Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

It’s hard to tell if you have done a thing.

Well, not always.

Yesterday, I trashed one of my Christmas angels. I knew I’d done it because I could see it. Unscrewing the motor that ran her wings,  pulling the bulbs off her trumpet,  stuffing her head first into a dumpster — it was fairly definitive.

I told her, “You’ve served well honey, but you’re done. Rest in peace — in the dump.”

Then I put the body parts I had harvested from her in a drawer in the garage — ready if needed — to patch up my other angel, the one lighting up my driveway these Christmas nights.

It’s done, the body’s gone.

Not every body is like that.

Forgiveness is not like that. You do it, you dismember the offender in your mind, you dump the body in the river Lithe, and then it floats to the surface again, bloated and horrible in the backwaters of your mind

“What? I just can’t get rid of this guy!”

That is because forgiveness can’t erase the past. It was what it was and forgiving someone doesn’t dispense with the memory or emotion of their offense — the attendant regret, the sadness, the anger.

Forgiveness is no eraser.

Then what is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is keyboard, a keyboard that can write the present and also write the future.

Forgiveness is the agency that allows us to positively address the issues of the present without being controlled by a residue of anger and resentment from the past.

Forgiveness is the ability to love again.

Sometimes we think we haven’t forgiven because we haven’t been able to dismember the bodies and tossed them in the River Lethe. But getting rid of the bodies is not forgiveness.  They won’t go. We will lug our heaviest offenders to our graves with us.

Forgiving is not forgetting; it is thriving, while not forgetting. We know we have forgiven when we find ourselves harvesting a special awareness and sensitivity from what we have learned from our past wounds and bringing that into the present to love and care for others again.

Forgiveness is the freedom to enter the present with fresh eyes and an open heart and ready hands.

Sometimes you can tell you are doing a thing when you are doing it without thinking of the things that could keep you from doing it.

With divine assistance, choosing to exist existentially and exponentially within the forgiveness available to you, forgive the dark angels and the even darker humans of the past; do this by taking loving care of the bright ones of your present.

Yesterday I watched Henry II re-imprison his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in the tower. It was Christmas of 1183.

It is interesting, Henry’s decision. You can see it too by watching the movie, The Lion In Winter.

Eleanor, Henry’s queen, played by Katharine Hepburn is brilliant. When Henry II, knife in hand, threatens to kill their three sons, she eloquently rants:

Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little – that’s how peace begins.

For the love of God, can’t we love each other just a little? Good question for the family?

While it is noble of the queen to take responsibility for the problems, the truth is that she and Henry and their sons were very much products of their times. The succession of power deal was something they inherited, and it mucked with the softer family values of kindness and gentleness. They might have been a nice family, Henry, Eleanor, John, Richard and Geoffrey, like TV’s Addams family, but they had the dilemma of deciding who ruled next. In other words, they had to figure out who to hate, band against, betray,  bash, banish, imprison or kill, and who to crown the next worthy ruler of England. It was the ongoing problem of the English monarchy – who do we love, who do we murder? Think Henry the VIII and his six wives.

The kings of England were only relieved of this complexity when Charles I was beheaded on Tuesday, 30 January 1649, and the English Parliament took over the job of loving and murdering.

It got me to thinking – what creates the rules for a family’s use of knives and of towers?  Power struggles for royal succession don’t help. Favoritism either. Towers not much. Violence not much at all.  I know a girl who grew up with a bigoted mother. This girl is an amazingly open and accepting woman. She overcame the family knife. A family legacy is partially a choice.

I think about my own family.

When we were in grade school, my little brother and I played baseball with a golf ball one day in the field in front of the house, the field with the fire flies and cow paddies. What a cool idea. A golf ball hit with a wooden bat travels fast and far. I remember one of my drives to deep center. “It’s deep, way back, way back – gone. A home run.” I also remember another clothesline drive back to the pitcher’s mound. I swung, the ball sprung off my bat on a straight line, the pitcher, my little brother Lars, was down. I ran towards him. He was holding his mouth. We were in the car. We were back at home. He was lying on the couch with a blanket over him. His face was swollen; his teeth were broken; his jaw was wired closed. It was a moment.

I’ve told this story before. I’ve used it as a prop, an item in a series giving evidence of growing up crazy with my two brothers. It fit into the line, “I grew up tough. I shot my big brother. I clubbed my grandma unconscious in the laundry room, and I broke my little brother’s jaw with golf ball.” It’s gotten a few laughs.

But the golf ball incident isn’t really funny, and it remains for me as somewhat ambiguous. “We all have knives,” remarked Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. The golf ball was one of my knives.  It was an accident, of course. But by it I harmed my brother. It was stupid to play baseball with a golf ball. My brother and I made a decision to play together, but I was older. And yet, I never imagined that he would be struck, and I didn’t want him to get hurt. I loved my little brother then, I still do now.

In the family, we make choices. Stuff happens. People crumple. They hold themselves. We hold them. It doesn’t change what happened. Every family has a history of violence or harm or disruption and every family must travel forward with a legacy both good and bad. But interpretation and re-interpretation is an important in dealing with our narratives.

What if the golf ball had carried a little higher? I have never really thought of this before, but perhaps I didn’t want to. We don’t think much of “what if …”, and we don’t unpack our family stories that often. For many of us, these stories remain largely unexamined, left in the semi-rational closets of our minds, un-actualized and un-interpreted. Could the result have been worse? Yes, it might have been worse if the ball had hit him square between the eyes, or square in one eye?  I am very grateful to God that this didn’t happen.

But the incident doesn’t stand alone in my childhood. We did so many foolish things growing up. We also played baseball with rocks. We jumped off a high bridge into the river, flying down through the air, plunging into the fast brown water. And we did lots of fast driving in cars, over this bridge and around the country, and some drinking and driving.  We could have killed ourselves. A number of young people in my high school did so, destroying themselves and their friends in alcohol related accidents.

Life isn’t safe, but we who survive into adulthood with our siblings have much to be grateful for. I think the family, even broken, is something to be grateful for. I think the family, even with a negative narrative, has something to be thankful for. My little brother and I survived. But we had so many good moments growing up together. We swam together, road bikes together, played ping pong for hours on end together, ate together, water skied together. How many times did we laugh together? I’m not sure but it was enough that the good thoughts outweigh the bad. My brother called me last week to ask for my advice on what telescope to buy. I enjoyed sharing my expertise with him. Family is precious.

I remember shooting little spring load guns at each other in the hall, firing little round silver balls down the hall into each other. We shot each other, we laughed when we took a hit between the eyes; we fired and laughed again. It’s family, both the hits between the eyes and the laughing.

I re-watched The Godfather again the other night. It’s a superb movie! Scenes stick with you: the famous scene where Michael Corleone is present at his nephew’s baptism juxtaposed with the scenes of his gangsters carrying his orders to murder his rivals. The camera is stationary, coldly objective, with short close ups and mid-shots — the water running down the fragile baby’s soft head, the bullets ripping into the soft bodies of the rivals. Michael renounces Satan as he murders the families of others. Coppola edits for us the holy and unholy in one person. We see that violent cruelty and tender love can exist in the same man at the same moment. It is an interpretive stroke of genius. It is life as we know it in the family.

I spoke with a twelve year old girl last week. She has to make adult-like decisions about her family. Why? Perhaps, she is the most responsible, mature person in her family. I’m not certain. She was wondering something fairly significant for a young girl —  where to live. It was an honor to witness her wise sensibilities concerning her family. But what was this — twelve and parenting herself? This is not unusual. There are an estimated 10 million children in sub-Saharan Africa orphaned by AIDS. They have no biological parents. They remain. And what shall they make of this? And we?

What do we each one do with what has happened to us in our families and in our communities?

I believe that every community has a tower, and every family has a knife. Every family has a sense of succession, an inheritance, even if only social and psychological. Each family is in danger of being put in a tower by other families living nearby them, and they are in danger of  locking some of their own family members in a tower. To understand this, we must choose to see this, and we must think more about this. And we must process the destructive past; we must move away from it and move toward it again. We must go exploring.

I grew up white in the Midwest in the sixties. I was an inheritor of the dominant narrative of America. Succession to the throne was a given. We never questioned our right to go anywhere we wanted, to eat anywhere we chose, to become anything we desired. My parents were actually poor, but I didn’t know it. Their Christian work didn’t pay well, but there were perks, free housing, free food and some vehicles provided for us by the Christian campground my parents ran.  I had as much or more stuff than the farm kids that lived near me, and so I didn’t have much of a sense of class consciousness.

One thing sat in the back of my mind that discriminated. We were from Southern California living in Missouri. My parents had a past with avocadoes and tacos. They had lived in Los Angeles. They were more cosmopolitan than rural, more aware of diversity than uniformity. They were displaced persons. They tried to join the local Southern Baptist Church. They were told that they would have to be re-baptized. Their Presbyterian baptisms wouldn’t work. They decided not to join. We were outsiders. I never forgot that. And I think as a result I have never had much of a stomach for intolerance, for narrow-mindedness, or sectarianism. But I love church. I love the church. I believe that the church is part of how God shows himself to us. It can be made into a tower, to lock people in, and to lock people out, but when it is at its best it is an open family, open to more and more siblings, able to absorb and adopt and love all different kinds of people.

I believe that we were meant to live kind, tolerant lives, accepting  differences in the church and in our families. But we must not get too sappy about this. Jesus said that he came to bring a sword to the family, that family member would rise against family member, in conflict over Jesus. And this has happened. The conservatives should not claim Jesus as the poster boy for family values. Jesus disrupted the family. He said that his family wasn’t simply made up out of his nuclear family but out of anyone who would follow him. But he loved his family too. He made provision for his mother to be taken care of after he died.

It’s something to try to understand. I’m sorting it out. Whatever conflicts and wounds occur in our families, I believe strongly that we must take responsibility for our choices. I am a devotee of Soren Kierkegaard. He believed that, “Wherever there is a crowd there is untruth.” He believed that in the end we are individually responsible for what we chose. We will stand alone in heaven to answer for what we have done. I believe that too. I believe that we are responsible for how we treat family, and how we interpret our families once all is said and done. It can get rough.

Once my father was asked which of his sons was better at public speaking. He quickly indicated that it was my older brother. I will never forget this. I was standing within hearing distance when he said it, but he didn’t know I was there. It stabbed me, unexpectedly and hard. I make my living by writing, teaching and speaking. It is my identity. The same is true for my older brother. The same for my dad too, at one time. “And the award goes to, the older brother!” For me it was, in part, a kind of succession. It felt a bit like the law of primogenitor or the divine right of kings. The older recieved the nod, the blessing, the oratorical crown. It was competition, and it was preference. It was Henry II and it was Eleanor. It was a knife, and it was none of these things but merely a poorly thought out response on the part of my dad.

I spoke to my dad about this later. He too was wounded by what he had done. He apologized to me. It was a very painful moment for both of us. I forgave him. I still think of it sometimes. It still wounds me a little. But I am largely over it. I forgive him, as he must forgive me for the mistakes I made growing up. We are good, different not prefect in unity, but good. I choose to love my father. He is a good man, and he was a good dad to me.

My daughter Laurel is very smart; my daughter Rosalind is smart too, but in  a different way. Rosalind has brain damage, and she can’t read very well, but she is smart with her heart. Rosalind has a good life, but it is painful, her limits, and yet it is beautiful, her uniqueness.  Our family has space for the differences. As a father, I have made a conscious choice, along with my wife and my daughter Laurel to do no violence to the close juxtaposition of contrasts in our family. A family is a place where significant difference should be able to exist without judgment. A family is, I believe, a place where certain comparisons simply should not be made.

My daughter Laurel is studying in London this semester. She visited the holocaust museum there. This week she sent me a poem that she had written.  It’s a poem about her sister.

The Unforgotten Crime

Honey Nut Cheerios

tumble into my older sister’s bowl,

twinkling round O’s matching her big blue eyes.

We laugh loud and I pour her milk,

insurance against the chance of an embarrassing spill.


I am her prevention policy against frustration;

I spoon her sour cream, set minutes on the microwave,

and towel- dry the glass dishes;

a dropped plate

often results in crystal shards and tears.


My own eyes well up as I trudge through the breathing rooms,

still with their secrets.

I pass Hitler,

and the smell of burning books wafts to my mind as

faded yellow Stars of David on blue breast pockets droop

behind smudgy glass panes.


I glance to my right, and a gleaming white table

rests haughtily on its haunches,

taunting me, sinister

and slick,

clean white metal hiding dirty black deeds.


The dark room propels me forward,

betraying me,

forcing me to stumble unwillingly towards my foe.

I stand before this thing, and –

I read it.


“Mental retardation…genocide rehearsal…unfit for society…sterilization…experiment… T-4…



The words blur together and I turn

to the table,

its dead red eyes reflecting

children’s screams and their naked

exposure to white-coated probing,


flashing cameras and sharp instruments,

scientists taking detached notes and

emotionlessly practicing their

cruel sciences under the guise of research and –

I see my sister’s face in the scared eyes of the littlest ones.


Sobbing, I sit on a bench in the darkness and grieve,

while those sterile and sightless scientists

sit next door, still and silent in their frames,

the horror of their actions forever frozen.


Would you have thought differently, I ask them,

if you poured her cheerios every morning?

Laurel read me this poem the other day as we were talking with each other on Skype. At the last line the eye wiping began and didn’t stop for a few minutes. I couldn’t really say anything for a short time. Hitler was so messed up. He knew not a thing about my daughter Rosalind.

They wouldn’t have done what they did, the murderers, they wouldn’t have done those experiments on our family members, they wouln’t  have laid precious ones onto cold tables and into unmarked graves, they wouldn’t have done any horrible thing they did if the differently abled ones had  been their sons and daughters and they had poured their Cherrios and they had had the courage to even begin to understand what being a human family really means.

What is a family? I am still trying to figure that out myself.  I confess and grieve that my family and all of our families are places where the sacred and the profane exist side-by-side. In me and my kin, the holy and the unholy co-exist. The character of Michael Corleone is not an abberation, although he is an extreme. There is a bit of Henry II and Eleanor in all of us.

But I am beginning to believe that the family can choose to be a place that moves away from violence in every one of its twisted and damaging forms. And I believe that it can be a place that allows for differences to exist side-by-side without judgment. And I believe that it is wisdom to chose to forgive what should never have happened. Think Rwanda and Burundi — some families there have forgiven the unthinkable in their neighbors.

“For the love of God,” cries Eleanor with anguish over her family,  “can’t we love each other just a little?”

I believe that we can.

Two October ago, we trekked three thousand miles to see if the carotenoids and anthocyanins might heal us. The days were shortening. The Pacific Ocean was getting colder. Christmas was months away. None of that would have mattered a bit, if life hadn’t just smashed us sideways and flipped us upside down in a multi-person, relational train wreck. We were reeling through the autumnal equinox, staggering from the scene of a social crime and we needed treatment.

Every year people hailing from sunless, rainy climates migrate to Southern California for light therapy; we were reversing the journey, pioneering from San Diego to Maine for the reds and yellows and oranges of northeastern chromotherapy.

Arriving in the dark, we drove from Portland down to South Berwick. Our Maine hosts, Ralph and Donna, said they preferred to take the back roads and avoid what they called the “turnpike,” so we did. I leaned against the dark car window on Fox Ridge Drive.  In the headlights, I could just see the trees starting to blush. We hadn’t come too early.

The pigments were at work. The same elements that color the bright yellow squashes in our California backyard gardens, the purple lupines along our roads, and the red strawberries in our bowls, color the trees in Maine. They are the pigments, the carotenoids and anthocyanins. When they hang out and mix it up with sunlight and rain, heat and cold, place and genetics — and who knows what else — they saturate the world with color.  They are a virtual botanical mixed drink.  Leaves tanked up primarily on anthocyanins dress up and go out to party in red or purple. Leaves having downed  good shots of both anthocyanins and carotenoids parade about shamelessly in pure orange. Leaves drunk with carotenoids but little or no anthocyanins stagger happily through autumn decked out in yellow.

The postcard Donna wrote said, “Please come visit. Ralph will take off work and we’ll go around with you. We’d love to have you as guests at our home.”  It was a gracious, welcoming invitation, carrying a faint sense of a sweet-smelling kitchen, a fire heating up the family room, a tail-whopping dog on the rug and hot chocolate in mugs. We were touched by the genuine gesture of hospitality — and the timing. The things that have just happened in our lives affect how we read our invitations.

I recently ran into a friend, Jean, at a party given by another friend who had just gotten back from a summer in Kenya.  Our Kenya trekking friend was showing her travel pictures. I’ve been to South Africa. I have friends there, and the pictures brought back vivid memories for me. While standing in the living room watching the photo journal of the trip, the back of my mind ran silent movies of eating with my own South African friends in a cinder block home in Soweto, touring the Pilanesberg Game Reserve with them and traveling across the veld to visit a rural school in Swaziland. My whole trip to South Africa was so much about people. Perhaps healing is pretty much that too.

While photos of giraffes, AID’s orphans and dancing African teenagers scrolled on a flat screen behind her, Jean asked how I was doing. I paused, an African child squatting over her shoulder. I needed a second. The Africans kept moving as I tried to call up what I told her the last time I saw her. I was also sketching out how to respond to her question about my condition. Whenever someone asks me how it is going, I make up a short story, fast. We all do. Even when we offer only a word, or a few words, we play the raconteur, laying out one plot over another, one point of view over another, our story choices made with split second judgments of the social milieu we spin our narratives into. And it’s complicated, how it comes out and how it is interpreted. The story we tell is always embedded within the story happening in the present moment and both those stories interact with a story about us that already exists within the listener.

I said, “I’m recovering. It was tough to lose my job in the recession. But I really like my new place. We are working on social justice stuff, feeding homeless people here in town, helping Burmese refugees in City Heights, working with foster children. I’m moving on, but it takes time, to get over what happened.”

It is awkward, the thing about moving on. I didn’t really want to talk about it. It was way too painful. I really didn’t feel like ripping into some of my former colleagues at a party with unsuspecting friends present. It’s in such poor taste and can upset the host. It’s also bad for digestion. I avoid it, generally. Besides, I didn’t have to go on. She took up the story and began telling me about the church in town she didn’t go to anymore. Stories beget similar stories. She had just been to a reunion. Certain people were there. She didn’t elaborate. I didn’t really know what she was talking about. Her voice quieted as she said, “It brought up some feelings I thought I’d worked through.”  As she was talking I was thinking about how the craziness beats in on all of us at times, turning boring, commonplace narratives surreal. Homey places where we put our feet up and sip hot drinks become places we run from scalded.  People who were safe become people we fear. Rwanda and Burundi, in 1994, come to mind.

At that moment, I didn’t see the African orphans behind her anymore, just her face near me, looking up at me. Our half-veiled emotions riveted us together. I stood there processing the narrative before us, the story I did know within the story I didn’t know, and then I said to her, “It’s okay.”  I paused, formulating more words. “It’s okay to have people you don’t want to see. I have a couple of people like that, from what happened to me. Perhaps, in time…” She nodded, silently, looking straight at me. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking. Then she wiped her eyes with the skin on the tops of her knuckles. “Thank you,” she said with a slight smile.”I needed that.”

Maine was something my wife and I needed.  I remember standing in the yard at Ralph and Donna’s home watching the leaves fall. It was just what I’d hoped for. The wind gusted in the big tree in the center of the meadow, and a flurry of yellow leaves wobbled down with papery sounds. They fell in slow flutters and occasional arcs toward the ground. Donna told me that when it is quiet in the woods, on freezing winter nights, that you can hear the leaves snap off the trees. I walked up the road with her dog, to the top of the hill where a red maple was on fire with color. I walked back down in the leaves that lay piled at the edges of the road. When a car came by the leaves gusted up, as if raised from the dead for a few seconds only to sink back to a quiet resting place again.

The next day, Donna and Ralph drove us over to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. There is a photo album on the end table in my home where I read that has pictures of that trip to New Hampshire in it, one of a blue stream full of yellow leaves,  one of a smooth lake mirrored with vermilion, gold and lime colored trees, one of hill after hued hill, piled up to the horizon with a dusting of orange, brown, green, red and yellow. They strike me as some of the softest and most therapeutic color tones I have ever seen. There is something about the miles and miles of celebrating colors, something festive, party-fun, good. I remember now, looking at these pictures, that the days Ralph and Donna escorted us through the wonders, every turn in the road made me reel one way or another with delight. I was drinking with the leaves, inebriated with color, happy to be alive.

Back at their house, after our day in the White Mountains,  I remember sitting at their kitchen table.  Donna put a big casserole of shepherd’s pie in front of us. Fluffy mashed potatoes crowned the dish in a flurry of peaks, paprika accenting them with a dusting of red. Tall glasses of white milk sat in front of the plates. We ate and talked.

Ralph and Donna talked about the accident. I had heard them speak about this before. But it was sacred, listening to them again. Their feelings, thoughts and words arced down deep inside of me. As they took turns talking, I listened with the intensity of a soldier with a deep unsown gash, hanging onto every movement and word from the field doctors bent over him.

Their son Josh died in a motorcycle accident. It happened when he was on a trip with their church. He got on a bike in a parking lot for fun, zoomed off down the street, and then they didn’t have their son to hug anymore. His room was upstairs, across the hall from the room where we were sleeping. Some of his things were still there. There were stars on the ceiling.

There isn’t simply one thing that gets at it. The leaves don’t change colors simply because the days get shorter. There aren’t any certain lines on which all leaves fall, neither are there any perfect lines that end our discussions of things. Ralph talked about questions that lead to more questions. He offered me no formula to write in my journal, carry back home, mix up in my kitchen lab and apply to my wounds and bandages.

But of course, I didn’t want that. I have had the privilege and burden of teaching writing at the college.  I have sat at home reading papers that only a teacher could, should or would read. Over time I have come to see that a formulaic interpretation of psychologically painful events is much like an amateurish freshman paper critiquing a novel only partly read. It is a thing awkwardly cobbled together late, under the disabling influence of a deadline —  a hodgepodge of unsupported quotes, blown transitions and an unproven thesis.

But that is not what Donna and Ralph offered. As I listened to them story their life, I was struck by a scenic beauty that acted as a backdrop to everything they said. There was a soft shade of gentleness behind every question and commentary. In all their thinking, in their psychology of loss, in their sociology of survival, in their theology of pain, ran a dusted hue of kindness. I noticed that Sunday, when they took us to their church, as they spoke to friends there, they were as tender with them as they were with us. And in these interactions something unexpected began to happen to our stories.  Ralph and Donna’s story began to intersect and merge with my story and the stories of all my friends and their friends. A kind of narrative fusion began to take place — all our terrifying experiences, our tragically lost relationships, our agonizingly arranged  interpretations blew from the road to the air again, to lift and turn and arc down, to settle and to rest where the pigments cover the rising mountains to the horizon.

People think of the Jewish story teller, Jesus as primarily a great teacher; he is known for his sayings, parables, stories, but he was as much a healer as teacher. The accunt of Jesus reports that once when Jesus saw a man with leprosy, he was “filled with compassion.”  I think his compassion was not justfor the physical problem, although I believe he must have cared much about that, but also for the man’s damaged sence of self,  his lost connections, his broken relationships with family and friends. To be a leper was to be a pariah, to be separated from  hugs and kisses and sexuality and love. It was brutal and agonizing, the distancing factor of having scary skin. And we are told that Jesus had compassion. In other words,  Jesus felt the deep pain of the man, the loss of his identity, the loneliness of his existence, the anger he had inside, the stunned confusion, the cry of  injustice. “I am left out,” cried the leper and Jesus said, “Be in.” The account reports that Jesus healed him.

Make what you might of it, not much beats compassion when you are suffering. A daughter rubs her father’s feet on his death-bed, saying by touching him, you are still a person, worthy of attention, deserving to be touched. Touch, compassion, psyche healing even when the physical  deterioration cannot be stopped, is eloquent to a watching universe, a shout int the dark, “I love you!”  When I was so sick after a surgery, lying in the bathroom alone one night on the floor, one of our small kitten came and lay down with me. The gesture, from an animal, the soft warmth close — I haven’t forgotten it. Not being alone in that isolating moment of suffering — significant! The color of compassion is shifted toward the warm, fallish end of the light spectrum.

It always astonishes me, how close truth hovers in the backdrop of life. On the day that we went driving in the White Mountains we came to where the “old man” had fallen down above Profile Lake. The old man had been a series of five granite ledges, that when viewed from the right angle, looked like a man’s face. He was a state emblem, but a fragile one at best. During much of the 20th Century he was held in place by cables and spikes. Between midnight and 2 am on May 3, 2003, with a rocky roar, the old man just slid down the mountain. People were so dismayed they left flowers at the bottom of the cliff.

The time goes so quickly. We are back from Maine. Southern California, along the coast, is such a beautiful thing. The palms here stay green and bright all year long. One of the many lantanas in my yard is always in bloom — purple, yellow or orange. But I don’t need seasonal reminders that things change because I know they do.  And when that change is for not for the better, I am of the opinion that the carotenoids and anthocyanins are among the things that heal, and love.

When I go shopping at the grocery store, I pick out the small orange and red and yellow peppers. At lunch, I sometimes edge my plate with them. And when I make smoothies in my blender, I dump in the bluest blueberries and darkest red strawberries. They are rich with the pigments I love. They sooth me, but I know what they are and what they aren’t. I know that they aren’t a spike or a cable, certain to hold me up forever. It’s not a dark perspective, just true: the bottom of the cliff waits.

But so do other things — friends yet to travel to, places yet to surprise, narratives yet to be shared. We have been through a few things that have changed us very much, my African friends, Donna and Ralph, Jean, my wife and I. And for some of us, there may be places that we are not quite ready to visit and people who for now are perhaps best not seen.  But we know that in the fall, the hills change. They brighten with the therapeutic pigments. And lately, I have been hearing more and more stories of loss that sound, at the emotional core of the narrative, similar to mine.

I lean toward the voices that tell them and hope to grow more gentle, like other story tellers I know.