The “Want To”

You’re gonna rise up out of this place. You hear me, child?

Other folks say the die’s been cast. They’ve struck you off.

But I know you. You’ve got something they don’t see.

Listen to what I’m telling you. I see it when you and they don’t.

When you hide from me after you mess up.

And you get small again like a baby in your corner of shame.

I find you in that place you run to.

I picked you up then, and I’ll pick up now, and every time.

When you look up, at times like these, I see it. The “want to.”

It’s the “want to” in you that’ll make you make it, child.

The deep “want to” after you fall will get you through,

with a little lift from me. I’ll make you a vow, child.

I’ll always be there to lift you, even when you can’t see me.

Even if you doubt, or you think you’ve gotten too old or distant.

The “want to” will make you make it. Again and again.

And when you’ve made it, they’ll finally see it, too.

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Together

Deep in the kernel of the mind 

that is of the same substance as 

Spirit, Son and sun, where the blue 

hot flame of the dawning blazes 

ever inexhaustibly pure

and Silence is the force binding 

all elements in the form of

utter integrated union,

something structural happens when

I bring my skin-wrapped beating heart

in my hands and sit beside you, 

looking for the blue stillness I 

can feel beneath the cracked cover

of unknowing that seals you off 

from the warm air following me

with its waltzing particles that

align in a sacred circle 

around the center of our Souls.

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Seeking Relationship in the Setting of Advanced Dementia

If we come seeking to make contact, to be in relationships with people who are living with late-stage dementia, we must believe personhood persists despite cognitive deficits. Lives are not defined by diagnoses.  Persons living with advanced cognitive impairment are not empty shells drained dry of the content of their humanity.

Realizing that the ability to communicate effectively with words may have been lost, we must hone our multi-sensory listening skills and heighten awareness of non-verbal cues, aligning ourselves to receive and respond appropriately to these messages.  Non-verbal cues may carry emotional content; we should acknowledge and validate this content in our responses.

Our stance should be one of openness, vulnerability, authenticity and non-judgement, and we should expect to find a human being in front of us who has a story that needs to be appreciated.  This story, with its history, its present, and yes, its future, is laid out before us in the form of one who needs us to bring our best self to the interaction.

The language of kindness, gentleness, presence, mindfulness, silence, and peace will speak when words fail.  Non-threatening touch, being mindful of response, can effectively communicate warmth and good intention.  Resisting reactivity, we should validate the emotional content of their expression, but refrain from mirroring anxiety or agitation, instead using smiles, gentle eye contact, soft singing or humming, or props to create a non-threatening environment.

We must quieten the hypercognitive chatter of the world in which we live, seeking instead a state of wakeful stillness and present moment centeredness, opening the all-seeing eye of our inner nature to join the reality of another person’s existence – a person whose inner nature is of the same basic substance as our own.  We must dare to embrace our own vulnerability – our own fear of mortality, our own desire for safe anchor in the familiar harbor of home, remembering they have the same deep need for safety and familiarity.

It is essential to understand the importance of reciprocity in this relationship: it cannot be all “give” with no “getting back.”  The fire of life inside them can be felt if we get close enough, if we become perceptive and unencumbered enough to feel it.  And it will thus kindle our own.

The impact and integrity of this interaction has much to do with our intentionality: we must believe relationship is possible, that communication can occur, that the burden of living can be shared, and that moments of connection matter, even if the main content of this time is silence.  Importantly, it is a living, breathing silence, made sacred in the sharing.

We come as seekers, as believers, holding one another accountable only to be as fully human as we can be in whatever physical or cognitive state we may be found.  If not already apparent, this exercise has as much to do with seeking the core of our own humanity as it does seeking theirs.  Communion is the treasure that awaits.

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A Lament for Danny Terry

Went down to the river.
Down amongst the White Oaks
to the singing shoals at Mule Bend.
Sat there on a flat-topped stone
with lichen patterns we loved.
Looking, I tried to read them.
Their language somehow changed.
Danny Terry’s flown away.

Mama made a dress she said I’d wear one day.
Said when I met him, I’d know.
He’d be the one to wade out and get me.
There’d be others. But none would know my Name.
Danny Terry’s flown away.

Made it with his hands. Hardwood from the mill.
Sanded smooth and oiled. Hung it ‘cross a low limb.
Swung real squeaky on Sunday afternoons.
Room enough for him and me. Swinging. Slow.
Danny Terry’s flown away.

Found a dove once, in the woods.
“Broke like me,” he said. And bound up its wing.
If it flew again, I never knew.
Danny Terry’s flown away.

Clods barely cooled by the Fall breeze.
Seems we just stood there, looking down.
A lone petal fell in beside him.
The last one left of me that day.
Now lichens line the letters of his name.
Danny Terry’s flown away.

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Big Daddy’s Barn

(A 45 year-old memory)

The boy creaked open a half-hinged door.
The barn exhaled its cow’s lung full of dank hay breath –
sweet feed and corn cobs, fur dust and feathers.

“What sleeps slack-jawed under the floor,”
he pondered, always fearing falling through,
“with eyelids cracked crustily for manna from above?”

Stopping to read Braille messages in saddle leather scrolls,
he looked to the loft, just glimpsing the striped coon tail of a spy.
He pecked a stale kernel or two off a cob left behind,
crunching their consistency of candle wax and peanut brittle.

A dark corner called, so he took a notion to hide a while in the hay
and watch the shifting edges of morning light sweep their way
across knotted planks to the hidden earth beneath.

Knee deep in a farm field daydream, he heard a horse bray,
and thought of wanting to feel its rubbery lips and warm breath
searching and sniffing for sweet feed in the manger of his hands.

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This Morning

This morning, while driving in a slow rain on my way to work and pondering the melody of Elgar’s “Nimrod,” I saw something that will hang with me like a painting and speak to my soul for a long time.

A slender high school-aged man wearing glasses that sat just a hair off level and looked a bit big and dated for his face, stood wearing a green over-sized raincoat under a worn black umbrella at a school bus stop near the end of his street. Beside him stood a young girl, probably early teens, if that. I couldn’t make out her features or her garb, as she was partially hidden in the raincoat folds hanging just to the young man’s side. There they stood, sister and brother, I presume, silent and still in the coarse mist of a fall morning, framed in wet light and shadows like a freshly-stroked impressionist painting. They could have been anywhere, at any time. But they were to my immediate right as I was driving in. To think, I almost missed them.

My perception was that traffic around me slowed, perhaps to pay them homage, but I could be wrong. If it didn’t, it should have. In recent memory, I have seen no more poignant expression of the totality of the human condition than this young pair of sentient beings, leaning in to each other at the intersection of have and have-not streets while waiting in the nearly-not rain of Wednesday morning.

Like a visual depiction of hope, sanctuary and benediction threaded through the melancholic lines that bow and weep and sing in Elgar’s elegy, the young pair tightly held onto each other in this lean-to shelter made of their small bodies and their spirits’ filial bond.

I saw gray and I saw rain. And I saw a rainbow and I saw pain.

And I saw a love light hiding under a bushel, as worn black cloth folded up and the doors sprang open on a yellow bus, and I sped along to work in the glowing midweek mist.

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