Fifty-Seven

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Today is my 57th birthday and, after thinking about my wife’s question, I decided what I want for my birthday is to climb that tree; the very tall, old, white pine that towers over the prairie and the house. That one. And so, with jeans and work gloves on, I begin my birthday wish; climbing the old pine tree. (Perhaps the tree is also 57-years-old.)

On this fine October afternoon, while the sun is shining and the landscape is awash in color, I ascend through branches and needles and sap, until I reach a suitable height of 30 or 40 feet. Looking down on our home and our land from up in the sky gives me a perspective I would never have if I played it safe and respectable down on the ground.

Sometimes you just have to climb a tree. Your birthday is a great time to do it. No one was too alarmed or too embarrassed, and I have fulfilled my own birthday wish. No harm was done. No bones were broken. Nothing wrong with that. The body gets old, but the soul does not. Someday my body will be earth-bound, but my soul will not be. What will I do next year?

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“It’s impossible not to remember wild and want it back.” – Mary Oliver

As Evening Descends

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Evening by the fireside, as darkness descends over the woods and prairie. The last glow of the sun fades in the west and dazzling stars come out. The day is done and we are safe in our home. My wife quietly reads a book. The dog sleeps at her feet.

I only want simplicity, solitude, silence, and nature’s company. I only want peace. I do not want cities and people and controversy. I want less, not more. Presence, not distraction. Quiet. A human companion if possible, but always a dog, regardless.

No, the world is not finished having its way with me, running me ragged through broken shards of shame, fear, obligation, and desire. I suppose that is never completely over until you leave this place, but there is more to a person’s life than the world’s cruelties and indiscretions. Much more.

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Love, Not Fear

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Evil’s two great disguises are to convince you it either does not exist, or it is something good. The lure of false righteousness is an old moral and psychological trap; a constant examination of conscience is necessary to avoid falling into it.

Piety and patriotism are easily manipulated into religious and political totalitarianism by appealing to our sense of goodness, our fears, and our anger; but fear is not love. Perfect love is truth and it casts out fear.

Humility, prayer, self-examination and (above all else) selfless love are needed in our daily encounters with life. Without this, we will never know peace.

The Return

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I went out in the vegetable gardens in the 93-degree heat of this late September day and watered the parched soil. Tomatoes, okra, and sweet potatoes are still growing. Brussels sprouts and green peppers are trying to produce. Carrots are still growing. Onions are still growing. The unusual heat and sunlight made me think it was midsummer again.

As the smell of water hitting the dry soil reached my brain, I suddenly remembered how much I love the yearly experience associated with growing food, fighting weeds and pestilence, and seeing things grow. I realized that I will do it all again, despite my late Summer vows only to grow wildflowers next year.

In a month, I will begin pulling dry plants and weeds from the rows, burning them, turning under rows of soil, tilling in nutrients, preparing for the Winter snows and the Spring rains. And, next year, I will begin the process all over again.

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The work, the success, the failure, the good things that grow, and the enduring connection with earth and sky will forever keep me coming back to try again, and again. Don’t ask why. I can’t tell you. But it is so.

The Way Forward

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“We can’t make the external world become peaceful, we can only become peace.”

– Claude Anshin Thomas

One important step on the path of peace is to stop wishing for a different past. The past cannot be undone, it can only be transformed in the present moment. Only by accepting what has come to be, and our part in it, can we hope to learn and grow and work toward better outcomes. Otherwise, we will be forever trapped in the past and condemned to repeat it. This is hell on earth. The more we deny the true nature of the past, the more the present and the future will be consumed by it. This is not the way forward. No one can benefit from it.

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This is why practices of mindfulness like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Lent, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the examination of conscience, meditation, and 12-step programs are so vital for peace in us and in the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Walking Meditation with Children. New Hamlet, P

End the cycle of guilt, denial, and blame. Make amends. Forgive. Move forward.