The Ride Home

Brothers, sister, nieces, nephews,

family, midsummer around a barbecue.

how many backyards over how many August days and summer years?

good to be to see to laugh to remember together

and i think there was welcome evidence of her twice or more, I do

the sighting of a certain fabric moving in gesture? a fragment of lasting laughter still moving in still air?

pulling away I look to the right, that seat, how many rides home from that very meeting?

and then she speaks, they’re all so tall and strong, so wise and funny, so good

they grow from your roots, I say, you walk in them

I tear, she smiles. It’s all alright she says. I look and she is perfectly composed.

are you tired, I offer. Never, any more.

how do you know, I glance over, that it will stay alright?

you can see it, is her only answer.

arriving I pause at the familiar address, where she lived. But she is more than home.

I face forward, fool, and weep. She leans over and gives a mother’s kiss.

In Praise of the Slow Mow

I went to mow the lawn yesterday only to find that the very impressive rider-mower that came with the premises was unwilling to make a sound, never mind to cut grass.  In the corner of the garage stands my well-used old manual push mower.  You push, it cuts.  At least, it cuts some of what it rolls over.  So the old mower and I were pressed into service together.

Several differences were immediately evident regarding the use of one grass-cutting tool over another.  First, it was much quieter.  I see my neighbors wearing headsets as they twirl around their yards on their own rider-mowers.  One would look preternaturally silly wearing headphones while pushing the old manual mower, unless of course one were listening to the best of Elton John as his final concert approaches, or fill-in-your-favorite-music.  Secondly, it took more time.  I completed half the lawn in about twice the time it would’ve taken to complete the whole of it on mower-back.  Thirdly, it took more effort.  As I am fond of saying, in terms of physical effort the rider-mower proves only that I retain sufficient balance to remain upright in a seat (even in motion!).  If I live long enough the day will likely arrive when this is no longer true, but thank God at the present time it doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment.  And finally, the quieter, slower, more taxing method of getting the job done invites, allows, and almost requires me to actually get to know the yard, to actually see the lawn, its makeup of a startling variety of local weeds in various shades of green which, when cut low, masquerade a lawn with admirable efficacy.  

Why do I impose this reflection on the rest of the reading world?  

For one reason.  All four of the differences outlined between the newer, powered manner of reaching the goal and the older, self-propelled way seem to me to argue that the older and simpler is (at least sometimes) better.  And perhaps not just when it comes to getting the yard to look nice.  

Think about it.

Lately I have taken to setting the GPS to avoid toll roads and interstates.  In doing so I have nothing against that marvel of national roadways that bear the name of President Eisenhower.  There are times and circumstances – many of them – where what he and others wrought in the building of that system is just what is needed.  But, if the trip is within the state, or from one New England state to another, to avoid the bigger and better reveals the same differences and allied benefits uncovered in my front yard.  The voyage is quieter, slower, asks a livelier attentiveness of the driver, and allows the part of creation between the beginning and ending points to actually present itself in all its wonder, beauty, and uniqueness.  

All these are benefits, both along the way and on arrival.  Postmodern life wants you to hurry everywhere, and when you get here to hurry to accomplish what you came for.  Pshaw on that.  The quiet allows the inner dialogue in your brain to slow, to allow memories to be recalled by what is seen and heard along the way, and to link those memories to life here and now.  The seeing and hearing along the way, paying attention to the kind of curve that doesn’t often come on a super-highway, gasping in awe at the brook swollen by recent rains by the side of the road and a few miles along noticing where it becomes a valued contributor to a river – these are gifts to the traveler, awake and aware.  

Examples could be multiplied.  Writing a letter with a pen, folding it, placing it in an envelope, greeting the postal service person and chatting as you purchase a stamp, addressing that envelope and placing it in the mailbox with a whispered prayer for the recipient: all this is a richer experience by far than pecking out an email in 2 minutes and sending it without another thought at minute 2.5.  Walking, where and when possible, to complete a simple shopping errand places me in touch with the actual place I live in a way that hopping in car and driving there just cannot do.  And walking without an errand, without a reason, without a cause, is even better.  Enough of that at least brings to life the memory of childhood when you moved just because.  And most of the time you couldn’t name the cause.

So.  Though I’ve naught against rider-mowers, you can read here that at least some of them should be re-tooled as planters in the front yard, decorative reminders of some of what we would be better off letting go of between pandemics.  Like the kind of rushing around that numbs the mind.  And the busy-ness that puts the heart to sleep and threatens to allow me to forget the good of my neighbor.  And the world’s noise that drowns out the tiny whisper of the voice of God, a voice that is not saying . . . ever . . . Hurry up, will you???

© John McGinty 7/25/2021

Today’s Job

Very early this morning, before the first light rose, a first question arose in my mind: What is my job today?

An interesting question to come to me while on vacation.  Just a moment later I registered that it is vacation time and then this answer to the original question came clear and immediate:

My job today is to be the person home at #4.

That’s it and that’s all.  

I went to sleep last night and entered early into a set of dreams. My falling asleep and the dreams themselves were characterized by the kind of jumping-around erratic non-rhythm of thought that a long time ago led wiser persons than I to think of the human mind as a monkey constantly jumping from tree to tree. In my experience, it is an apt and a helpful image.

On the one hand the jumping around bears witness that we live.  There’s a positive.  On the other hand, it also reveals that we tend to be hyper, to be unable or unlikely to settle in one place, to remain there, to look around calmly and come to know the place, and there, contentedly, to be.  To simply be.  

In that morning light, my first thoughts of this day are a grace and gift to me.  This is indeed my job today, inasmuch as I have one.  My job is to be right here.  To be, right here.  My job is to remain in this place, in this time.  

In doing so, I believe that I would come to be able to affirm that in all time and in every place, all that is needed has been provided. The God who created, and who continues to create is here, and is at work.

What is being created? Activity and joy and memories for the children across the lake at camp. Plant life, flourishing just beyond these walls in the midst of a recent overabundance of rain and today the gift of warm sun. Animal and insect life on the move. Birds singing their morning prayer in original tunes, and always on key.

And in the human being, what is being created?  In this human being, sitting in this chair typing?  What is being created in me? Is it healing from the ravages of covid-time isolation?  Is it a renewed resilience?  Is it the continued pathway along the necessary road of grief and mourning?  Is it recovery from weariness by the balm of rest?  Is it a word from the home of hope?  Is it new possibility, awaiting birth?  Is it a new idea, or a new feeling?  Or is it simply and marvelously a next breath?

Likely the answer is all this, and more.  If the human mind jumps from tree to tree like a monkey, sometimes creatively and more often madly, the heart of God moves from hill to hill creating new trees, new species, new wonders that might never occur to a monkey mind, but which invite recognition as gifts and the birth of contentment and joy.

What does it take for me to do the ‘job’ identified as today’s?  Simply to stop trying.  To cease striving.  Simply, but anything but easily.  Witness the fact that I am writing about it, rather than doing it.  

Long before I was ever doing, I was being taught in my mother’s womb how to be.  The teacher of that lesson was both radically distant and astoundingly near.  That teacher still whispers, now as then.  That teacher still has lessons to impart.  They are spoken first to the heart, to the wholeness of me, and not only to my mind.  

Today, at least in desire, I want only to be.

Copyright 2021 John P. McGinty