Whether looking or not

“Everything is connected, the past, the present, the future. It converges on the moment we happen to be living, wherever or whenever that moment is occurring.” I am quoting me. I just said it (thought it…now I said it, although no one was here to hear me do it so I can’t prove that). I have said stuff like this before. I am no where near smart enough to know that what I said is actually true. 

I only know that I seem to experience life that way. It happened last night. Don’t raise expectations, it was nothing exciting to anyone but me. I sat down with the program for a concert by a choral ensemble (Kantorei in Kansas City) and I almost laughed out loud. I turned to a page toward the end that had bios on the featured Artists. There was a picture and a bio that looked as if I had written it. If it had been in German, I could have claimed to be the author.

Ten days ago, I took my German Final Exam at Washburn. It was very difficult and I was painfully stressed as I studied for it and realized (again) I was in way over my head. I struggled for two hours to write essays in German without dictionary or access to any resources other than my brain. All I had was what I had stuffed into my brain in the prior few days. My brain was quite rebellious when I was stuffing it. In fact, almost as fast as I stuffed, it upchucked. I have no idea where the upchucked information went. I am just grateful there was no cleanup needed. (It was German information. They are known for their cleanliness.)

The hardest essay to write was the one in response to the prompt that we write about a famous German of our choosing. We needed to prepare by gathering information about that person so that we could write the required minimum of fourteen sentences. (Have you ever seen a German sentence?) I made a tactical error. I picked a German poet named Rainer Maria Rilke and chose to write about his impact on the genre, his innovative style and the philosophical dimension of his work. I realized the specific nature of my error the night before the test as I tried to memorize the vocabulary and commit to memory the basic outline of the essay so that I would not forget at least in general terms what I had planned to write. The error: I had not written a bio of his life with an obvious chronological order to help anchor the material in my brain. There was not a logical this happened and then that happened.  I entered the room fully aware of my mistake, hoping to find the material somewhere in my rebellious and now hopelessly stressed brain. The room was not quiet and I am easily distracted. After about an hour struggling to concentrate and reclaim any of what I had prepared, I asked to move to a quiet room and finish (barely) the exam. Last Wednesday I met with the Professor to find out how I did. She complemented me on my writing and went through the entire test with me. Surprisingly, I had done extremely well. 

When I went to the concert last night, that experience was still glowing inside. Rainer Maria Rilke was the featured Artist whose bio in that program contained in English the very descriptions I had written in German ten days ago. That is where last night’s experience started.  Then I began to realize how many bits and pieces of my life touched that moment and that place.

Among the singers was one who had studied for a time in Wellington, New Zealand. After the concert we had an animated conversation about our respective times in New Zealand. One of the singers had performed in a concert I attended a week ago. Others in their bios revealed connections with people and places that have been a part of my life.

The venue was St. Andrew’s Episcopal church in Kansas City. I had led a service of evening prayer for area Lutheran churches in that sanctuary around thirty-five years ago when we were learning services from a new hymnal. As I sat there last evening, I had flashbacks to that service and the people involved, many of them much respected, some now deceased. That was also the place where an AGO (American Guild of Organists) choir of which I was a member rehearsed. Thoughts of the choir members and the concerts joined me as I sat in that room awaiting the beginning of the concert. All of those times and those experiences and those people were with me in that room at that moment.

The choir sang a thoughtful poem filled with imagery from nature that Rilke had written during the years he wrote in French. The music was by a composer named Morten Lauridsen and was so beautiful as to stir feelings. During the last piece a new awareness sprung up in the freshly tilled ground of my feelings. The words were a poem by Wendell Berry called “The Peace of Wild Things.” Berry describes the struggles of life and his visits into places in nature where he finds peace. It was in that field of sprouting feelings that I remembered that where I was sitting at that moment in the Nave of St. Andrews is only blocks away from where Mary Ann and I spent fifteen years raising our children. It was there, on a phone call from a doctor’s office almost exactly thirty years ago that Mary Ann learned of the diagnosis of her Parkinson’s. I had been and was still in Oklahoma City at that time for six months starting my ministry there while she stayed with Lisa and Micah to finish out the school year. Lisa was graduating from high school and Micah from the Eighth Grade.

This is always a time of the year when Mary Ann is especially in our minds. Mothers’ Day and her May 15th birthday come together, along with remembering the last days before her death on June 14. In that moment awareness of the thirty years of life since then settled in. It was not distressing or even uncomfortable. The feelings were strong, but worthy of savoring as signs of love and a full life together. Even the grief has nourished the quality of life that has been growing in the last thirty years.

 As I sit here at the table writing this, in front of me is the fused glass art piece Stacey made, the one that reminds me of the scene in Tobermory, Scotland that stirred me to contemplate the journey I am on from its roots to an unknown future. The piece is titled “Endless Horizons.”

The present, past and future all connected last evening. It contained them all. It is always so, in every moment, whether we happen to be looking for it or not.

After describing his retreats into nature among the wild things, Berry’s poem and the song conclude with these words: “For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

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Treadmill Musings

I have begun regular treks on a treadmill in preparation for future travels, especially doing one of the Great Walks in New Zealand again, this time with my Granddaughter, Chloe.  The treadmill treks (five to six times a week) are usually 50 minutes in length, including the last few minutes with a 15% incline and a 4.0 walking speed pushing my heart rate from resting (48-49) to about 130-140.  I think I am becoming addicted to the endorphin rush.  While those numbers are hardly impressive, for this soon to be 74 year old (in a couple of weeks), they are acceptable.

I usually listen to a podcast to take advantage of the time on the treadmill and the alertness that is a side effect of the physical activity.  I am currently listening to the audio version of a book by Krista Tippett who produces the OnBeing weekly podcasts on NPR.  The book includes parts of a number of interviews she has had with people who are thoughtful and deep and reflective in a way that resonates with my spirit at this point in my journey.

Today’s listening took my thoughts to some discoveries in the last years of Mary Ann’s and my life together.  Themes of a couple of recent OnBeing podcasts and this morning’s thread wove into the tapestry of our last years together.  The people Krista chooses to interview all seem to have emerged from the complexities of life with the ability to put them together in a way that transcends the complexity and discovers Elegance.  Those Interviewees do not sugarcoat the painful realities nor do they let those painful realities slip away without first giving the gifts buried within them.  Those words come easily to me, since they flow from my experience.   For all of them, Krista and those she interviews, the pain and joy are not opposites but part of the same tapestry.

Today what I heard took my thoughts to the physicality of Mary Ann’s and my relationship. There was reflection on the role of our bodies in what we often relegate to the mind exclusively.  Krista made quick reference to a favorite Hebrew word (nephesh) for a living being, a sentient being, one that includes body, breath, thought, feeling, a whole being.  She referred to a paraplegic who survived a tragic injury and had to reconstruct his life while enduring severe physical and mental battles.  That paraplegic realized that even the PTSD was deeply entrenched in his body.  Through a version of Yoga, he reclaimed his body and his sense of wholeness both physically and mentally. Another Interviewee suggested that many have lost the connection with their bodies, the connection that comes naturally in the first years of life.

My thoughts went to those last years of Mary Ann’s and my life together, when our relationship was a tactile one.  Her needs were basic physical ones.  I had an intimate involvement in all her bodily functions.  I remember feeling as if I was her body, a body that could still do the things that the Parkinson’s had taken from her.  I remain in awe of the depth of our bond, a bond that physical contact strengthened.

There is one other thought that came from an offhand comment by Krista or one of the Interviewees.  I don’t remember the specific words spoken, but those words suggested that simply our physical presence has value by itself and in relationships with others.  Mary Ann’s and my relationship was not sweet and pretty as in the story books.  It was real.  There was a strength to it that endured for the 48 years from our first meeting to her death.  I wasn’t always wonderful and neither was she.  The words that I heard today helped me as I remembered the times I was far from wonderful.   I think that through it all, each of us, Mary and and I, both were better people and have had better lives on account being so fully present with each other.   I find comfort in that.


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Alone?“You are never alone,” a friend from Australia (Queensland, half way between Brisbane and Cairns) said to me in a comment on a recent Facebook post. I had planned a quiet New Year’s Eve carefully, visiting Trader Joe’s in Kansas City for some really great Creamy Danish Blue Cheese, some Trader Joe’s aged Gouda, marinated Greek olives, a jar of olives stuffed with Blue Cheese, a tin of smoked Herring and a nice Beaujolais. I lit a couple of candles, put on some Renaissance music and settled in for an evening celebrating the coming New Year by myself.

Then my phone pinged. I was excited to see that Tanja, one of my Camino Kids, sent via WhatsApp a silly Happy New Year Cartoon, followed by a selfie of her toasting the New Year with a glass of Prosecco and a “Happy New Year” wish. I sent her a “Happy New Year” reply and attached two pictures. One was a selfie of me toasting with a my glass of Beaujolais and a picture of the opossum that had been eating the birds sunflower seeds on my deck. I was not alone. Two joined me in my celebration, one very lovely and the other not so much (verifying evidence on my Facebook page).   

I have found contemplation, mindfulness, to be a helpful tool in dealing with a life that is sometimes out of control. (Is it actually ever in control? I think not.) One of the Monklings in Galway, Ireland, with whom I spent a week last September has recently asked for thoughts about doing contemplation in community and alone. That issue touches a nerve for me since I have spent many years constantly immersed in the lives of others longing for the rare times of solitude and now spend almost all of my time alone.   

As a child, I played alone most of the time. My four siblings are all much older than I. I had an affinity for nature, worms and caterpillars, moths and butterflies, tadpoles and water bugs, weeds and wildflowers, puffy cumulus and wispy cirrus clouds, sun and rain and blue sky and wind. At the same time, while during my young years my parents did not socialize with the neighbors on the block, I was not shy about going down the street, getting acquainted, even if it meant knocking on the door and introducing myself. Before Dad broke down and got a television (not until I was eleven), I spent time watching television at a house down the block with an older couple who had a dog with a missing eye (result of chasing cars). 

The need for solitude and community seem to be securely bound together in my DNA. That is hardly unusual. While some feel more at home with one or the other, it appears that the human species is wired for both. That is how we have survived and populated the planet.   

We were sitting on an outcropping of rocks at about 9000 feet in a remote spot in the Rockies accessed by gravel and dirt roads outside of Woodland Park, Colorado. It was very late on a clear night. The stars were bright. A ribbon of stars clustered together to form the Milky Way. Occasionally, one of the stars, manmade, moved steadily, without wavering, from one horizon to the other. We were mesmerized by the stars. We had spent the day with full responsibility for the activities of about sixty high school age people, seeking to engage them in nurturing activities, deal with the intensity that comes with adolescence, the energy, the quick minds, the silliness, the relationships building and breaking and building again.   

We talked quietly for a while, in the dark, hoping to hear no young voices of cabin escapees armed with flashlights coming up the steep hill to break the quiet and steal the darkness from us. Soon we settled into complete silence. It was dark and silent and serene. Each of us, separate from the other, sat in utter solitude, alone. We were alone together. I will never forget that moment, that place. The people sitting near me were college age then. They are now in their fifties. I still feel a bond with them even though the time between face to face encounters can sometimes be measured in years.

My wife Mary Ann was in a terminal battle with Parkinson’s Disease, a battle that lasted almost 24 years. Parkinson’s is not a terminal disease, but a disease that once it comes, stays to the end. My job as the Pastor of a congregation had no boundaries other than ones I set. I remember often taking comfort in the fact that there were only 24 hours in each day, providing one clearly identifiable boundary, firmly fixed. I was technically on call all of those 24 hours in my work, although it was not often that I was called out during the night. In a strange way Mary Ann’s clearly defined needs provided some freedom from the constant work responsibilities. People understood and very many came to our rescue and volunteered hours each week to be a present friend to her while I was working. There were times that I was able to be gone for two nights by myself.   

St. Francis of the Woods is out in the country in North Central Oklahoma, on a 500 acre working farm, a place set aside for those seeking solitude and silence and Spiritual renewal. I drove through the expansive prairie in Kansas called the Flint Hills and after five hours of music, shedding all the clutter that had gathered in my mind, I arrived at the cabin. There are many acres of woods with a pathway through some areas, an occasional bench for reflection and reading. I was the only person there other than the Director and a few of those who worked the farm. I saw no other human until the third day. There were birds and deer, an Armadillo so busy nosing around for grubs that he was oblivious to my presence.   

I found my way to a small field that was completely surrounded by forest. It was my favorite spot. I set up my three-legged camping stool and sat in silence in a corner of the field, ten or fifteen feet into the forest. Some turkeys wandered by about 50 feet farther into the forest. A Pileated Woodpecker landed on a nearby tree. That species is about 17” tall and looks like a feathered Pterodactyl. I read, I thought, I felt fully present with everything around me, just part of the landscape.   

I decided to move out into the open in the center, the highest point of that five or ten acre field. A Turkey Vulture soared from over the woods, so low over my head that I could hear the swishing of its wings. Three of them circled over the field for a few moments before gliding away to find prey that was not so large and mobile as I. I sat on the stool, ate a granola bar and an apple, and poured a bit of coffee into the cap of the thermos. Then I settled again, this time in the sun, to think and meditate and read and become fully present with that place.   

I began to think about Mary Ann. Contemplative mode seeks to calm the raging river of thoughts and words that just refuses to stop flowing. The goal is to move deeply into what is most basic to one’s existence, fully human, no frills, nothing to prove or accomplish to have value. At its best, it does not separate and isolate. It is an inward journey and an outward journey at the very same time, allowing the someone who lives under all the layers of busyness to feel secure enough to open him/herself to others. As I sat there, I realized that Mary Ann might wonder why I wanted to go off by myself, away from her. I had never done it before. Turning off the cell phone had been an important part letting go of the busyness. I called her from that hill. We just talked for a bit. Mary Ann hated talking on the phone. She never had been very verbal and the Parkinson’s had made her even less so. I wanted her to know that my need for solitude did not signal a need to be away from her. On the contrary, it drew me closer to her.   

Last September, when the fifteen of us rode out to ancient thin places in Ireland, where people for thousands of years had come seeking to engage mystery, to experience Spiritual renewal, we grew into a community. We spent times in silence, sometimes in close proximity to one another, sometimes distant, even out of sight of one another. At times we were alone together. At times we talked and laughed and sang and even danced (sort of) together.   

When Tanja messaged me on New Year’s Eve, the bond that had come from walking the Camino together was palpable. We were together (including the opossum). When I spent the time as a child in nature, I was connected to what lay around me there. When on that outcropping that night in Colorado, looking at the stars, we truly were alone together, bound to one another by the darkness and the silence. When I was sitting on that hill in Oklahoma in utter solitude, Mary Ann was as close to me as she would have been were my arms wrapped around her transferring her from sitting on the side of the bed to her wheelchair. Yes, even when people to whom I feel connected respond to a Facebook post, it is an expression of community.   

I am wired for solitude and community. I think we all are. Solitude and community are not mutually exclusive but they are woven into the fabric of life. Some of both are necessary to make the fabric strong and beautiful.   

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Swirling Thoughts and Feelings

Head Swirling!

[Written late last Tuesday evening.]  There are so many thoughts and feelings that have stirred during a journey I took this evening.  The guide on the journey was Charles Bruffy, who conducted a performance of the Brahms Requiem.  Layers of memories and future intentions have mingled with the present, leaving my head and wherever feelings live swirling around far beyond the scope of the music itself.

For me past and future adventures, people, experiences, joy and grief all jumbled together, taking center stage at will, one after the other, back to the one and on to the other again.

It did start with the music. Before the first chords of the piano accompaniment sounded, Charles brought us into a quiet space, preparing us to for the journey on which the Brahms Requiem would take us.  A requiem is a worship service done at a Roman Catholic funeral.  The music and words are intended to help those grieving come to terms with the death of a Loved One and turn towards the new life that will emerge from the grief.  Charles asked us to remember someone close to us who has died and allow the Requiem about to be sung to be sung for that person.

I remembered.  It has been a few months plus six years since Mary Ann died.  I feel good and whole and able to live with joy and still able to be present with the grief.  Charles talked about the serendipitous performance of the Requiem at the time in the church year called All Saints, a time that includes the ancient Day of the Dead.  The tradition is to remember in a ritualized way those close to us who have died.  What I remembered was a day almost exactly three years ago, just after I had returned from walking the 500 miles of the Camino across northern Spain, carrying a backpack.  It was the All Saints’ Day service at church.  The names of those who had died that year were read, followed by a bell sounding after each name.  I knew so many of those people whose names were read.  Some had come to be friends, people about whom I cared very much.

What happened next on that morning in church caught me by surprise.  I was walking up the aisle to receive the bread and wine of communion, and as I neared the front, the video screen on which were scrolling pictures of those who had died in past years showed Mary Ann holding Granddaughter Chloe on her lap.  (It was shown at her funeral three years earlier.)  They were both laughing happily.  I knew instantly that I was in trouble.  The beautiful relationships built on the Camino had just ended.  I had returned to an empty house, feeling utterly alone, like a stranger in my own home town.  By the time I returned to my pew.  I had lost control of my feelings. I was quietly sobbing, unable to keep my shoulder movements from revealing what was happening to those sitting near and behind me.  That is what I remembered tonight.

Tonight at the concert the feelings did not return with that sort of intensity.  I just remembered. It was a good remembering.  Three years ago, at that moment, I needed to cry.  Tonight, I needed to remember, to feel the memory for a time.

I began thinking about people I have met in the last five years of traveling.  There are so many with whom a bond of some sort developed.  Sometimes the interaction was just one conversation, sometimes days and weeks of conversations.  Those connections mean something to me.  I make no demands on those with whom I feel connected.  I recognize that in most cases I feel far more of a bond than they do.  It is just the way I am wired.  It is okay.  There are some with whom the friendship has blossomed into a deep and lasting one.

Then thoughts about the future swirled in and out of view.  There is a jumble of them.  I just found out about another 1000 voice Singalong, this time in Riga, Latvia this coming July.  I have been pursuing the option of studying German for a semester next fall at a University in Klagenfurt, Austria.  I have thought about returning instead to Vienna to the same language school for a month, maybe getting to see my friends from the last class a time or two while I am there.  I most certainly need to visit my German Camino Kids (and Laida in Spain some time).  I have limited resources that need to be used wisely, so choices have to be made.  I would prefer not running out of resources before I run out of life.  I am very grateful for bunks and shared baths in cheap hostels and lots of (sometimes free) muesli, allowing the travel to happen.

[It is Saturday evening as I now as I prepare to publish this post.  Last evening I went to another concert and was again overwhelmed by the beauty of a piece by Brahms, this time written for a small group of six stringed instruments.  I am feeling a bit pensive as I wonder where life will take me next.   Tomorrow is the All Saints’ Day remembrance of who are now gone. It is also a good time to love all the more those who are still here.]

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And Babies Make Four!

And Babies Make Four!

There are two people I am very happy to be able to call Nephew and Niece, who are on the way to experiencing the most exciting imaginable event in February.  After much hope for good results, not one but two little ones, have begun to grow in a wonderful and also very excited surrogate, Jill.

Tim and Shandra found each other, love grew, they married and have been a joy to watch as they have shared a life of work and travel, each talented and creative and remarkable in his/her own way.  They have lived life to the full.  Now comes the best of all for them.  I have no doubt that they have heard endlessly how much their lives will change when those two little people make four where there had been just two.  Some have probably told them that this sort of one plus one adds up to way more than two.  They cannot know, nor do they need to know just how dramatic the change will be.  They will experience it.  Then they will know.

The most important result of this change in their lives is that they are about to learn more about love than they ever could have imagined.  They love each other.  Shandra has taught children.  They know how to love.  Those two little ones will teach them about love at a level that is impossible to describe until a person has experienced it.  I am excited for them.

I remember discovering a kind of love about which I had no clue when Lisa was born.  Then I remember wondering when Mary Ann was pregnant with Micah how it would be possible to have enough love left to give second child.  Then a miracle happened. The love increased immediately, the moment he arrived. There was more love.  Apparently, love actually does have no limits.  There is not only a certain amount that must be divided into smaller pieces when there are more people to love.  Who knew???

I remember a particular night at about 3am when I discovered something I had not until then realized, at least consciously. Most of what we call love is actually all about our needs.  That love is the wonderful feeling another person triggers in us.  Love is usually more about us than about the person we claim to love.  The other person fills our need or desire in some way.  That night, Micah had an ear ache.  Nothing we did or gave him salved the pain enough to allow him to sleep.  I went in for my own benefit to try to do something that would calm him and allow his Mom and me to get some sleep.  He was probably between one and two years old at the time.  I picked him up out of bed and tried to rock him and swing from side to side to elicit a return to sleep.  It was working, but I knew that once I put him into the bed, it would all start again.  There was a rocking chair in his room.  I gently settled into the chair so as not to wake him and started rocking.  The ear that was aching rested on my chest.  I am guessing that the warmth of my body helped keep the ear canal open.  As I rocked him in that chair at 3am, it washed over me that what had begun from my selfish need for rest had turned into love that was purely given for the sake of someone else. I discovered love, love at a level I had never understood before.

Tim and Shandra, that is the love those two little ones will teach you.

Real love, that kind of love is not always sweet and precious filling Mom and Dad with constant joy and pleasure. (That just sounded silly as I was writing it.)  A baby’s main job is to eat, poop and pee (in their case, times two).  (I forgot to mention the spitting up.) After that, the prime directive is to get the big people in the house to feed them and clean up their wet and/or poopy bottoms. They will become very skilled at manipulating those big people.  After it is no longer gas producing the cute smiles, those smiles will become tools in their arsenal.  The carrot and stick of smiling and screaming will train those big people to respond appropriately to their every need.  Even if Mom and Dad catch on and resist the manipulation, Aunt Linda, Uncles Tony, Jeremy, and Gary, and Grandmas and Grandpas will be easy marks. (Rosemary, their cat, may not be so easily manipulated.)

Now for a more reflective observation about parents need to manage the input and output of their very young children.  As a boy who was raised in the 1940’s and 50’s, I did not take on the role of the primary caregiver although I did have a share in those responsibilities, and I was the one on call to clean up after any expulsion of stomach contents (the spaghetti was the worst).  I did not have the full understanding of what it meant to be the prime caregiver twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  That did happen for about a week once when the Kids were early elementary school in age.  That was an eye-opener even though they were older and with fewer needs.

When Mary Ann was in the last stages of Parkinson’s disease, especially the last two years of her life, I discovered what it meant to have responsibility for someone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  I had become the one who managed what went in and what came out of the person I loved.  I made a discovery.  To be able to care for her at the level of her most basic needs was the most important thing I had ever done in my life.  By then, she was not very verbal.  As with a little one, I needed to pay close attention to identify the specific need at any given moment.   She taught me even more about love.

Shandra and Tim, taking care of those basic needs will be as important as anything you will ever do.  You will see what love looks and smells like!  Cherish it.  Those smiles will turn into hugs and they will become genuine expressions of love returned to you.  There was a moment in my time with Mary Ann, a moment I will never forget, when during the last years, when she could still stand and still walk a short distances, that she came up to me as I was standing in the kitchen in front of the refrigerator.  I turned and she gave me some gentle kisses on the lips, something that had not happened in a very long time.  There is no prize, no honor, no amount of recognition, nothing I can imagine that could measure up to the gift she gave me in that moment.

Tim and Shandra, life will change for you more than you can ever imagine when those little people come to live with you.  Don’t worry, you will survive!  The gifts they have to give you will be beyond measure!

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Aisha’s Challenge!

Aisha’s Challenge

It is called Arthur’s Seat. It lies just outside the city center on the edge of Edinburgh. It is a little less than 1000 feet tall, but the way I went was the steeper of the options. There were stone steps for most of the steepest part. The wind was very strong even by Kansas standards. As we crossed paths on his way down and my way up, a young man warned me to take off my glasses (which I did). The wind had blown his glasses off and he was not able to retrieve them.

When she noticed that I was in Edinburgh, adventurous Aisha (Belfast and the trip to Giants Causeway) messaged me that I needed to climb Arthur’s Seat. When I was on the side of that hill and the wind was trying to make a sail of my windbreaker I had second, third and fourth thoughts about continuing. At one point when I was walking with a young fellow from Ohio, I decided to head back down and he also decided not to tackle the climb due to the wind and threatening weather. I was moving toward a gentler way down since there had been a little rock climbing on the a path we both had taken to get to that point. I looked again at the steep climb and decided to just do a little more of it. I kept doing a little more, stopping often when the wind was throwing me off balance. After a while, I just stopped thinking about it and kept going. I will admit I was very apprehensive about the climb down since past experience has revealed going down to be the more difficult task on any climb. The rain seemed to veer in away from the climb, but the wind never relented. The last hundred or so feet of the climb was a rocky promontory on which sat the stone chair. There were others there on the chair, but I did take pictures to document my accomplishment.

I did not spend time there in contemplative mode since the wind was so strong and I was concerned about negotiating the descent. On the way down, I noticed a fellow with a Chicago Bears shirt who was on the way up. We spent a few minutes making the Chicago/Northern Illinois connection. They are also flying back tomorrow, so we are going see if we can find one another.

The above was written in the hostel in Edinburgh (a very good one). At this point a conversation began with Elmar from Austria and soon included Ilora from Australia. The conversation probably lasted a couple of hours, maybe more (I lost track of time). The subjects we covered were legion, among them hostels, travel, the challenges in the world, electronics, social issues, eating habits, and however more it takes to constitute a legion. They gave me permission to use their first names (we are now Facebook friends). Elmar was in robotics, but chose something that more reflects his passion, three dimensional animation. Ilora was working for an insurance company and then came upon a small family run producer of healthful pet food, especially dogs. She agreed that being loved by dogs when they come in provides a much better quality of life than sitting at a computer all day long every day. She plans ultimately to join the Police Force. By the time our conversation was winding down, it was too late to resume writing a post. I was pretty tired after my strenuous climb in the wind earlier. I think we were all reluctant to end the conversation. That couple of hours is an example of what draws me to travel and stay in hostels.

One treat has been meeting Vincenzo who was staying in the room for six in which I slept at the hostel. He reminded me of Claudia, also from Italy, who was in the month long German class in Vienna last May. I experienced a connection with Claudia when she shared that Science is her area of study and she has a philosophical bent also. The same is so for Vincenzo. They both seem to have such a deep understanding of life in spite of the fact that they are so young. (Claudia, you are still my favorite!)

After returning from the climb earlier I went out to find the National Museum, filled with original works of art from the about the 13th century on. As has happened before, I appreciated the marvel of standing in front of paintings done by the Great Masters. The National Museum carried through to the Impressionists, but then just across from it is a the Scottish National Gallery that was exhibiting the work of three Impressionist painters. The painters were Daubigny, Monet and Van Gogh. It is a bit overwhelming to walk through rooms of original paintings by these people. Daubigny is new to me (illustrating how little I know of art history). He painted rural scenes that stirred my love for the rustic and pastoral. Apparently, he set the stage for the impressionists who would follow. The peaceful and gentle loveliness of the Monets moved me back toward contemplative mode. The passion expressed in wild strokes of Van Gogh especially in the last works before he took his own life led me to find a thin place even in a public space later when I was sitting in a beautiful park nearby.

Again, the weather was chilly outside, so I pulled out the fleece jacket and Harris tweed gloves for some Contemplative Koselig in a setting filled with sounds. Instead of judging the sounds, I just welcomed them. Noisy trains went by just barely in view down at a lower level across the park in front of me behind some trees and shrubbery. Street noises, busses and cars traveled on a street up a couple of levels and behind me. There were Buskers doing Scottish music up to the right in the open area between the museums, not quite a block away and a level above. The music, clapping of the crowd and voices of the Buskers provided a layer of sound. A group of squawking Gulls visited for a short time. Sirens sometimes intruded, but I chose to welcome them, too. Occasionally, people would walk by on the wide path in front of the benches. Their conversations were muted, but part of what was turning into a fertile medium for nourishing thoughts about my imminent return to life back home.

So, what now? Will any of what I have experienced remain, or will it drift into the deep recesses of this aging brain to return only rarely? If what has happened in the past happens after this trip, I will annoy people by talking way too much about the trip and repeating endlessly a few of the stories that stick out in my memory. I will continue doing that until I have run out of people who haven’t yet heard the stories.

Coincidentally, a couple of emails from people in the Spiritual Formation group of which I have been a part for a dozen years indicated that they had been talking about how to pause and keep the benefits of a contemplative and thoughtful way of life present in the flow of daily activity. In addition, Natalie from the group of Monklings who gathered for a week in Galway (we all loved listening to her properly English way of speaking), emailed some pages from a book called Art of Pilgrimage relating to the matter of recalling pilgrim experiences and hopes for incorporating them into life after the pilgrimage has ended. .

Lately I have been making videos of about 30 seconds to a minute or so with only ambient sounds, no spoken words. My intention is to use them as mini-retreats and incorporate them into my days. When I get home I plan to experiment with that practice. The pages that Natalie posted suggest spending time soon after returning with the memories, identifying the changes that have been triggered by the trip.

Most of the above was written on the plane back to the USA.  The couple from Chicago and I did find each other and wait together for the flight.  As I finish his post, it is a little more than 24 hours from the time of my arrival back home. I have had a good night’s sleep, and I am hoping to avoid as much jet-lag as possible. I have unpacked the backpack and put things away, the wash is done, and I have been to the grocery. I am a little surprised at the moments of self-discovery and the number of clues that hint at future possibilities that occurred on this trip. No big decisions were made concerning the future directions, but the options seem to have become a little clearer.

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Unexpected Bonus

Unexpected Bonus this Morning

I checked out early and went to the bus stop to wait for the bus to the ferry. I took some final pictures of Tobermory with the caption: I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE. Another fellow came up to wait. His name is Ian, a resident of Tobermory not much younger than I. Later he revealed that he was a tour guide and docent at the Mull Museum, full of detailed information about the area.

When the bus driver arrived and started the bus, another fellow came up and loaded some things in the luggage compartment. I recognized him as the fellow with the microscope at the computer screen when I visited the Mull Aquarium. It was not until this morning that I learned his name, Andy Tait, who on a Facebook page goes by Proffessor (Intentionally misspelled) Plankton.

Surprisingly, they had not yet met. I introduced them. That seemed odd to me since Andy was there seven months out of the year, Ian was a permanent resident, and I am just the visiting tourist. What followed was an hour long bus trip filled with information about the area, the ocean life, the birds and much more. When we arrived at the dock to take the ferry, Andy decided to treat us to a cup of coffee on the ferry. As we were boarding, Elly came running over to give Andy a big hug. She is a Ph.D. Student who did some months of fieldwork on a boat with Andy.

We formed a sort of study group as Andy and Ian just talked. Elly added to the conversation and I mostly listened and asked a few questions. I had an occasional story to add (Surprise!). One thing that became obvious quickly is that the world in which island people live is all about boats of all sorts. They knew by name all the ferries that had carried people in the last few decades, their colors and condition. Later, when we walked along the wharf in Oban, they described the purpose of each of the dozen or so boats we went by. They talked about what the equipment on those boats was used for and which of those things was harmful to the life in the ocean.

Andy appears to me to be the perfect fellow for a television series helping adults and children learn about ocean life and how to care for it. (He does not have such a series.). He has a winning smile, loves what he does, loves to kid around and has just enough of a weathered look from all that time out on the ocean to fit the part perfectly. He takes videos of whales and whatever else he sees. Many of those videos have been used by people making films and documentaries. I felt so privileged to have a couple of hours enjoying these people this morning, helping to ease my transition from Tobermory to busy Edinburgh. Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I was hungry enough to have another plate of fresh scallops from that same dockside outdoor restaurant before getting on the noon train to Edinburgh.

During the first leg of the train ride I was quiet, not trying to initiate a conversation with the woman who sat next to me. She seemed subdued, but on occasion talked with a friend of hers who was sitting in the row in front and across the aisle. After an hour or so, I finally spoke up and found out that she was from England. She and some friends had just spent time on Iona, on a retreat created by the small group. She had done on Iona what our group in Galway was there to do. The next hour was full of conversation about contemplative spirituality. She was somewhat reluctantly trying to transition from the deep internal work of the retreat to the structure and business of life back home, even though her work was enabling others in their Spiritual Formation. Our conversation served to help me during my transitional time from the peaceful and contemplative character of Tobermory to Edinburgh, from which I will fly back to the USA. As I was leaving the train car, her friend got my attention since she heard that I had done the Camino. Her brother had done it and been changed by it.

I was pleased at how smoothly the travel went from bus to ferry to the first leg of the train ride, then switching to another train in Glasgow. So far the hostel in Edinburgh seems to be a good one. It is in the City Center just a half block from the Royal Mile with many of the main attractions. The common area seems reasonably welcoming. I have had a bit of fun connecting with a group of eight or so people from Spain, helping them with a group picture. They currently live in Stuttgart since there are no jobs in Spain. Again, the Camino offered material for conversation. They are just here for a weekend visit to Edinburgh. There was another group from the Netherlands who walked through singing, offering a chance to kid with them. Those small moments of connection help me feel more comfortable in a new place.

A couple of Kids from Minnesota just registered. I heard their American English, so could easily begin a conversation. They are studying in Segovia, Spain for a semester and just on a quick break to visit Edinburgh. Jean-eve from France sat down at the table while charging a phone and we had a long conversation. He is here working on learning English, which he already speaks quite well. He had some helpful ideas for me about learning to speak German. Stacy from Japan sat down to work at the table. Jean-eve addressed her as if he had spoken to her before. After he left she shared that she is studying contemporary art mostly for pleasure rather than training for a career. It was hard for us to understand one another, but we managed to have a very interesting conversation about the role of art and its value in adding quality to life. I showed her some Rothko paintings and she showed me some installation art that was quite meaningful to her.

This evening has been another of those times when I feel a little embarrassed that others are expected to speak English along with their native language and maybe one or two other languages, when those of us from the USA is whose native language is English often only speak English. At the same time I am grateful to benefit from the common use of English.

There seem to be more middle-aged adults at this hostel than in the others at which I have stayed so far. The pattern that has emerged on this trip is staying a couple of nights in hostel alternating with a couple of nights in a hotel. That satisfies my need for community and allows recuperative solitude providing a nice balance.

I was able to obtain a bottom bunk here, so I think I will now try to get some recuperative sleep. It has been a long day.

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