Quiet Time and Simple Gifts


                                           by Neal Lemery

(Published 2/26/23 in the Tillamook County Pioneer)

I had a lot of quiet time this past week.  A vigorous snowstorm moved in, dumping nearly a foot of snow, followed by temps in the teens.  The power went out for about thirteen hours, rendering the usual distractions of technology silent.  

            We moved to alternative energy sources, still able to make coffee and dinner, and to keep somewhat warm by adding sweaters, coats, and blankets.  The world grew quiet, and I found myself frequently looking up from my book to watch the snow fall and the world turn whiter.  

            The daily drive to town for mail and some errands was put on hold as the pickup became buried in snow, and roads turned into a slippery mess, with the Sheriff urging everyone to stay home. Businesses closed and parking lots and side streets went unplowed, buried in the new white fluff. What had been demanding and insistent obligations became something for next week. Now, it was time to stay home and be quiet.  What had been important and compelling just was put off until “later”. 

            I dug out my headlamp for evening reading, and savored the instant coffee heated by the propane stove.  The neighborhood kids flew up and down the lane in their ATV, squealing with delight, failing to make a snowman in the powdery snow, yet finding laughter in their dog’s discovery of this new white stuff.  

            I contemplated happiness and the new slowness in the day, as snowflakes drifted down, adding to the grandeur of white. 

“The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.” —Bertrand Russell.

I moved between two books and a notepad, writing down some random thoughts. A friend had written that he was focusing on loving himself now, and finding new direction and ease in that mind shift, that reshaping of “purpose”. 

Ah, loving myself. There’s an idea for a snow day, a day of moving the often urgent “to do” list down the road, just taking time to watch the snow fly, and the birds crowd the feeder, savoring the suet and the sunflower seeds I’d set out this morning, as I tramped a snowy path to their lunch spot. 

My ukulele called, and I started playing some old songs.  “Simple Gifts” caught my eye, and reminded me that everything about this day was a gift, that I was, indeed, in charge of my day and I could take time for what brought me joy, what brought me openings in life where I could appreciate what was right in front of me.  The simple gifts of light, snow, quietness, contemplation, and some good books to savor.  

Soon, lunch and a nap filled an hour.  I had nowhere to go, nothing I absolutely had to do.  I wrote a birthday card to a friend, and put in in the mail basket, not really caring that it wouldn’t go out today, but maybe tomorrow. I was OK with that. Life was slowing down to a manageable pace. 

The power came on just before bedtime, assuring us of a warm winter’s night, and that the dishwasher would run tonight. We would have clean coffee mugs in the morning. I finished my book chapter by real electric light, finding new appreciation in the modern miracles of electric power and the internet. 

The next morning, while making the bed, I raised the blinds.  The overnight temp had dipped to a seasonal low of 19 degrees, and I spied the light from the sun, about to peak over the snowy mountains.  I noticed hoarfrost on the window, spidery designs crawling up the window, silhouettes against the morning skyline.  

I grabbed my camera, framing this artwork and capturing it, just before the sun rose and began to melt this “only for me” beauty.  The camera made it more spectacular than I had originally seen, and I decided to share it with friends. 

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This is what I do, apparently, when there is quiet and solitude, finding the spaces in my life to look for beauty in the simple things.  Simple gifts, indeed.  I only have to look for them. 


Pruning Time

Pruning Time

By Neal Lemery

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 1/26/2022

The recent sunny weather gave me good reasons to get outside and start my early spring pruning chores. That work includes a lot of social and personal pruning, as well as the work in the garden. 

I have a long list, starting with eliminating some of the clutter and debris in my life, how the community can be improved, as well as taking a long look at the grapes that I had neglected to fully prune last year. 

I’m motivated to sharpen my garden clippers, both literally and figuratively, because I’m seeing a lot of community pruning of our lives, our social institutions, and our daily work in these times of the pandemic. We are challenged by quarantines, other public health concerns and responding to economic challenges. Giving these community challenges a critical eye is a healthy step forward to improving our lives, and having a positive response to these challenging times. 

“Here we are, and what are we going to do about it?”, a friend recently asked me.

The results of that pruning, that reorganization and revitalization are already apparent. Stagnant institutions are being revived, people are becoming more engaged, and new ideas are finding fertile ground. And, practices and attitudes that aren’t helping to improve our lives are being pruned away, to the betterment of all of us. Community life is on a rebound. 

As a gardener, I know that pruning away the dead, the diseased and the overlapping branches of plants improves their health, and stimulates them to be more vibrant, more productive plants. Pruning opens up a plant for more exposure to the sun, and is a proven way to invigorate older plants. I’ve recently learned that when I’m planting a shrub or tree, I should be also pruning the roots, which stimulates the plant and ensures its success in its new surroundings. 

Such practices should be applied to our work in the community. 

“In nature, every plant eventually is pruned in some manner. It may be a simple matter of low branches being shaded by higher ones resulting in the formation of a collar around the base of the branch restricting the flow of moisture and nutrients. Eventually the leaves wither and die and the branch then drops off in a high wind or storm. Often, tender new branches of small plants are broken off by wild animals in their quest for food. In the long run, a plant growing naturally assumes the shape that allows it to make the best use of light in a given location and climate. All one needs to do to appreciate a plant’s ability to adapt itself to a location is to walk into a wilderness and see the beauty of natural growing plants.” (Douglas Welch) 

I’m trying to apply those gardening principles to my own life by exploring new ideas, cleaning out some old time-wasting and stale activities and projects in my life, and finding new ways to improve our community life. Like any pruning job, my personal and community pruning involves taking a hard look at the structure, having a plan of what things should look like when I’m done, and getting tough on eliminating disease and the superfluous, the stuff that gets in the way of vigorous and fertile growth. 

The thoughtful gardener takes the long view of where one’s garden needs to be . By having a long term vision, and taking some bold steps with one’s clippers, as well as the occasional saw, transformation occurs. The needed change will soon produce obvious benefits, with the plant (and our community relationships) becoming healthier, more vibrant.

I struggle with change, and healthy pruning is one of the key tools we have to bring about needed growth in our relationships and our community. Recent stories in the Pioneer and other media tell of how people are instigating change and revitalizing our community. We are taking on new ways of how we work, go to school, raise our kids, and care for each other. These changes are the subjects of deep and sometimes hard conversations. Yet, changes are coming. Indeed, many of them are already here. 

I look around, and see that I’m not the only one out in the yard with my clippers, pruning away the dead, the misshapen, the cluttered shrubs in the yard, and the parts of our social fabric that need revitalized. We gardeners are a persistent bunch, and recognize that pruning is an ever-present task on our to-do lists. We can have sometimes heated discussions on how we should tend our community gardens, our institutions, and how we interact with each other. Our commitment to positive change, to effective pruning, is one of our great strengths, an aspect of our lives that we should celebrate with enthusiasm.

In those conversations, we can all grow and change, and become better gardeners of our community and our lives. 


“Until you heal the wounds of your past, you are going to bleed. You can bandage the bleeding with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with work, with cigarettes, with sex; but eventually, it will all ooze through and stain your life. You must find the strength to open the wounds, stick your hands inside, pull out the core of the pain that is holding you in your past, the memories and make peace with them.”
—-Iyanla Vanzant

Today, I am healing from surgery, from lasers cutting eyelid skin, sutures lifting and resizing my eyelids, restoring my peripheral vision. I am healing so that I can experience the world in a richer, more complete way.

This morning, I walked down the lane, greeting the early morning sky with a new enthusiasm, with literally a new vision of the new day. I am re-experiencing the miracle of sight, and of experiencing the world.

Now, my task is to heal. I rest, I sleep, I eat healthy foods, I manage my pain, and I tend to my wounds. All of my day’s tasks is focused on my healing from my surgery. Time is on my side, as I rest and heal, and do the work that is needed to do to recover, to take care of my body, and to celebrate the precious gift of sight.

As I lay back, ice pack on my eyes, letting the cold sink into the skin, into my head, into the wounds, I let the miracle of the cold bring fresh blood to the wounds, more nutrients, more of my life force. My nature is to seek warm, to be comforted by heat, to soak up the sun and bask in the cozy comfort of my bed, reveling in the last bit of drowziness before my day begins.

Yet, it is the cold, the adversity, that brings the healing. To be tested, to be on the edge, and to have to struggle a bit, against the cold, that makes my body stronger, that brings the healing energies I need.

This process is a metaphor of my struggles as a man, to be able to see my wounds, and to take the steps I need to heal, and to be a complete, whole man.

As I grew up, and as I lived through childhood, teenage life, adolescence, and young adulthood, I was wounded. I struggled, and my questions of who I was and what I was all about were unanswered, even mocked, ridiculed. I faced violence, indifference, degradation, and falsehoods. I was led into the wilderness, and then laughed at when I became lost, uncertain as to where I should walk to find my future, my sense of place, my sense of being in this world.

Love of self, and love of others remained a mystery to me, and I was left in the cold, unsure of who I was, unsure of what my role in this world was to be. I was lost and needed to be found, and to find myself.

Those wounds did not bleed like the wounds on my eyes this week. Those wounds were not so easily treated, with sutures, and salves, and the healing powers and potions of my surgeons and nurses. Those wounds were not easily cleansed by sleep, and food, and the loving care of my family.

Yet, those wounds were the most painful, and the most dehumanizing. I was led to believe they did not exist, yet they were the most infectious, the most unnerving, the hardest to treat.

Other men embraced me, encouraging me to push my shoulders back, to open my eyes, and embrace these wounds, and to embrace the challenges of becoming a whole man, a healthy man, a man who has his place in the world, and a destiny to fulfill.

Yes, I am a good person, I am a child of God, I am healthy, and strong, and I have purpose in my life. I have a place in this planet, and I am valued. I am important, and capable of fulfilling my destiny.

I have work to do. I have missions to accomplish. I have tasks to complete, and I am called to be a citizen of the world, and to do good in my life. And, in preparing for that work, in undertaking that work, I must tend to my wounds, and I must do the healing that is needed in order to be healthy, to be strong.

Real health, and real strength comes from embracing my manhood, from seeing my wounds, and treating them. It is my task to open them, and let the pus and infection drain away, and then it is time for the healing. I have a duty to heal, and to give time to myself to be tender with myself, to clean the infection, and to medicate myself with unconditional love and understanding, with acceptance, and with a friendship with God, so that I become healed.

Others helped me. Others showed me the paths to take, and the medications to use. Others offered advice and direction, and comfort. But, most of all, they offered me unconditional love and acceptance, of who I was, and who I was becoming. They accepted me on my journey, and offered support, and kindness, and understanding. They offered patience with me, giving me time to grow, and to heal.

The real work was done deep inside of me. I needed time and confidence, I needed to find my own tools, and to learn how to use them. I needed to go deep, and to connect with God, and to find who I am really am.

I needed to be on my journey, and to take on the leadership that my soul needed to move ahead in life. I am the captain of my ship, and I needed to take the wheel, and to sail through the storms, and to plot my course to the safe harbors. Yet, I needed to be tested and to discover, for myself, that I am strong, that I am capable, that I am filled with love, and that, if I put my soul into a struggle, then I will succeed, and I will find my destiny.

Today, I heal. Today, I move on, learning, accepting, meeting the challenges of today. Today, I embrace my manhood, my humanity, my cloak of being a child of God. I am loved, and I am loving. I know my destiny.

—-Neal Lemery, 2/21/2014

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

Blowing Up


” I blew up. I lost it,” my friend said, grinning.

It was such a relief for him, exploding in rage, screaming, carrying on. In a few minutes, the prison staff wrestled him to the ground, secured his flailing hands with handcuffs, and injected some Benadryl to quiet him. He’d earned his 24 hours in the “muser”, the safe room where he could regroup, coming to grips with his rage.

He’d had a hard day.

His phone call with his mom ended in an argument and the same empty promises she’s been making for a while. He was fired from his work crew job, as he was horsing around and disrespecting the task at hand.

His primary staff person tried to talk with him about his attitude and his last phone call with his mom. That talk, with a guy who brings him pizza once in a while as a reward for good work, didn’t go well.

He’s also winding up his second go around with his sex offender treatment, taking another run through all of that life challenging and life changing work. With his medication change, and with his increasing maturity, he’s able to grasp the concepts easier this time around, and apply them to his life. He’s finally been able to see his childhood and his family life for what it really was.

A few weeks ago, his beloved grandfather passed away. His passing was not unexpected. My friend said it was actually a relief, given his grandfather’s declining health and ability to live in his house. The death of his grandmother a few months ago added to his grandfather’s sadness and loneliness.

They were about the last of his dad’s family around, and there is a big emptiness in my friend’s heart. Life with dad hadn’t been easy. There was a lot of alcohol, drugs, violence and anger. When dad died when my friend was fifteen, a lot of unfinished business punched him in the gut.

He went to live with mom, not that she wanted him. She and the boyfriend were busy with the bottle and the pipe, and didn’t need a teenaged boy in the house. But, he had no place else to go.

He’s never had it easy. He’s never enjoyed peace and a sense of place in this world. Life has always been a struggle, and he’s been pushed into the insanity of drugs, alcohol, violence, prostitution, and sexual chaos. School became a joke and he was sidelined and pushed through, grade after grade, and medicated, so that teachers didn’t have to deal with him.

Mom pimped him out, and arranged a lot of drug and alcohol infused “dates”, which led to his arrest and prison.

It was one way to get him away from mom and him dancing around the fringe of the local gangs and criminal element, and off the streets.

Now, he’s completed high school, he’s completing his sex offender treatment, he’s been clean and sober for five years, and he’s able to focus on his needs, and his future. His social skills have grown, so he can live in peace with others and learn to take care of himself.

Still, last week was a huge milestone. Deep inside him, his anger about his childhood and his family have festered and stewed, for his entire life. There are a lot of unresolved conflicts and emotions, and his limited contact with his family hasn’t gone far in settling those. He’s able to see a healthy alternative to all that chaos now, and that brings his anger about what he endured as a kid to an even higher boil.

I’ve played my role in that, too. I’ve been coming to visit him now for two years. Every week, we have coffee and talk. We talk about his work and his studies, and life in prison. We talk about his childhood a bit, and his growing passion for his Native American roots and about him figuring out who he really is.

I’ve challenged him, just by showing up, being dependable, speaking quietly, and gently accepting him, warts and all. He’s been stymied by knowing that I don’t have to show up and be in his life. I’m not a staff person, I’m not a prison guard or teacher, or counselor. I just show up and talk.

And, I don’t blow up. I don’t manipulate him. I don’t call him names. I do my best not to be critical or to put him down. He’s had enough of that for several lifetimes.

I’m a cheerleader here, quietly and consistently pushing him a bit, believing in him, and celebrating the good things he’s doing. Playing that role, I’ve befuddled him on many occasions, showing him that he’s worthy and decent, deep inside.

Over a year ago, he’d struggled with writing about his offense, and the impact it had on the victim, and trying to see the abuse from her point of view. His writing was a big part of his treatment work, the hardest part.

That was a big rock in the road, as he’d been sexually abused, too, and beaten, and neglected, and screamed at. He wrote a great essay on empathy, and then wrote about his life, using another name and making it fiction.

This work went on for months, and there were a lot of times when he cried and threw his hands up, overwhelmed by the enormity of his emotionally draining work. And, I didn’t judge him, and didn’t berate him for not sticking with the “schedule” of getting that work done.

He was digging deep, and opening and healing some awful and infected wounds. He was taking his time with it, taking care to be ready for him opening up every door in his house of horrors, but only when he was ready for what was inside.

And, I waited. I wouldn’t bring up the work unless he did. And, when he talked, I listened. I didn’t play editor, or critic, or judge. Oh, I cried sometimes. The stories that came out were beyond Steven King’s imagination. This was his reality, and he was in charge of peeling back the layers and getting down to the awful core.

A year ago, we celebrated his birthday, an ordinary event for most of us. But, at twenty one, he’d never had had a birthday party. He was able to invite his friends, and my wife and I brought in a cake and some ice cream, and party hats and birthday plates and napkins. We had presents and told jokes and laughed, and sang “Happy Birthday”.

He was nearly speechless. He’d been doubting the idea that we would actually throw a birthday party for him. And, when it came, he quickly slipped into his twelve year old boyness and took it all in.

The birthday party helped. It brought him in touch with his inner boy sweetness, and some healing went on. Silently, we all gave him permission to be a boy and have a party, and enjoy himself, just for who he was. After that, his treatment work moved ahead and he was able to complete his writing.

When that was done, he was a little shy in telling me that the big project was, at last, finished. He let out a smile, but he looked to me for approval.

I put it right back at him.

“This was your project, not mine. This was your work, not mine. You get the credit for all this,” I said. “Not me. This is your achievement.”

He knew that, of course, but he needed me to say the words.

We celebrated, then, with some ice cream. He let it slip that he’d never celebrated an accomplishment in his life with anyone before. Having ice cream, just because you did something that was hard, was something new.

It was another thing for me to cry about, as I drove home from our visit.

Last week, when he blew up, it was a big deal. He’d been dancing around the monster in his basement for his entire life. His treatment and his writing finally gave him permission to put on his armor and deal with the monster. His monster had lots of faces, and lots of evil and darkness. Its demands and screams have filled his ears his entire life.

And, last week, he went to war, taking on the monster and calling it out of his basement.

“I’d never fought it before, never let myself get angry and take it on,” he told me.

“But, it was time. I wasn’t going to take it any more, and I was going to fight him.”

When the six burly staff persons struggled with him, putting him on the ground and handcuffing him, and letting him scream for a half hour, he was winning the battle.

“It felt good to struggle, to fight back. And, I knew they were they helping me,” he said.

He’d never fought back before, taking the beatings from his dad, taking the indifference and the manipulation and the pimping out of his young sexual self in silence, acceptance. He didn’t contest the criminal charges, either, or the seven year sentence. He didn’t cry much when his grandparents died, or when his brother was first busted for heroin. It was all just how his miserable, worthless life was.

It was, after all, what he deserved. His dad had said he was worthless, a good for nothing. And, that must have been true. No one ever said anything different.

He’d never given voice to his grief before, the grief of a lost childhood, of abandonment, of the death of family members he loved and feared. He’d never cried before over his younger brother, now living on and off the streets, dabbling in heroin and sex and petty crime. He’d never screamed before, about being locked up for seven years, over the sex party his mom arranged, and his empty teenaged life.

He makes fifty cents an hour in prison. And, when his mom asked him last year for money, he never raised his voice.

“I’d be dead now, I’m sure of it,” he told me a few weeks ago, giving thanks that he’s in prison and had found the help he needed.

He’s lighter now, and a slight grin flashes across his face, even when he is being serious. There’s light in his eyes, and his shoulders are thrown back, a little pride showing in his face. He’s grown about four inches these last two years, too, and brags about his running and weight lifting and how his biceps are bigger now.

I’m sure there’s some clean up work to do, down in the basement of his young life. But, the monster is on the run, now, no longer the king of the underground. My friend has found his spear and his axe, and has gone into battle, committed to victory.
–Neal Lemery 1/17/2013


Learning Gratitude

Learning Gratitude

I always seem to learn my lessons in the most unexpected places.

This week, I was with a number of young men who are prisoners in my town. They have long sentences, locked up for crimes they committed when they were anywhere from twelve to seventeen years old. Their home lives were chaos, riddled with the violence, drugs, and sexual behavior that is the seed bed for most of our society’s woes, and the root of our country’s high rate of putting people in prison.

Much of what we might think of as “normal” just not existing in their youth, before they came here. And, many become abandoned by their families; no one comes to visit them. So, a few of us come, to listen, to just show up in their lives.

Rather than really dealing with those issues, society locks these boys up, without much regard for who they really are, the prison terms computed by a chart of numbers, devoid of any sense of compassion, or rationality.

At least we can boast that we are “tough on crime”. And, tough on souls.

We are, after all, the leading country in the world as far as locking up our population. Yes, more than Russia, more than China, and other places we think are oppressive, undemocratic countries. The prison industry is growing, and is a significant chunk of our economy, eating up more tax dollars than what we spend on schools.

The subject of gratitude came up, as we talked about the real meaning of Thanksgiving, and how that holiday came to be part of our heritage and one of our biggest holidays, full of food, family time, and, yes, expressing gratitude.

One by one, these young men spoke humbly of the things in life they were grateful for. The list was long, and ran deep. People who cared about them, support for their treatment for their sexually inappropriate behavior, their attitudes about drugs, violence, manipulation of others, degrading their own self worth, their work on getting an education, and improving their lives, and their relationships with their family.

They also spoke of being thankful for getting in contact with their heritage, and finding a place in a culture that supported their sobriety, their healthy thinking, and their hunger for healthy, balanced, and emotionally satisfying lives, lives filled with purpose and decency. They were finding their souls, moving into manhood whole and complete, their wounds healing.

As I sat there, I recalled listening to the radio on my drive over to the prison, the “news” filled with the latest political sex scandal, and the latest celebrity drug and alcohol crazed dysfunctional public spectacle. I’d come from the grocery store, where piles of cases of beer are arranged in recognition of this weekend’s big college football game, just before aisles of cheap Christmas decorations and gifts.

A billboard along the highway invited me to come gamble and drink on New Year’s Eve, and the usual gaggle of misfits stood outside of the local dive bar, smoking cigarettes and dealing a little weed and heroin.

Yet, inside this prison, these young men calmly talked about how grateful they were for their lives, their sobriety, their hard work in dealing with their pasts, and the strengths and wisdom they now had in their lives. They were strong men, preparing themselves for going back “outside”, into our crazy, addiction tempting society.

The midday boozers and smokers outside of the bar weren’t talking much about what they were grateful for, and gratitude wasn’t the focus of the talk show radio show that came on after the “news”.

And, apparently, Thanksgiving doesn’t do much for the retail stores. Gratitude and thanks and personal achievement aren’t something you can wrap up in paper, next to all the glitz and sparkle.

I listened, listened hard to those young men, realizing that I really was in class, that I was the student and they were the teachers that day. I go there to be a giver, an offerer; my role being a mentor, a teacher, a leader, a person of wisdom. Yet, now they were the mentors, the teachers, the wise men imparting their truth, and their knowledge, their experience.

Wisdom and gratitude were spoken, and I was grateful I took the time to open my heart and hear the truth tellers in my life.

–Neal Lemery 11/17/2012