As a preamble to a friend’s retirement, “Congratulations” doesn’t seem quite in order, other than, “Wow, you’ve survived!” Or “Hallelujah,” in a minor key full of wonder. Like making it to the end of a gauntlet.
Chronology doesn’t matter in these matters, older as I am but less mature, the eternal 17-year-old emotionally.
I still have no idea of how it feels to “be retired,” other than there seems to be a bit more space to savor what we’re doing or eating, if we want or can remember to do so. Golf? Tennis? Who has time? And yes, after all those years in the newsroom, I’m still “on the clock,” even when sleeping. Tick-tick-tick, only now there’s more of an urgency of mortality. Well, at least so much of my literary writing doesn’t feel like acts of graffiti.
In one poem, which I’ve crunched here from my own journal entry, he replies: “You ask me how to pray to someone who is not. All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge and walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard, above landscapes the color of ripe gold transformed by a magic stopping of the sun. That bridge leads to the shore of reversal where everything is just the opposite and the word is unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned. Notice: I say we there, everyone, separately, feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh and knows that if there were no other shore they will walk that aerial bridge all the same.”
Elsewhere he wrote: “’I could not have had a better life than the one I had,’ she writes to me in February 1983 from Warsaw, Irena who has lived through the occupation of her country by two enemy armies, had to live in hiding trailed by the Gestapo, then adapt herself to Communist rule, witness the terror and the workers’ responses in 1956, 1970, 1976, 1980, and the martial law proclaimed in December 1981.”
I’m not sure I agree fully with his theology, but I completely appreciate the richness of his grappling with 20th century unbelief and its practice with his discovery that there is, indeed, something larger than what we admit – something few other artists in our time have been able to pull off convincingly enough to be considered sound artistically. (Milosz won the Nobel Prize, 1980.)
He also wrote: “To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.”
And, he quoted from Renee le Senne: “For me the principal proof of the existence of God is the joy I experience any time I think that God is.”
Again, Milosz: “To wait for faith in order to pray is to put the cart before the horse. Our way leads from the physical to the spiritual.” And himself: “My friend Father J.S. did not believe in God. But he believed God, the revelation of God, and he always stressed the difference.”
I’ve been accused of being unable to understand because I’m a man. It was tempting to respond that she couldn’t understand my need to have a God the Father to relate to as a man who needs a role model and a complete positive (for the most part) male authority figure, and she couldn’t understand because she’s a woman. We are in a bind. But that cheap shot would have accomplished nothing. I still say that Biblical language is not exclusive, if rendered correctly.
The irony here arose in the case of a woman who was being criticized by a man for using Biblical language. Who should know more whether she felt excluded by its masculine nouns? As she said, it’s his problem.
Oh, my, this was all before some of my most important fictional characters were women.
OK, I lied. Even to myself, as honesty is so central to my values.
Yes, I lied. In fact, as my wife recalls, when we jumped into our little city farm 21 years ago, I quipped that my next move would be in a pine box. Last I checked, I’m still breathing and my heart readings are falling within an acceptable range. Whew!
Oh, yes, back then my new stepdaughters informed me I’d better be nice to them because they’d be choosing my next home.
Skip ahead to now and the plot definitely changed. I’m not yet in a nursing home or eating those institutional meals, either. In fact, I’m enjoying relearning to cook, spoiled as I’ve been.
There were a couple of truck-rental actions where I helped our younger daughter (note the change of degree) and then our future son-in-law as well as a few younger members of Quaker Meeting, but that’s hardly the same of facing all of your own stuff. And I mean ALL.
And in our recent move, like my earlier ones, once more, we didn’t call the movers in but determined to do-it-ourselves.
Not that professional movers could have handled this one.
We were way behind in our sorting, for starters. Or, from another perspective, the move came upon us much earlier than we really expected. So much for the drama queen.
There was no way all of it could possibly fit into our new address in Eastport, even once we get some serious renovations done, so that meant a lot of redirection. (As I once remarked, after settling into Dover, I couldn’t imagine how people could live without a barn – yes, this Red Barn. But here I am.) Some of the mass has gone into our elder daughter’s Antique House and adjoining barn down in York, Maine, but there’s only so much space available there, and I can affirm that it’s jammed pretty solid. That led to renting and quickly packing two storage units, where I sense we’re buying time as much as anything else. Some intense triage will be done there. And the remainder has come up to Eastport with me, including one run with a small U-Haul truck itself. Along with more triage. And the dump, or “transfer station,” is nearly an hour away.
This move – my fifteenth address and ninth state since graduating from college a tad over five decades ago – has differed from the earlier ones, even if I had forgotten how heavy those boxes of books are, as well as the LPs, or vinyl, as cognoscenti like to say. Just noting that makes my lower back ache.
For one thing, this move’s been sequential, rather than a single burst. Each of my dozen trips between the two homes has allowed more goods to come east. In many of the earlier leaps, I hadn’t even seen the town until my job interview, and at least once I filled a truck, drove across many miles, got in town, and started looking for a place to live only afterward. (OK, a few times it was only my car, back when I had really focused.) Sure seems foolish to me now, but funds were limited. I’m grateful things worked out in the end, and it did provide some interesting fodder for my novels. And, oh yes, I was VERY single.
For another thing, my wife and I were moving from only the second home either of us had ever owned, and having a Realtor definitely helped, even in a hot real-estate market. Our new destination, meanwhile, connected to dreams I thought I had abandoned in leaving the Pacific Northwest, as well as some other activities I’ve added in New England. My wife, for her part, had come close to living on an island, and technically, she’s finally achieving that dream after a heartbreaking disappointment.
Emotionally, leaving a location you Barn readers know I truly loved was eased by being already socially distanced, thanks to Covid. Hey, I’m still getting together with those folks via Zoom, and I know I’ll be with many of them through New England Yearly Meeting of Friends even before considering the release of my next book, which is all about Dover’s unique roots. (Please stay tuned, as they used to say on TV.)
I’m also grateful for my goddaughter’s reaction to seeing our old place on Zillow and proclaiming, “Sheesh, the house certainly does clean up well! And that kitchen is truly a dream. I always loved feeling the warmth, whimsy and charm of that house, though I am sure your new place will have all of those qualities and more once you’re through.” We can hope.
She has her own connections to our relocation to Downeast Maine that I’ll skip for now.
So that’s where things stand. Maybe, as a result of all this, my survivors will have less to deal with when I “pass over,” in the old Quaker phrase.
What have your adventures in moving entailed?
We writers or artists, at least some of us, push ourselves as far as we can, coming to a point where we no longer know if a piece is any good or not, only that we’ve done everything in its pursuit that we possibly can at this period in our life.
Either it gets published or whatever as is or gets pushed aside, maybe to be picked up later and reworked, maybe to go in the trash. Or maybe Death intervenes.
Was surprised to realize my weekly drives from Eastport to Dover and back – essentially one end of Maine to the other – came to only a little more than my weekly total in commuting to and from the office, back was I was duly employed.
But coming in a five-and-a-half to six hour stretch each way, rather than one, was another matter.
How much of my life has been behind the wheel!
How do your commutes add up in time and miles?
Serve God, not Ego. Or eggs.
I recall two poet-friends:
One a public high school teacher, quite prolific as both excellent poet and gallery-exhibited photographer, did most of his work during the busy school year rather than the summer; he could never quite figure out why the pattern was exactly opposite of what people would expect.
The other, having all the time in the world to write, could produce only disconnected flashes – nothing sustained or full but wild all the same.
They were buddies.