Category Archives: Life

Taking away the breath

Tunnel Hill, Illinois.

7.25 a.m.  I step off the back porch to give Nelson a moment after his breakfast.  We walk to the fence line.  He is interested in the cows in the distance.  I look up.

And gasp.

The little valley is shrouded in morning fog.  But it’s sun-kissed just enough that I can see the distant tree line, then the hills, and then a receding curtain of translucent white.

There’s a lyric in a song I teach: “This is the closest I’ve been to being part of a painting.”  And I sing that truth aloud.

Had the Impressionists ventured to this little vale in southern Illinois, they would painted this.

Sadly, the fleeting moment disappeared as I stood transfixed, giving way to the inexorable sunrise.  Such visions are gone too soon, never to be captured again except in memory.

But another day will dawn, equally as vivid and alive.  Oh that I could be here to see it too.

This is the vista.  Imagine this as a lake of thin morning fog.  I don’t recall the last time I was so effected by a landscape.

Looking west.

John Lewis

Rest in peace, John Lewis.

Three years ago, I was at the Capitol with my friend Robin from England.  We were on the guided tour.

Statuary Hall has that sweet spot where you can hear what is being said on the other side of the room.  I was showing that spot to Robin, and realized that a gaggle of young Black men were standing nearby, rapt with attention to a short man in the center of their group.

That man was John Lewis.

He was preaching to this group of young men, who were clearly all from the same school, since they were all dressed alike in some sort of school blazer.

I listened as best as I could for a few minutes as he encouraged them to be leaders, to be models, to be the kind of citizens that he was in his own life.

What a man.  What a leader.  What a life.


I had yesterday the honor and privilege of officiating at the wedding of two dear people.

Dallas and Nathan Sisson-Coleman were married last evening in Belleville, Illinois.

The wedding was held in a clearing in a copse on an estate owned by Dallas’ brother.

The remarks I gave before the vows:

Nathan and Dallas meet in the now time-honored tradition of . . . . A particular dating app.

Dallas canceled the first date, just as Nathan was ready to leave his car to go into the restaurant.

The next night, they met in the Grove, and Nathan’s wing man gave Dallas all sort of grief over the previous night’s cancelation.

The first true date, at Cyranos, where old people go for dates, finished with a nice kiss, and then Nathan texted Dallas the next morning to say he wasn’t romantically interested.

Dallas asserts that Nathan lies . . . Because there WAS a second date.  And a third. 

Nathan reminds us that there was whiskey involved.  Always Good whiskey.

Dallas played a little hard-to-get . . .  And then he met the kids. And in the midst of helping Nathan and family move out of their home, Dallas gained the family’s good will.  And bandages. And a quiet blessing from Jennifer, the soon-to-be-former wife. 

I’m also told that Dallas’ family calls Nathan “some dude” because of a reference Dallas made about him, again related to a whiskey gathering and christmastime and the first introduction of Nathan to Thor….

New Year’s Eve 2015 — Thor and Kim are throwing a masked murder mystery party, at this very estate, and Nathan meets the family dressed as an Eastern European gangster trying to score weed, and with his shirt unbuttoned to his belt.

This is right around the same time that Dallas gave Nathan a key to his house.  Dallas swears the key was on a nice key ring, but all Nathan remembers is that Dallas basically threw a key at him and said “hey, here’s a key to my house.

Now . . . Be careful to whom you give a key.

Dallas’ boundaries soon got pushed. Nathan used the key one day, and brought his two daughters along.  Dallas was in the shower. This did not end well. And both parties swear they have learned about each other’s boundaries. 

Two weeks ago, over rye whiskey in the garden at my house, I asked when things became permanent. 

They told different versions of the story, but the essence is this: Nathan was in Spain.  Dallas had scored a promotion . . . To Columbus, Ohio. Nathan asked him not to take it. Dallas asked him to move in.

And that’s what brings us here today.

May Nathan and Dallas have a long, shared life of love and comfort with each other and their families.

A young poet

A few Sundays ago, I read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

And I have now re-read it.

So many passages are worth pondering. I shall share a few.

“Leave to your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried by anything. Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. to let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.

“There is here no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as through eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!”

Speaking about sensual pleasure: “In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love revive, filling it with sublimity and exaltation. And those who come together in the night and are entwined in rocking delight do an earnest work and gather sweetnesses, gather depth and strength for the song of some coming poet, who will arise to speak of ecstasies beyond telling. And they call up the future; and though they err and embrace blindly, the future comes all the same, a new human being rises up, and on the ground of that chance which here seems consummated, awakes the law by which a resistant vigorous seed forces its way through to the egg-cell that moves open toward it. Do not be bewildered by the surfaces; in the depths all becomes law.”

On solitude and suffering: “We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accommodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us.. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn in to princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”

A benediction: “Do you remember how [your] life yearned out of its childhood for the “great”? I see that it is now going on beyond the great to long for greater. For this reason it will not cease to be difficult, but for this reason too it will not cease to grow.

“And if there is one thing more that I must say to you, it is this: Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words.”

May we all go beyond for the greater, and never cease to grow, and embrace the difficulty.

(translations by M.D. Herter Norton)

Memorial Day 2020

My sister Karen made the trip on Saturday to decorate the graves of our forebears.

Top: my mother and father, in Lee’s Summit.

Bottom: forty miles south, in Crescent Hill Cemetery outside of Adrian, my grandmother Ruth and grandfather Edwin, and my beloved Aunt Esther, her sister, with Uncle John.

And sixty miles south of where I live, my paternal grandparents in De Soto:

Vincent and Flora, my grandparents.

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

Some photos from various swirls around the sun, and from travels on this amazing planet . . . .