, that caring will move a young man away a bit from the anger and rage that simmers in a young man, and give him hope to seek a life of compassion, and usefulness, and even joy.
Knowing that someone cares, that someone listens to him might be what he needs to be able to vent his rage and his anger through his art or his music, or in going for a long run along the river, instead of making a pressure cooker bomb and setting it off in the middle of his community.
And, maybe, that is a bit of peacemaking that I can bring to the world today.

–Neal Lemery April 19, 2012

Making Peace

It is Christmas. It is a time for being in peace, for thinking about peace.

One would hope that peace would be on our minds every day of the year, and be something we strive for in everything we do. Peace shouldn’t just be one of those popular ideas of a particular season.

Many of us have religious beliefs that profess we believe in peace, that we should be peacemakers as we go about our lives, raising our families, do our jobs, and live in our communities.

Yet, much of societal life is obsessed with competition, making a profit, and feeding a variety of addictions. Lying and stealing, even though we find other names for that, is ever-present in our community lives.

If I really believe in peace, and know that I have a Divine direction to live in peace, to practice peace, and to truly be a peacemaker, then how do I accomplish that?

I get pulled and dragged to live otherwise.

If I pay attention to popular culture, and much of the media, then I soon find myself absorbed by violence, by bigotry, fear, anger, greed, and addiction. Material possessions, instant gratification, and self absorption fill my mind and guide my day. Yet, I am left hungrier for true satisfaction, true fulfillment, and farther from my real purpose as a human being on this planet.

The bell ringer at the grocery store, and the pile of solicitations in my mailbox tempt me to “make peace” by writing a check, or putting some cash in the red kettle at the store. But, does that make peace, or simply fuel a bureaucracy clothed in the appearance of charity and peace making?

Some commentators urge me to buy a bigger gun and a larger ammo clip, or support arming teachers, or deploying squads of sharpshooters, in order to bring peace to the latest mass casualty crime scene, to stop random shooting sprees, to thwart the crazy actions of the angry sociopath who is looking for a newsworthy end to his troubled life.

The cops I’ve worked with spend much of their time responding to the seemingly endless calls of domestic violence, drug abuse, child neglect, and the sad loneliness in people’s lives they try to self medicate with alcohol, drugs, and violence. Yes, they are peacemakers, applying first aid to a troubled society we like to think is seeking peace, but so often is trapped in the cycle of pain, violence, self medication, and despair.

Adding more guns that that explosive mix is just creating more havoc, more violence. I suppose we would become more efficient in spilling blood, and adding more fuel to the fires of anger and rage and isolation in our already self-absorbed society. I wonder what the lessons would be that we would teach our children. What would be our legacy to them?

My soul calls me to reject all that. In my time on this Earth, I’ve seen that war and violence, and anger and self gratification don’t make this world a better place. I’ve learned that compassion and unconditional love, and being truly selfless are the beliefs and actions that grow flowers and save souls.

I can make peace in my home, creating a place of beauty, serenity, and purpose. In order to truly do that, I need to make peace with myself, to truly connect with God, and be content with my purpose in life, my real values. I need to realize that I am beautiful, and part of the Universe. I need to tend to my own candlelight.

It starts with me. And, when I am filled with Peace, then I can be a peace maker. I can reach out into my community and be a small flame of peace and unconditional love.

I walk past the red kettle and the bell ringer, and I toss all the dunning letters into the trash.

Instead, I visit the nearby prison, and drink coffee and play games with young men. We play guitar and sing songs, and tell stories of our lives. And, in our conversations, I talk about my life, and my struggles. I talk about love and peace. And, they do, too. We learn from each other, and we talk about peace.

Soon, those young men will be out of prison, making their way in this troubled world. They will be tempted by the drugs, violence and sexual exploitation, and all the other war making forces in our culture. They will doubt themselves, and they will struggle to find their place in all of that.

Yet, they will have that small flame burning in their soul, the flame of self esteem, of inner peace, and universal love. They will have our relationship, and their own nurtured peace-loving souls to guide and comfort them.

In their new beginnings, they will have some answers and they will have the beginnings of a strong foundation in their lives. And, when they become workers, and husbands, and fathers, they will be on the right path, and will know who they truly are, and where they are going.

I can’t change the world today. But, I can start with one person, and light that candle, and nourish that small, flickering flame in the dark. That one candle lights a dark room in the depth of one’s midnight despair.

With one candle, one can light the world.

Neal Lemery 12/25/2012