Tag Archives: Hope

Courage at Twilight: The Big Leak

Don’t tell him about the big leak, I exhorted myself.  Victor will fix it on Monday.  But Dad is home, at the end of a month of hospitalization and rehabilitation, and will want to know why Victor is digging up the back yard.  So, I told him, at the end of his first day home, and that Victor and I knew exactly the problem, and it would be fixed on Monday.  Dad is home.  He drove his power wheelchair slowly up the smooth and sturdy ramps on a 5:1 slope, drove his chair through the front door and into the house and directly to his recliner.  “Those ramps are great, Rog.  Smooth and sturdy, and perfect.”  In his institution rooms, after the visitors had left, he stared at the ceiling through the long nights, fighting off loneliness and despondency.  Daily daytime visits from family and former missionaries and church members—and especially from Mom—had injected him with love and with hope, had fortified him against the dark nights.  In his recliner, he gazed slowly around the room, taking in the familiar surroundings, which looked different now, somehow, feeling an immense swelling gratitude for “every window and wall,” for the heavy scrolled wood dining table and hutch that he and Mom had bought in 1975 for $700 from a newly-divorced mother who need cash, now, and for the painting by Greason of a pre-industrial French countryside at dusk, for the many lamps that light his late-night reading, for the windows and chairs, for the front-door which had opened for his return, for Mom’s needlepoint of Noah and his wife and the animals and the ark, and for the kitchen counter laden with fresh fruit, the gratitude of survivors, of soldiers who nearly lost, but somehow managed to not, life’s latest battle, finding everything the same, but different, seeing with the eyes of someone returning home from war.  So, I did not want to tell him how I had begun to suspect a sprinkler problem, when pressures dipped, and when Station 7 was dry, and knew for sure when I stepped in two inches of water in the back yard, and saw the mat of grass rising, floating on the pond growing underneath, and turned the valve to off.  But I chose a good moment, and told him, and he was glad Victor was coming on Monday to fix it.  His hospital bed arrived in time to learn to raise the head and knees, to raise the whole bed, and to make the bed with sheets and blankets, and to add to the décor the laminated magazine page with the painting of Jesus which he had taped to the rehabilitation bed floorboard, which visage, together with the afterglow of the visits, helped him endure intact the interminable nights.  Sarah made him motor down the ramps for a walk in the cool darkness of the autumn evening, and then back up, praising again my solid and sturdy ramps.  He looked at me with a twinkle and vowed, “I’m going to climb the stairs”—and I said we were going to have a conversation about that (in other words, no, you’re not)—“but not today.”

Courage at Twilight: Something to Hope For

The pace of progress crawls and stalls, and we wonder at times if there is any hope for his healing or merely the painful prolonged waiting for the inevitable end.  “I don’t know if your dad will ever be able to come home again,” Mom softly wept to me, bravely facing possibilities of future truth.  In the skilled nursing facility, Dad wondered similar thoughts, whether he would ever leave his hospital bed, if his suddenly imprisoned legs would ever find a measure of old freedom.  For non-medicals like me, “auto immune response” is a vague and strange euphemism for individual internal corporal civil war, the body’s immune system besieging and dismantling other vital systems and organs it is meant to protect.  He sits in a reclining bed unable to do anything but to exist, and to think long about life, and to sleep.  He wakes from post-visitor exhaustion and is so relieved to find Jeanette still in his room, at night, and reaches for her reassuring hand to squeeze before she leaves.  “I’m so glad you’re here.  I feel very sad.  I wonder if there is any hope of ever getting better.”  Though aged 87, he does not feel old.  He says he is not ready to go.  “Well, Dad, we must find something to hope for,” I remarked, like knowing that with a power wheelchair he will have full and easy run of the main floor, most importantly of fridge and pantry—that is something to hope for—and knowing that in his power wheelchair he can roam the yard with his hoe and rake and weed-picker and work in the yard as long as he wishes—that is something to hope for—and knowing that he can back his reclining wheelchair into his recliner rocker space, under his white spindle lamp, under his favorite French countryside painting, with his books and mixed nuts and sugar-free chocolate chips and a tall glass of ice water—that is something to hope for—and knowing that if he works as hard as his feeble body can work to regain some little strength, he can leave the hospitals and facilities and centers, he can come home, for however much time is left—that is something to hope for—and knowing that though the world may no longer think it needs his strength and wisdom, he remains very much needed by his sweetheart and his children and his grandchildren and his expanding posterity who all look to him with adoration and tenderness—that is something to hope for, both for you and for me—because I need something to hope for, too.

(Image by Pexels from Pixabay .)

Courage at Twilight: Ah…Weddings

My nephew’s wedding day had finally come. I had worked many hours over several days to make Mom’s and Dad’s back yard—the wedding venue—look beautiful.  But as I sat at my circular blue-clothed table listening to the couple exchange their self-customized vows, I wondered at the irony and futility of my work.  In other words: not one living soul would have cared if the grass edges had not been string trimmed or if a weed or two had been missed—these would not have dampened anyone’s excited happiness.  My parents and my sister appreciated my effort more for the sacrifice and love it expressed than for the merits of the landscaping, and rightly so.  For the next event, will I target the same energy toward the venue appearance, or will I focus on weightier matters, like visiting with distant cousins and playing with the grandchildren and preparing heartfelt messages for the celebrants and lessening family burdens?  The temperature plunged from 92 degrees the evening before to 53 degrees on the morning of the wedding day, with rain falling all night and all morning.  But we tumbled the table cloths in the dryer and the clouds broke in time to warm and brighten the ceremony.  Poor Dad could not walk—he could merely lean heavily with both hands on his front-and-center cane and drag each foot forward a few inches, with screwed face and suppressed groans.  And that “walking” presupposed an ability to stand from his chair, which he could not.  I turned around to see a very-former son-in-law vaunting mock magnanimity by grabbing Dad by limbs and joints and hoisting with humble hubris.  But Dad preferred to wait for me, because the two of us together know just how to get the job done, with a heave of my elbow under his armpit to slowly stand, then his arm pretzeled heavily in mine to move across the grass toward the house.  The bride looked lovely and confident and serene, despite the morning’s rain and the morning’s drama by some guests who were invited to stay home.  And my nephew looked a naturally boyish nervous though he knew the marriage was right and good, and that his bride was the right bride and friend and life companion.  Little Gabe, almost four, came jaunting proudly down the center aisle carpet holding up as if for royalty a pillow to which were tied the bouncing rings, lifting them high toward the couple, his uncle and brother, his aunt and sister, who read to him and bathe him and feed him and play games with him before his tired mother returns late from work, for she pays the bills, and the bills must be paid.  Before the wedding, he fell and bonked his head and cried more from insult than from pain, wanting the comfort of love over a bag of ice, so I held him in my rocking chair and listened to his very big small-person sadness and fear—he was worried the new couple now would move to a house of their own and leave him alone and lonely.  But they will keep their comfortable niche in the family house and continue to be Gabe’s protectors and nurturers until his mom and dad come home from work.  Gabe’s head and heart felt better and soothed and he laughed at being tickled and dressed in a three-piece suit and praised.  Weddings are not my favorite occasions because I know how much is at stake and how much trouble and pain lie ahead and how awry things can go, and I hope they will make it against the odds, and I hope they can find happiness, together.  I always hope for a new couple, for who am I to jinx their joy with my suppressed sense of doom?  I am no one, and the doom is a false projection of bad prophecy.  We just need to put away our pride, and focus on the other’s happiness and fulfilment and meaning, and trust in life and in the Divine—then we can make it.

(Pictured above: Yours Truly with his two wonderful youngest children at my nephew’s back-yard wedding.)

Courage at Twilight: I Love You

“I love you,” Mom called to me after I said good-night and turned to step the stairs to my rooms. “Love you, too, Mom.”  I love you.  Those three little words convey such daring risk, exposing a fathomless aching hope to be loved in return.  Two little pronouns with the world’s biggest word tucked between, mediating, welding.  Perhaps many children hear those words from their parents.  Perhaps few.  Perhaps hearing those words does not matter all that much.  Perhaps they mean everything.  To my best recollection, “I love you” was not stated in my childhood home.  My father did not hear these three words as a child, and did not utter them as a father.  But Dad’s love and sacrifice for his children are fierce and burning and unstoppable.  He says I love you in so many frequent ways that do not use the words.  And he employs other words, like “That was such a great meal, Rog!” or “Rog, you did so much work today!” or “Don’t wash any dishes, Rogie—leave them right there and I will wash them!” though he does not wash them because he cannot, not comfortably, not without energy and strength he no longer has, and not without pain which he endures so cheerfully.  But when Hannah was leaving today after a few hours’ visit, he called out to her, “I love you, Hannah.”  And she responded, “I love you, too, Grandpa.”  That is how love works: articulated and reciprocated.  Love practiced always produces proficiency.  One day I found the courage to utter “I love you” to one of my children, one of my boys, a teenage boy, and how strange and awkward saying those words felt—how I had to choke and pull them out over and around obstructive anxiety—but I got them out, and often afterwards, because I do love my children, so why not love them openly and enthusiastically and say these three little words, why not sing the words unembarrassingly out, out to that boy, out to all my girls and boys.  I had to practice saying those three small words over the course of days and weeks and years, and saying them with my voice still feels both compelling and strangling.  But I feel that love, deep and real, and I want to demonstrate and verbalize that love, for I know that refraining is avoiding and damaging and sad—perhaps the greatest and most mournful of lost opportunities—while unfettering the words infuses with confidence and reassurance and comfort.  As we express love back and forth, love eases and grows.  Too often I stammer out a mere “Love ya Bud!”  But when John or Caleb or Hyrum or Hannah or the others end every phone call and every visit with “Love you, Dad!” I know they mean it, and I know they have taken a daring risk to express their love for me and to hope to receive love back from me, and I respond with pleasure, “I love you, too, son.  I am proud of you.  I have complete confidence in you.”  And I do.

(Pictured above: yours truly mountain biking with his son Caleb in 2018.)

Courage at Twilight: Cave Diving

My local congregation announced a church dance near Valentine’s Day, for adults.  I serve on the committee that plans and executes our church activities.  Mostly the chair couple does the planning, and I help set up and take down.  “I’ll be there to help you set up for the dance,” I offered to the chairman.  “But I will not be attending.”  He did not quite know what to make of me, so I explained.  “As an older single man, I will not feel comfortable at a romantic dance for married couples.”  And I was not about to spend the evening standing against the wall like a terrified teen.  I have wondered how I ought to describe myself in conversations like these, and “older single man” seemed accurate and adequate.  “Middle-aged divorced man,” would have done fine, too, but sounded stiff and stilted.  For several hours I helped the committee set up chairs and tables and decorate and string high lines from which we hung glow sticks and vinyl records (the theme was “dancing through the decades,” with a playlist of old classics to match).  When 7:30 rolled around, I could not help but think of who had come to the dance, and whether they were having fun—I hoped so.  Mom and Dad and I enjoyed a dinner of steamed buttered vegetables—cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, butternut squash—while we watched Jimmy Chin’s documentary about the Thai youth soccer team stranded for two weeks without food miles inside an inundated cave, their oxygen dwindling, and about the group of middle-aged unmarried men, the best in the world at their solitary sport, who focused their feelings and faculties and did the impossible and brought every boy out alive.

(Image from thetimes.co.uk, used pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine.)

Courage at Twilight: Supraventricular Tachycardia

During gym class, playing volleyball—that’s when it happened. My heart started to flutter and I became weak and light-headed.  Sitting on the sidelines with my fingers pressed to my jugular, I managed to count 300 beats in a minute.  Then it stopped, and I was fine.  I was 17.  My doctor trained me to stop the runaway heart-beat using vagal maneuvers, bearing down while holding my breath.  Normally, lying on my back was all it took to slow the beat.  Fully 40 years later, the vagals would not work, and my friend took me to the emergency room after two hours at 180 bpm.  My cardiologist explained SVT—supraventricular tachycardia—a condition in which the electric circuitry of the heart becomes confused momentarily and takes an unintended and incorrect short cut, sending the heart racing.  He thought low-dose Metoprolol would do the trick, and it did.

The roofing inspector had come to examine the 25-year-old shingles, and Mom watched from the back yard, seated on the rock wall.  She began to feel funny in her eyes and head, stood up, became dizzy, and collapsed.  The mortified inspector helped Mom to a chair.  Her lip had glanced on a rock and was swollen and red.  A brain MRI showed no stroke, no tumor, no inflammation, nothing but a very healthy brain.  But the halter heart monitor revealed repeated episodes of rapid heart rate.  Mom’s doctor, a neighbor, called me to explain the test results, the textbook symptoms, and the treatment.  Knowing all about SVT, I jumped in to inform him of my condition and treatment.  We chuckled in astonishment and excitement at the genetic coincidence.  “Looks we know now where you got it from,” he said, amused.  Chuckling felt appropriate, because Mom’s condition is not a heart defect, just a minor electrical short, and easily treatable, and because after four weeks of tests and consultations and worry, we both felt so relieved to have the answer, and such a positive one.  Mom took her first dose tonight, and is already back on the stationary bicycle, albeit slowly and carefully, her fear ebbing, on her way to renewed strength.

Lily Pond in Summer Drouth

Do you ever feel dried out and empty, with no zest for life?  I know I do.  I am thinking that feeling is a common human experience.  The happy parts of life are there but seem just out of reach.  The heat of guilt and the sun of duty sap our strength, along with many other troublesome things.  But I also believe that if we work for it and wait for it, relief comes to us, in the form of a smile, a kind word, a personal achievement, and many other ennobling things.  In this poem I used a dried-out lake bed as a metaphor for the hard times in life, trusting that hope hangs just around the bend of tomorrow.

Lily Pond in Summer Drouth

The lily pond has
completely dried out, birds
have picked the flesh off white-boned fish, old
slimy greenery mats into dark
paper that flakes and flies
away like cindered news:

the sun has sucked all moisture from the muck:

the bowled bed lies cracked and ravined
in a million baked-mud islands:
the definition of a desiccation:

I recall:
red sliders scooting off their sun-logs, fiery
newts crawling with wet leafy fragility,
butter-cream lilies crowning: lotuses
bursting with wisdom and beauty . . .

but the spring will not flow:
the pond has dried and died:
and there is nothing for it
but to settle in

until tomorrow’s heaviness sheds
abundance.

 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The book tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human heart.  The book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Above image by Carabo Spain from Pixabay.

Carry Me Away (In Pieces)

Through a hole between two boulders in the retaining wall that supports my home, I discovered honey bees quietly flying in and out.  The thought of these gentle creatures scouting for nectar and bringing it back to my home to make honey gave me no little pleasure.  One day, however, the creatures coming to the hole, and their energy, transitioned from gathering bees to predatory yellowjacket wasps that.  Week after week they came by the thousands to cannibalize the bees and dismantle the hive, chewing all to balls of cud they carried away and fed to their hungry larvae, hoarding the rest for their own late-summer stores.  I wanted to kill them all–two cans of wasp spray would make it an easy job.  Ultimately, I decided to let nature do what nature does.  I found in the scene a metaphor for what we might feel life does to us.  We move peacefully along, minding our own business, making our small contributions, caring for our home and kin, when malicious forces seems to lay siege, hoping to dismantle and destroy.  Our way, however, is not to give in to fatalism but to take charge of our fate with energy, enthusiasm, and hope, if we can.  I am working on it.

CARRY ME AWAY (IN PIECES)

Deep in the space between
two boulders
the honey bees forged their hive,
going gently out
and from flower to flower,
coming quietly in
with their cargos
of nectar,
until the yellowjacket wasps
discovered and attacked
in steady swarms
that killed and carried away,
in tiny cut-up pieces,
the bees,
the honey,
the hive,
coming wildly in,
going frantically out
to feed their clamoring young
the bees,
the honey,
the hive,
hurrying in the heat,
before Winter found
just an empty hole.

Wilderness

Are we not all wanderers, searchers, seekers?  No matter the strength or persuasion of our faith, no matter our accumulation of years and wisdom, still we trudge through time and space.  Sometimes we dance, tip-toe.  Often we wallow and slog.  Mists of darkness move in to shroud our discernment, obscure our way.  Such clouds are a thing of this world only, for the sun always shines, always burns at millions of degrees and sends light and warmth over millions of miles, to us.  I offer this poem to the good people of earth who care about doing good and right, who sometimes lose their way, and who keep on walking the path.

WILDERNESS

“I am in a wilderness,”
you said to me. Still,
the cross rests round
your neck. Delicate silver.
Waves crash against pier and rock:
I can hear through your open door.
“It grows bigger,
my wilderness, the expanse
wider.”
Crashing waves; cars
throttling away; voices
through the wall;
the cat slinks by;
a movie plays
in the next room.
You bake muffins, chocolate chip,
in the tin, wondering,
silver resting on skin.
You sit high on a stool
at the table, sipping coffee,
sipping brandy,
thinking Help me, Jesus
with a chill:
you have to go
out once again, out
to make your way, somehow.
I am
in my
wilderness.

Psalm

This poem expresses my hope in humanity and in the universal Forces that lift and edify us as we experience life, making us better and better souls.  I believe in a Power that heals, that instructs, and that loves.  I believe that human beings, by exercising the power of choice and by learning principles of goodness, can become noble and powerful and good.  This poem, entitled “Psalm,” is both a prayer and a song, a reaching upward of the human mind to touch the Divine and invoke its powers on our behalf.  Whatever your religious, spiritual, or philosophical inclinations, I hope you will enjoy this poem and the hope to which it aspires.

PSALM

Let thy stiff knees bend
at the hem of that gracious garment,
and touch.
Let thy weary head bow
beneath the benevolent hands
that lift
your face to his.
Let thine eyes permit
his omniscient eyes
to seek out the heights and depths
of your willing and wounded heart,
to close your cracks,
knit together your tears and broken bones,
anoint your bruises with balm.
Let the Mystery fill you,
lift you
above demons and fiends,
over faithless perpetrators,
who possess the power of worms
twisting under the sun.
Sway with the breeze, with the trees.
Soar with the clouds and the high-flying birds.
Dive with the falcons and the raindrops.
Crash and roar with the ocean waves.
Float with the green damselfly, a dandelion seed.
Breathe the winds and swallow the sun.
Arise a new creation, whole,
complete: You:
the glory of God,
His child,
His masterpiece.

A Cross To Hold

Holding Cross-crop

Elizabeth recently sent to me a special crucifix, carved from olive wood, that she called her holding cross.  Anne, wife of Father Chris, had gifted the cross to Elizabeth during a difficult period of Elizabeth’s life.  “For when there are no words,” Anne had said.  Elizabeth kept her holding cross close day and night, grasping it as she slept, toting it in her purse, carrying it as she walked along the beach, feeling it in her pocket.  Knowing that I, too, was passing through a challenging time of loss and loneliness, Elizabeth gifted her cross to me.  She sacrificed something holy and dear to her so that I might find comfort in the cross, as had she.  How I appreciate her gift, which arrived the day after Christmas.

Since receiving Elizabeth’s holding cross, now my holding cross, I have often sat in contemplation of its features, simple and beautiful.  I have thought of the wounds of Christ, the pain he suffered on our behalf, the love he beams to each of us, the dreadful certainty of his death, and the certain hope of his resurrection.  Though often a trying exercise, I labor to trust in him to mentor me in each moment, to show me the ways of patience and generosity, to coach me at kindness and compassion.  Turning the holding cross over and over in my fingers, staring at it in my palms, the words of this poem began to flow and form.  It is my hope that this poem inspires hope within all who read it.

A CROSS TO HOLD

These two arms, outstretched,
fit the curving
space between my fingers
as I caress, hold tight, caress.
Those hands, two,
at the end
brought tears, and blood,
that I make my own
through kindness.
The head inclines
to me, to all
the world, the masses.
I wonder at the mystery,
joy in the simplicity.
The feet: his feet: my feet:
wandering purposefully through
time and tide;
standing firm through all;
footprints to follow.
Olive wood glistening
from the oils and sweat
of your hands, of my hands,
from lips’ kisses;
polished with beeswax,
scented with lemon oil:
smooth; soft;
shining.
Hope,
in my hands,
holding.

Sing To Me

20150904_152449

During a separation some years ago, I often wondered if life were worth living.  I was not suicidal, but I lacked a desire to live.  Lying in my bed in the dark of night, I would whisper to the ceiling, to the universe, Give me a reason to live.  Of course, there are many reasons to go on living in spite of our physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.  Listing them is an easy exercise.  But in suffering’s crucible these reasons can be hard to discern, let alone appreciate.  In this poem I identify a few reasons that just merely hoping for gave me an ounce of strength to go on living and caring, to arise with each new day, during a lonely and unhappy time.

SING TO ME

Give
me a reason
to live.

Smile at me softly.
Sing me a melody.
Touch your lips to mine.
Receive my song.
Condescend.

Give
me a reason
to live.

(I took the above photograph of a Milbert’s Tortoise Shell in September 2015 at Butterfly Lake in Utah’s High Uinta Mountains.)

Silent Spring

As I walked along Rabbit Lane in the dark of early morning, I could hear only the distant hum of thousands of cars commuting to the Salt Lake valley.  The birds and crickets still slept.  The air hung still and silent over field and pasture.  I pondered Rachel Carson’s fearsome prediction in 1962 of a future where the wanton use of chemical poisons would wipe out the world’s singing, croaking, and buzzing creatures.  With a touch of irony, or sarcasm, I penned this poem, a mixture of hope and foreboding.  Visit the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog to read more about places of peace and hope, and to ponder how you can contribute to the world’s beauty and diversity.

SILENT SPRING

Spring,
Rachel:
not silent quite.
I hear,
distinctly:
the growing hum
of humankind.


Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.