At Twilight

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Location: Midwest, United States

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Memorial Day Weekend

When I was young (good Lord, that seems like several lifetimes ago!), Memorial Day weekend heralded the start of summer. My friends and I would caravan our way to the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan. All through high school and college, this weekend was an auspicious and magnificent inaugural event. The women (well...girls, actually) wore bikinis. We (just boys...truly) wore Speedos. We would rent a cottage (18+ to a room) and spend the weekend reveling in sunshine, sand, waves and lust. Everything glimmered then. We gloried in our youth. We gnawed at the very marrow of life and respected no bounds, for we felt…invincible.

I still recall those weekends in May…and I smile.

(Oh, in case you were wondering, that's me on the right in the flowered Speedos. It was a long, long time ago. Sigh.)

* * *

Time passed. Friends came back from Vietnam (some never returned). The veterans usually sat in isolated groups. They drank their beer, but they talked little. They simply stared at the far horizon, drinking beer after beer after beer after beer, until they passed out under the warming sun, waves lapping at their feet. We knew better than to disturb them. We were quiet in their presence. They knew something we did not.

They knew we weren’t invincible.

Still, Memorial Day weekend remained a time of glowing charcoal grills, soft sand, warm water, friendship, romance and pleasure. Life was good. Our dreams felt real…in fact, they felt as if they were almost within our grasp. We basked in sunlight.

* * *

My friends and I went our separate ways, as we are meant to do. Our naiveté slowly came to be displaced by life’s realities. We didn’t bask in sunshine any longer. We began to dread the shadows. Our dreams somehow came to feel ephemeral. We each lost friends, or parents, or lovers. The weekends never felt as warm as they once did.

Where did the shimmering water go?

* * *

Memorial Day weekends eventually got me to thinking about soldiers…countless soldiers, countless young, despondent and frightened souls. I began to comprehend…slowly, at first…but, deeply now (particularly after this past year). I think of soldiers huddling and suffering in muddy, claustrophobic trenches for years at a time. They scribble their dreams on scraps of paper.

What do they dream, these lonely warriors of ours? They dream of family, lovers and children. With Death just a stray bullet away, a random bomb-blast away, soldiers dream of essential things. They dream of holding the women they love (holding them close…holding them forever), they dream of indulging their children…tousling the hair of the innocent. They dream of opening a door, crossing a threshold and entering a home where love blossoms and darkness bows to light. Their's were simple dreams…but, is it not true, that Heaven can only be found in simple things?

I think of the letters of our Civil War (now there's an oxymoron for you) combatants. They expressed themselves with simple elegance (you may think that’s an oxymoron, but it’s not). I’ve come to understand and revere them. I've finally come to understand their longings, their dreams, and their fundamental needs. I’ve come to understand that, if life were to end today or tomorrow, all I would want is to hold my love in my arms again…if only for a moment. I would yearn to see my love’s radiant face. I would crave to cradle a newborn. I would give anything and everything for one beatific moment of peace and love.

I’ve finally come to understand the forlorn soldier’s yearning.

* * *

It thundered outside my window all afternoon. I can’t explain it, but I’ve always loved thunder and lightning and rain. After sunset, it began to pour. I wanted (absolutely needed) to venture into the storm. I had to find words for the ache I feel.

I was drenched instantly. The lightning flashed and Heaven thundered. And then it came to me: a poem that I have loved for years and years and years…

I raced home, soaked to the bone in Heaven’s tears, to find...and then to offer to you...this poem:

By John Hall Wheelock

In the quiet before cockcrow when the cricket’s
Mandolin falters, when the light of the past
Falling from the high stars yet haunts the earth
And the east quickens, I think of those I love –
Dear men and women no longer with us.

And not in grief or regret merely but rather
With a love that is almost joy I think of them,
Of whom I am part, as they of me, and through whom
I am made more wholly one with the pain and the glory,
The heartbreak at the heart of things.

I have learned it from them at last, who am now grown old
A happy man, that the nature of things is tragic
And meaningful beyond words, that to have lived
Even if once, only once and no more,
Will have been – oh, how truly – worth it.

The years go by: March flows into April,
The sycamore’s delicate tracery puts on
Its tender green; April is August soon;
Autumn, and the raving of insect choirs,
The thud of apples in moonlit orchards;

Till winter brings the slant, windy light again
On shining Manhattan, her towering stone and glass;
And age deepens – oh, much is taken, but one
Dearer than all remains, and life is sweet
Still to the now enlightened spirit.

Doors are opened that never before were opened,
New ways stand open, but quietly one door
Closes, the door to the future; there it is written,
“Thus far and no farther” – there, as at Eden’s gate,
The angel with the fiery sword.

The Eden we dream of, the Eden that lies before us,
The unattainable dream, soon lies behind.
Eden is always yesterday or tomorrow,
There is no way back now but back, back to the past –
The past has become paradise.

And there they dwell, those ineffable presences,
Safe beyond time, rescued from death and change.
Though all be taken, they only shall not be taken –
Immortal, unaging, unaltered, faithful yet
To that lost dream world they inhabit.

Truly, to me they may come no more,
But I to them in reverie and remembrance
Still may return, in me they still live on;
In me they shall have their being, till we together
Darken in the great memory.

Dear eyes of delight, dear youthful tresses, foreheads
Furrowed with age, dear hands of love and care –
Lying awake at dawn, I remember them,
With a love that is almost joy I remember them:
Lost, and all mine, all mine, forever.

* * *

And so, it has come to this...for me...the vagrant (but penitent) pilgrim. I dream of the woman who smells like Heaven…who smells "like angels oughtta." I dream of the woman with the smoldering eyes...the woman who filled me with such incredible delight.

Although I realize my dreams will never come to be incarnate, I know she will always be mine, all mine...forever.

* * *

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I'm a Lobster

I continue to ponder the truths revealed over the course of the past year. Reflections about therapy swirl in my head.

One really good thing about going to a gifted therapist is the confidence you feel that you did the best you could, given the best possible guidance. I’ve concluded that therapy is most effective when the subject comes with an open heart and simply tries to understand his/her feelings, and how they translate into behaviors. A good therapist will help you find the root causes and offer alternative ways to be "relational." On the other hand, some couples approach the therapist as a quasi-judge or mediator. The focus, then, becomes one of arguing your "best case." Sadly, nothing is learned. The scales of “justice” may swing one way or the other, but nothing changes in the underlying behavior…the injustices continue. If couples’ therapy is to lead to success (i.e., saving the marriage) both spouses must adopt the first approach. It's no mean feat getting two people at opposite ends of a chasm to come together (Old Chinese saying: You can't cross a chasm in two strides).

Then, again, saving a marriage is one thing. Saving a soul is another. I’m grateful to my therapist for healing (well, not quite yet...not for a good while) my soul. I’m grateful that she held a mirror to my face and helped me to see who was really there. I’m grateful for her insights into living and loving…alone or with another. She made me into a better, wiser and more chastened person…

* * *

…which brings me to lobsters. Lobsters must shed their shells as they grow, or they’ll die of constriction. Some lobsters live for decades, shedding their armor repeatedly as they grow older and (I presume) wiser.

I’ve been shedding my armor for the past half-decade, but the pace quickened mightily this past year. I couldn’t go on living in my old skin. I was choking. I’ve been growing a new and softer skin, one with a more relaxed fit.

* * *

I’ve changed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


My last post was rather bleak, wasn’t it? Sigh. This, truly, has been the bleakest year of my life. It wasn’t a waste, though. There is something to be said for self-examination. Preferably, one is a wise and contemplative sort by nature, thereby remaining firmly grounded throughout life. Admirable folks, those. I think, though, that many people may be just like me. We live our lives as best we can; swallowing our pride or integrity, playing our roles, turning a blind eye to damage wrought or lives compromised. People such as I can only hope to fall to grace. Well, I’ve fallen (whether I am to be ever graced is yet to be determined).

Luckily, there are always hands outstretched to help us up. There are the hands of family, friends and, yes, therapists.

I never gave much thought to therapy. I had always managed to figure out my life’s mysteries (or miseries) on my own, in my own time and fashion. Not this time, though. This time I knew I was dying, and had been dying for a long time (Walker Percy’s “death in life”). I started seeing a therapist about two years ago. She was OK. She let me ramble for days on end, sometimes asking a question or two, but mostly just listening. I didn’t get all that much out of it. I grew tired of hearing my own voice.

Then there is my psycho-pharmacologist. My goodness! Her appearance, manners and behavior literally scream: “Stay away! I’m as neurotic as any human can be!” She scares me. Really. She did know her pharmacology, though. She plied me with a variety of anti-depressants, noting their effects (mostly physical discomfort), and modified her prescriptions repeatedly until we found one that worked (albeit with significant side-effects). My visits with her border on the surreal.

Finally, there is our "couple’s" therapist. She has been a godsend. My wife and I began seeing her a year ago. She probed, posed provocative questions, scolded, counseled, gave us reading assignments, and opened my eyes to the myriad of factors that come into play in every relationship.

Despite her impressive talents and experience, she was not a miracle-worker. She couldn't save the marriage. She did, however, manage to bring a good measure of peace to the both of us. A deep, blue melancholy finally displaced red-hot savagery. I asked her about her success rate. She answered simply: “It all depends when people come to me. If they come early enough, the relationship can usually be salvaged and repaired. If they drag themselves in near death, then it’s usually a matter of burying the dead.” We’ve been burying corpses all year. We both grieve, saddened and ashamed of all the ways we failed each other.

Still, our therapist gave me insights…into my self, my life, my family, and my marriage. She led me down a rocky path towards enlightenment. She focused my eyes. She held out her hand and gave me assurance that there is more to pain than just agony. Pain can be the impetus for change. Pain can be the crucible to immolate our demons, leaving only the soul’s pure ore. Pain may be shed along with old skin, though the whole process leaves one bloody and raw for a mighty long time.

She has become my mentor and life raft. She’s taken me to places I did not want to visit (think Dante’s Circles of Hell), so that I may come to know my heart’s true desires.

I owe her.
* * *

Monday, May 22, 2006


An avalanche is coming. I can feel the mountain giving way beneath my feet. I felt the first rumblings several weeks ago, and now I know it has truly started…my very own avalanche of raw emotion.

About twelve months ago, my life (as I had known it for decades…my I had dreamed it could be) came to an end. It didn’t end with a bang or a whimper. It ended with a scream (c'mon, let’s all channel Edvard Munch, now). My whole life came to a screaming, horrifying and devastating end.

I had known, for many years, that a cruel end was coming. My foundations, walls, and rafters had been crumbling, sagging, warping and rotting for a long, long time. Life can do that to the strongest of the strong. I didn’t expect this chapter to end the way it did (too much the optimist, I guess), but there was no mistaking the end when it finally came.

What can I say about the past year? Well, it has been a litany of misery. There was betrayal; abandonment; cruelty; derision; withdrawal; isolation; silence; alcoholism (no, not mine); calumny; violence (I was on the receiving end); a medical emergency (not mine, either); finger-pointing; police lights in the driveway; prevarications; drug therapy (225 mg of Effexor daily…enough to destroy the gastrointestinal tract of a small horse…never mind what it did to this graying geezer); interventions; suicidal longings; counseling; attorney histrionics; Alzheimer’s (again, not mine…not yet, anyway); soul-searching; shame; penitence; the slaying of demons and dreams; and pain…lots and lots of pain…a ferocious Category 5 hurricane of pain.

If anything good can be said of all this, it would be that this long and fearsome storm forced me to seek answers for the most pertinent, the most important, questions of my life: “What is it that I truly want?” I asked. “Whom do I truly love?” I wondered. “Who, the hell, am I?” I questioned. The answers have been slow in coming. A great many wounds had to be reopened, there were buckets of blood to be mopped up, countless memories to be resurrected, vows reexamined, morals and desires reconciled.

And the final result of all this, you ask? Well, I’m not sure yet. I would tell you if I knew...but I don' I won't. Let me survive this hellish avalanche first. Let me claw my way through the darkness and the debris until I can see the sun, moon and stars again. Then, and only then, will I know (...if then).

The avalanche has overwhelmed me...

* * *
(to be continued)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Celebrating Birthdays

I was never one to celebrate my own birthday. It’s just not part of my makeup. I never felt that my continued breathing for one more year merited a celebration. I never felt any different, any wiser, more virtuous, or more accomplished.

My rather absent-minded approach to my own birthday changed dramatically after 1988 – the year my Father passed away. In my family, we always celebrated my birthday and Fathers’ Day concurrently. I always enjoyed that. I relished showering love on my Father. For the past 18 years, my birthday/Fathers’ Day has become a day of quiet contemplation as my heart and soul wander off to the realm of memories.

I’ve now reached that stage in life when I no longer know my own age. When asked, I must pause and quickly compute (current year) – (birth year) = age. Invariably, I’m shocked to discover that I am older than I feel, far older than I thought I was.

* * *

The birthdays of friends/loved ones are something else entirely.

There’s a certain hierarchical structure in my remembrance of birthdays. I simply know the birth dates of my innermost circle of loves (those who’ve had the greatest impact on my life and being). I begin to contemplate/celebrate their birthdays weeks in advance of the actual date. It’s an autonomous reflex. This rather select group of individuals has shaped me, sheltered me and sustained profoundly...that I find myself celebrating their presence on this earth for weeks (or months) at a time. I could never express how dear they are to me, or how much joy and spiritual wealth they’ve brought into my life. Their birthdays are something to be truly cherished, feted, and commemorated.

There are those whose birth dates are a bit more elusive. I know their birth months, but not the exact date (my second circle of love). I check the calendar to remind myself. Still, their birthdays mean a great deal to me. I always try to tell them so.

* * *

My loves are scattered far and wide. While I hunger to love them face-to-face, it has become almost impossible to do so. Letters, e-mails and phone calls serve to convey my feelings, but they barely scratch the surface. I’m simply not adept enough with words. The joy I experience, the reverence and love I feel, go well beyond the scope of my vocabulary.

* * *

Today, I’m celebrating a birthday…quietly and privately…and with every fiber of my being.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mother & Son

I am my Mother’s son. But my Mother has no son. 1+1=1.

I spent time with my Mother on Mothers’ Day. It’s something I have always done, for so many years, so many decades...a lifetime or two (seemingly), that I cannot imagine doing anything else on this day.

She no longer knows me. She looks at me with a weary, wary curiosity. She smiles and nods politely, but is no longer comfortable having this stranger sit so close to her, his hand reaching for hers.

She talks little. And of the little she utters, almost all is unintelligible. A few minutes pass, and she withdraws into herself. She mutters that she must go. She excuses herself. She closes her eyes and moans softly.

I leave. I would have preferred to stay. I wanted to hold her hand just a little bit longer, but my Mother was never one to take kindly to strangers.

Mothers Day, 2006, and I am my Mother’s son.

But my Mother has no son.

* * *

My eyes gravitate to the sons with mothers all around me. I am ever aware of their presence. I indulge in reveries of an amazing mother and her fortunate son. This day becomes a day filled with memories mostly, a day awash with longing and reverence for mothers and their sons.

* * *

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Rainy Day

It’s a cool and rainy day today. It's a day that makes me wistful…and leaves me feeling somewhat philosophical. And so, with raindrops falling like tears outside my open window, I find myself thinking of this rather poignant poem by Erica Jong:

Parable of the Four-Poster

Because she wants to touch him,
she moves away.
Because she wants to talk to him,
she keeps silent.
Because she wants to kiss him,
she turns away
& kisses a man she does not want to kiss.

He watches
thinking she does not want him.
He listens
hearing her silence.
He turns away
thinking her distant
& kisses a girl he does not want to kiss.

They marry each other –
a four-way mistake.
He goes to bed with his wife
thinking of her.
She goes to bed with her husband
thinking of him.
-- & all this in a real old-fashioned four-poster bed.

Do they live unhappily ever after?
Of course.
Do they undo their mistakes ever?
Who is the victim here?
Love is the victim.
Who is the villain?
Love that never dies.

* * *

Someone wrote that "Poetry is the highest form of literature." For the life of me, I can't remember who, but I believe that he/she is absolutely correct. What we have here, in 29 lines organized into 4 short stanzas, is a story of heartbreak and longing and sorrow that lasts a lifetime.

* * *

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

True Devotion

Music update: mostly silence.

I’ve become accustomed to the silence. It doesn’t haunt me to the degree it did last summer. I guess I never fully understood, till now, that my love for music reflected the music in my soul. My soul is quietly hiding somewhere these days, and there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. I hope to find it again someday. I yearn for music in my life.

One song is the lone exception. I listen to the BoDeans on my car stereo. I don’t drive all that much or often, so it’s just a sometimes thing. I had “Only Love” on auto-replay for many months. Now it’s “True Devotion.” I listen to it over and over again. Sam Llanas’ voice reflects the way I feel…

True Devotion

I was lucky for a long, long time
I never felt much pain
A mess of clouds came over me
The night it finally rained
In my hand there's a silver heart
It says you belong to me
But it's empty and used up
I'm sailing off to sea

Going down, going down
Swallow an ocean
Going down, going down
With true devotion

When the rain started coming down
It was so hard to see
Swear I lost you in the crowd
When you were right there with me
People scattering everywhere
Trying to make it back home
And I slipped and fell on my ass
I'm going down alone


All I see is icy blue
And I don't feel the waves
It doesn't matter anyhow
I know I won't be saved
Before you go to sleep tonight
Say a prayer for me, yeah
And all the other wasted souls
Drowning definitely

Going down, going down
Swallow an ocean
Going down, going down
With true devotion

* * *

In my hand there's a silver heart

The lyric transports me back to 1975. My head fills with images of the “Dawn Gate” Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. Calling it a Church is to indulge in hyperbole. It’s more akin to a chapel-ette, if that. This Church is nothing more than two steep staircases and a small, enclosed walkway across the top of the “Dawn Gate.” The gate is a remnant of the ancient 11th century wall that encircled and protected Vilnius.

It is a tiny, but sacred place. Inside is the most famous religious icon of Lithuania: “The Dawn Gate Madonna.” I wear her visage on a silver medal that’s hung around my neck for almost forty years. Coming face to face with the Madonna was astounding enough for this long lost native son…but there is more. Every inch of wall space is festooned with gold and silver amulets. There are tiny arms, legs and hearts everywhere, fashioned from these precious metals. They represent the countless prayers asked and answered across the centuries. This is a truly holy place. A sanctuary and a shrine. Fervent tears have washed the floor and stairs across the ages, as people through time, now long forgotten, prayed for deliverance from suffering, war, heartache and disease…for themselves...or for their loved ones.

In olden days, pious pilgrims would enter the Church on their knees and crawl their way skyward to pray before the Madonna. The poor, the humble and the grief-struck climbed their weary way up the narrow staircase to pay homage and beg for mercy, blessings or redemption. Tongues do not speak aloud in such a sacred place. This is a site where only souls may speak to God…and hope that God is listening.

As I descended from the shrine, I saw an old, old peasant woman entering the Church. She was dressed entirely in black, in 18th century garb (the peasantry hadn’t changed much in the Soviet Union, then). Her head was bowed, and she clutched a rosary within her gnarled fingers. Her knees had been rubbed raw.

She left a trail of blood glistening in her wake.

* * *

Postscript: I would gladly crawl on my hands and knees to fasten a golden heart in gratitude within the Dawn Gate Church if only my heart would heal. Sad to say, some prayers are never answered. But, then again, I suppose some prayers are not meant to be answered.

* * *

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Matter of Time

I finished The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was probably my favorite read of the past year. It dawned on me that this novel, and two other personal favorites, Possession by A.S. Byatt, and The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer, all share a common element: the interplay of fate and time. In all other respects, each novel is distinctively different. It’s that fate/time dimension that drew me in and captured my imagination.

Why this affect on me, I wonder? Perhaps it’s a fundamental human fascination. Don’t most of us dream of a true and steadfast love fated to last a lifetime (or several)?

Or is it because I'm an ill-fated pilgrim who’s running out of time?

* * *

Friday, May 05, 2006

My Calibration

I am a bit more than halfway through The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I'm filled with warm feelings for this novel, primarily because I find Henry and Clare so endearing. I am impressed (and admittedly jealous) that Ms. Niffenegger was able to craft such an intriguing, creative and beguiling story for her first novel. It’s not that the author is a terrific wordsmith (although she writes just fine...well, better than fine), it's that she created such a fantastic, involving and incredibly loving tale. I am captivated by her inaugural effort.

I confess a growing sense of foreboding as I proceed. I wonder if my intuition is correct? I will find out soon enough.

I thought I’d recap a few of the lines that struck my fancy (and grabbed my heart):

“…whenever I listened to her I felt my life meant more than mere biology…”

“After she died I don’t think I ever really felt anything again.”

“But don’t you think that it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”

“That’s what I love you for: your inability to perceive all my hideous flaws.”

“Do you ever lie awake wondering if I’m some kind of joke God is playing on you?”

“The house envelops us, watches us, contemplates us as we make love in it for the first time…” (This line filled me with inexpressible sorrow)

And, finally, there was this:

“He isn’t calibrated to bring peace to anyone’s life.”

I pause and exhale slowly. I close the book and ponder that a while. I do believe this characterization applies to me as well.

It sucks to admit that.

* * *

Monday, May 01, 2006


One of my oldest and dearest friends noted that I haven’t written about my divorce, even though this blog is ostensibly about my inner workings. He’s right, of course. The truth is, I have no words. None at all.

I am the refugee standing before the rubble of his bombed and burned out home (never mind...for the moment...that I was one of the bomb-throwers). Silence is the province of every shell-shocked refugee. My eyes are those of a man who has lost everything. We’ve all seen the visages of the victims in Darfur, Kosovo, Kabul, the Pakistan earthquake, the Indonesian tsunami, New Orleans (dear Lord, the list is endless). We’ve all seen their eyes, and their eyes reveal nothing...only shock. There are no tears, no signs of anger. There is nothing. The eyes are lifeless, revealing nothing. We see only the vacant stares of the lost and homeless. My eyes are like that, and they truly are the windows to my soul.

I suppose there may come a day when words will come. Not today, though, nor tomorrow. Not for a long, long while. I can only do what refugees do, what refugees have always done. Pick up, move on, gather bricks from rubble and build anew. Build a a life...heal. That’s what refugees have done throughout history. That’s what I must do.

* * *

And so it goes...

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