Page 1

The

Vol.3 Issue. 2

Wayfarer ISSN 2169-3145

A Journal of Contemplative Literature

Feature Poet C.M. Rivers

Saving the World by Jamie K. Reaser

Cosmos, Mythos & Spirit by Theodore Richards

The Men Died First by Sharlene Cochrane

In the Book Spotlight

To Live in Paradise by Cindi McVey

Creativity

by J.K. McDowell

A Compassionate Cynic’s Guide To Survival by karuna das

Featuring the poetry of Monika John, Gary Pierluigi, Nicolo Santilli, Hope Hearken, D.L. Collins, Barry Yeoman, and Heloise Jones. Plus 6 questions with author Nora Caron and The Sinner’s Prayer by Dan Leach.


The

Wayfarer

contents

A Journal of Contemplative Literature Vol. 3 Issue. 2

The Environmental Column Saving the World by Jamie K. Reaser The contemplative Column Cosmos, Mythos, & Spirit by Theodore Richards

2

8

The Poetry of Monika John

12

The Poetry of Gary Pierluigi

14

The Poetry of Nicolo Santilli

15

Rag and Bone Man by Stephen Poleskie

16

The Poetry of Heloise Jones

18

The Poetry of Hope Hearken

20

The Poetry of D.L. Collins

21

The Poetry of Barry Yeoman

22

The Men Died First by Sharlene Cochrane

24

Feature: The Poetry of C.M. Rivers

32

A Compassionate Cynic’s Guide To Survival by Karuna Das

35

6 Questions with Nora Caron

44

The creative Column Creativity by J.K. McDowell

46

Bloodroot by Jamie K. Reaser

51

The Sinner’s Prayer by Dan Leach

54

Book Spotlight To Live in Paradise 59

Founder and Executive Editor L.M. Browning Associate Editor & Staff Writer Jamie K. Reaser Staff Writer Theodore Richards Staff Writer J.K. McDowell A wayfarer is one who chooses to take up a long journey on foot. The journey we chronicle within the journal is that of our path across the inner-landscape of our own being, as we reach for answers to the central questions of our existence. Spirituality is the culmination of the individual’s desire to understand the deeper meaning in life. The works found within The Wayfarer are those small truths we gather while traversing the breadth of our days; shared in a belief that through an exchange of insights we help one another move forward. The Wayfarer is a quarterly journal distributed by Homebound Publications that explores humanity’s ongoing introspective journey. About Homebound Publications It is the intention of those at Homebound to revive contemplative storytelling. The stories humanity lives by give both context and perspective to our lives. Some old stories, while well-known to the generations, no longer resonate with the heart of the modern man or address the dilemmas we currently face as individuals and as a global village. Homebound chooses titles that balance a reverence for the old wisdom; while at the same time presenting new perspectives by which to live. © 2014 Homebound Publications All Rights Reserved. All rights to all original artwork, photography and written works belongs to the respective owners as stated in the attributions. All Rights Reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and publisher. Except for brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Cover Photo: Midnight Sun by Josef Stuefer Slickr


environmenTal Column

Saving the

World The environmenTal Column By Staff Writer Jamie K. Reaser i have DeCiDeD To STop TrYinG To Save The WorlD.

I

couldn’t save my mother. With breast cancer in

she Was diagnosed January 1990, a year

For as long as i can remember, my primary relationship has been with mother earth. in some form or another, nature has always offered me companionship, instruction, and inspiration. Slugs, ladybugs, and toads were among my first playmates, and my first teachers. They continue to crawl around in the chambers of my heart, finding their way into poetry, art, and particularly good days. i was still very young when i was told that earth is sick and, quite possibly, dying. i remember someone saying that we humans are like a cancer that is slowly killing her. “perhaps,” they said, “she is terminally ill.” This was before i had befriended Death, and my response was of deeply-rooted fear and inconsolable guilt. i put my metaphoric fists up and became a fighter—an activist—on behalf of mother earth. i understood the prevailing threat to be people. Waging battles against my own species became the hallmark of my adolescence. in 1986, i had spent enough time on the front lines to be named the Youth Conservationist of the Year by the virginia Wildlife Federation.

after she had found a lump and Was told that it Was nothing to Worry about.

When

the

doctors changed their minds, they gave her six months.

she

made it nearly six years be-

cause she Was a single parent determined to

get her three daughters through college.

She fought the cancer as if embattled in a war with her own body—enduring numerous rounds of the selfinflicted attacks known of ‘chemotherapy’ and ‘radiation,’ as well as a bone marrow transplant. and then, one day, she decided to surrender, to make her peace with mortality. a mystic once told me, “everything bound by form must die.” By the time i was in my mid-twenties, Death was a familiar. he had briefly held my hand when i was six. he wiped away my tears when pets were buried and flushed. and, he stood next to me at graveside when the remains of my grandparents and my mother where placed deep in the soil—soil which is the dark, dense, gritty remains of other things that existed some time ago. * * * * * 2 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

Death is an ecological process from which the human animal is not exempt. in the moment that i accepted this truth, i also awoke to the humbling realization that i wasn’t put on this planet to be its savior. a mystic once told me, “everything bound by form must die.” mother earth is destined to pass away. i can’t say how she will die or when, but i do know that she is subject to the same processes of decay and destruction as anything else that has taken shape in this universe. maybe she’ll be hit by a big comet. maybe some chemical reaction will cause the atmosphere to change adversely, or perhaps the sun will burn out and she’ll become too frigid for life. maybe human insecurity will foster such poor choices that we blow her to bits. everything we cherish about this planet will change and, in time, cease to exit. maybe it will happen tomorrow. maybe it will happen hundreds of generations from now. i have made the conscious decision to stop trying to save the world. To some, this might seem a defeatist act. after all, it is not uncommon for people


to get depressed and ‘tune out’ (mentally escape) when enduring seemingly insurmountable struggle, to shut down in the face of peril, to become paralytic as doom approaches.

little room for negotiation. Terms like ‘protect,’ ‘conserve’ and ‘sustain’ generally mean to prevent loss and maintain the status quo. Separation doesn’t resolve separation.

When threatened: Fight Flee Freeze We can choose another way. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “You can’t solve a problem at the level at which it was created.” In other words: Selfishness does not resol ve selfishness.

The ideologies prominent in western culture largely perceive humans as separate from the animal kingdom, and thus not subject to ecological constraints - resource limitation, for example. Many environmentalists further the perspective that humans are a part from, rather than a part of, the natural world by regarding what people do and manifest as something innately obscene. Beaver dams, bird nests, and fox dens may have a mystique about them, but something humanfabricated is considered unnatural, artificial, and often an assault upon the Earth simply because it is of human origin. My adolescent sentiments toward people are so common among environmentalists that they function as a green membership card. Many people committed to ‘saving the planet’ have a distinct distain for their own species. People are considered ‘the problem’ - a cancer attacking its Mother. “The Earth would be better off without us.” But to see Homo sapiens as a part of the Earthsystem is to see the anti-human sentiment in the environmental movement as something akin to an autoimmune disorder: self-inflicted dis-ease. In general, autoimmune disorders don’t promote healing, they debilitate and kill. Control does not resolve control.

“My decision

to stop trying

to save the world

was not defeatist,

Philosopher Arne Naess is quoted as saying, “Unhappily, the extensive moralizing within the ecological movement has given the public a false impression that they are being asked to make a sacrifice—to show more responsibility, more concern, and a nicer moral standard. But all of that would flow naturally and easily if the self were widened and deepened so that protection of nature was felt and perceived as protection of our very selves.” It sounds glorious to try to save the planet—noble, cool—but the motivation to protect Mother Earth—Pachamama—Gaia—Turtle Island is often motivated by the same force that is making her sick, namely the desire of humans to benefit humans. Actions aimed at ‘saving the planet’ are largely a quest for human security, for certainty in a comfortable future. What is currently regarded as ‘Western Culture’ sets the standards for ‘comfortable;’ high standards that leave

it emerged out of

something activated

deep in the chambers of my heart

—something generative.”

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 3


The quest for security drives people to try to control their circumstances—their environment. A sense of separation from the environment enables the human ego to foster the belief that is possible to dominate the world. The ‘health problems’ that Mother Earth is now facing are primarily derived from the human enterprises’ efforts to manipulate the environment beyond the environment’s ability to adversely impact people—building ‘permanent’ structures, managing temperature, controlling water and food supplies, and redistributing natural resources through trade and transportation— all on a large scale. Beliefs in permanency and the ability to command ecological systems are illusional, yet they serve as the foundations of human ‘progress.’ Many of the solutions being proposed to address the environmental crises also arise out of a cosmology of human-domination of Earth systems—genetic engineering, determining weather patterns, and turning the atmosphere into a chemistry laboratory. One of the side effects of our philosophical separation from the natural world is our ignorance of natural systems and their functionality. Enacting these proposals for the ‘treatment’ of Mother Earth is akin to throwing a wide range of pharmaceuticals at an ailment without understanding the consequences the drugs will have on the human body. I didn’t stop loving my mother when I learned that she was dying. To the contrary, I took actions to express my love for her. I was her eldest daughter. When she was diagnosed with cancer, I was four months away from finishing college. I gave up my plans to go straight to graduate school and, instead, moved home to help her through her treatments. I chose to love her despite a sense of impending loss, despite the pain that was sure to come. l chose to honor our relationship and be in service of something greater than my-self. Environmental activist and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy, writes, “We’re not going to save our world by sermonizing and preaching to each other. Nor will we save our world out of duty and grim determination, or by winning an argument and persuading other people that they’re wrong. We probably can only save our world through loving it enough.” We are a species that has the capacity to make choices regarding the evolutionary tra jectory of our consciousness. What if we didn’t use love as a path4 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

way to security? What if we chose to love this world while acknowledging that the world as we know it will end? What if people chose to love this world—including the animal known as Homo sapiens—without feeling entitled to something in return? My decision to stop trying to save the world was not defeatist, it emerged out of something activated deep in the chambers of my heart—something generative. I asked myself how I wanted to honor my relationship to Mother Earth despite her mortality. I questioned who I wanted to be in relationship to her. I began to explore what I wanted it to mean to be human. I asked, “What is the most potent essence of ‘humanity?’” In Reason for Hope, primatologist Jane Goodall writes, “It is these undeniable qualities of human love and compassion and self-sacrifice that give me hope for the future. We are, indeed, often cruel and evil. Nobody can deny this. We gang up on each one another, we torture each other, with words as well as deeds, we fight, we kill. But we are also capable of the most noble, generous, and heroic behavior.” I haven’t stopped loving Mother Earth because I realize that she will die someday. To the contrary, my life has become an expression of my love for her. I have come home to her by accepting myself and Homo sapiens as animal, as natural, as an aspect of her and— hard as it may be at times—to try to love every part of her. “Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present,” writes philosopher Albert Camus. I honor the individuals and organizations who actively participate in the environmental movement, who diligently work to analyze human impacts and develop options to reduce to size of the human footprint. They offer us something vital: strategies. Strategy is important, but it is not enough. In order to be effective, strategies need to be implemented. Implementation is facilitated by the motivation to implement. Fear has proven to be a poor motivator—a destructive rather than a generative force. I believe that what we most need to give to the present are two outgrowths of love: grief and gratitude. To grieve is human It is natural to feel grief when we lose something that we love. Those who have tended the terminally ill understand that there is also a pre-grieving process that can take place when we anticipate loss. Grief cracks the heart open, making space for compassion, for understanding, for kinship, for us to claim our humanity.


We, as a species, have not been grieving enough. One of the characteristics of Western Culture is emotional adolescence. Or, as Jungian psychologist Bill Plotkin would say, ‘pathoadolescence’—pathologic immaturity. Much of today’s society has been culturally programmed not to feel—to escape (flee) from feeling through food, drugs, television, and various electronic media and gadgetry. Embracing our emotions, especially grief for our Mother’s ills, provides an opportunity to be fully human, and to initiate society into an adulthood that has the capacity to nurture self and other. Through our grief, we can discover our humanity. Gratitude grows our humanity Gratitude is defined as ‘the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.’ Gratitude is powerful medicine. Gratitude enlivens. Gratitude holds space for the generative forces of wonderment and connection. We can be grateful for the opportunity to be alive. We can be grateful for every living creature and life-sustaining process. From this place of gratitude, we can choose to engage in strategic acts of reciprocity—to actively love life in all its forms and create opportunities for Nature’s regenerative capacities to thrive. At this point, it is not hard to hear critical voices saying, “Well that all sounds nice, but let’s get real. The hippies had their love fest and then went on to become self-serving corporate executives.” The love that I am referring to is not an ungrounded, ‘new age’ notion rooted in a desire to blissfully escape from the challenges inherent in the tangible world. To the contrary—the love that I speak of requires humans to stand firmly and consciously in the messy thick of it, and to be courageously vulnerable. We need to learn to let go of our sense of entitlement

to tomorrow, and accept uncertainty and insecurity as the natural rhythms of life. We need to be brave and humble enough to let ourselves be cracked open, over and over again, from the inside-out. “The ideal of warriorship is that the warrior should be sad and tender, and because of that, the warrior can be very brave as well,” writes Chögyam Trungpa, author of Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. What might become possible if fear-and-guilt motivated activists transformed themselves into heart-warriors? In her poem, The Journey, Mary Oliver speaks to the process of realizing that that there is only one life that you can save: One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice… as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could dodetermined to save the only life you could save. I have decided to stop trying to save the world. Instead, I have decided to actively love this world while being fully aware of its temporal limitations, its mortality. Loving this world has not guaranteed my life, but it has given me inspiration to live. Loving this world enables me to more fully express my human soul—my humanity. This is what I can save, and this is how I can best serve our Mother in her time of need. To quote 13th century Persian poet, Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

Jamie K. Reaser’s writing explores themes at the interface of Nature and human nature. In addition to more than 100 professional publications in the fields of biology and environmental policy, she is the author of four collections of poetry and the editor of two anthologies. Jamie currently serves as an Associate Editor for The Wayfarer journal and is a member of the International League of Conservation Writers.


Š Zion by Moonlight photo by D.H. Parks on Flickr


contemplative Column

Cosmos, Mythos, & Spirit Reflections on Spirituality in a Changing World The Contemplative Column by Staff Writer Theodore Richards

“Where’s

your mother?” my father asked,

fumbling with his keys and, more significantly, his emotions.

He

couldn’t bear to

go inside to look for her. stood in the the book.

So I did. She kitchen, weeping, clutching


“Are you having a hard time, mom?” I asked.

of the television, we sat around the fire. And we—not

“It was his favorite book,” she sobbed, showing me

a box with a screen—told the stories. Storytelling was

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. I remembered the

among the earliest art forms and, like all art forms, was

book well. It is the story of a donkey, Sylvester, who ac-

participatory. The story comes into being not when the

cidentally, magically turns himself into a rock, and the

writer puts it on paper, but in the space in between

year his parents spend looking for and mourning him

reader and writer, between the teller and the listener.

before he finally, miraculously returns. The book had

The participatory imagination of the audience cocreates it. And together,

always made her cry.

worlds are created. The

I held her for a while, sharing

the

knowledge

my

brother would not return like Sylvester. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s go.” “I wanted to bury the book with him,” she said. “We can do that,” I said. “It’s OK.” And we got in the car— for the first time since my brother was born thirtyseven years before, a family of three—to bury my brother and his favorite book. * * * * * Books had always been important

oldest stories are stories

unspoken that

for

us.

Not

only for my mother (a reading teacher) and me (a writer) but for my father and brother as well. I can see now, as a parent, how stories become the stuff that brings a world into being, the stuff that brings the individual into

“ These special stories

of creation, stories that

are called “myths”.

tener; for a creation sto-

Sadly, we’ve turned

the cosmos beyond, but

that word into an insult.

only tells us the history of

It has become something like a synonym for a lie. But myths are simply stories

always end with the lisry tells us not only about the cosmos within us, not our world, but how we fit in it. Telling

stories,

as

much as anything else, makes us human. It is our especially human way of making a world.

that tell us something

* * * * *

more important,

There are no spiritual

more essential than mere facts. They give us a sense of who we are and our place in the cosmos. ”

traditions I know of that do not revolve around stories. Students of religion and converts so often start in the wrong place, with philosophies and theologies, or worse, lists of rules. If you want to understand a spiritual tradition, the place to go is the story. For in the

community. There was a

story, the hardest ques-

little bit of Sylvester with

tions are asked: Who am

my

I? Why am I here? Where

brother

always—it

made sense to bury the

are we going?

book with him. Books allow for the emerging interior

And stories, like faith traditions, are alive. We like to

self to connect to the broader world through space—in

think of them as being one thing, written down at some

broadening ones sense of possibility and interrelated-

point and never changing. But the truth is that what it

ness—and time, in connecting us to the stories of the

means to be a Christian or a Jew or a Buddhist or a

past.

Hindu has been changing throughout history, and is al-

Even before there were books, human beings told stories. Before we spent our evenings around the light

Left: photo by Chinni Wong (Flickr Creative Commons)

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 9


ways contextual. The apparent solidity of the written

an eye with the possibility of true communion with oth-

word belies the fact that the story evolves, too, even

ers would be preferable to such an eternity. And we are

when the words on the page do not change. For con-

brought together by the story, the fabric of our social,

texts change, and with them interpretations.

cultural, and spiritual ecology.

If we want to understand the Hebrew Bible, for in-

* * * * *

stance, we are better off looking at the Exodus story than merely the Ten Commandments. In either case,

“We are in trouble just now,” writes Thomas Berry, “be-

there is a complex set of contexts the help bring the

cause we do not have a good story.” Berry is writing

texts to life. Scholars can help us come to understand

about industrial civilization and the story we have—told

the historical context, of course. But it is the participa-

through the mechanisms of consumer capitalism—that

tion by the reader in the text that truly brings it to life:

teaches us that our world is a “collection of objects” to

The captivity in Babylon has more meaning, and even

be exploited. It is the story that tells us we are funda-

new meaning, through the eyes of those in captivity,

mentally alone, and in competition with one another, the

the migrants and the incarcerated; American Chris-

story that we become who we are based on what we

To bring forth a new myth requires work that is deep and hard. We must get outside and get our hands dirty to re-embed in the earth; we must explore our interior lives and do the soul-work that brings about the deepest insights; we must engage the old story with critical consciousness to become, in the Gramscian sense, philosophers for the people; we must sing and dance and play and explore.

tianity only truly could understand the Exodus story

can buy. And the “trouble” he refers to is the imminent

through the eyes of Black America, a people who be-

ecological, planetary collapse due to our overconsump-

came a people in their yearning to be free.

tion.

These special stories are called “myths”. Sadly,

There is no more important work than re-imagining

we’ve turned that word into an insult. It has become

this story. And it is work that requires not merely the

something like a synonym for a lie. But myths are sim-

mind, but the whole self. It requires not merely an indi-

ply stories that tell us something more important, more

vidual, but an entire culture. The new story will be more

essential than mere facts. They give us a sense of who

tapestry than a single cloth, more library than single

we are and our place in the cosmos. They allow us to

text.

grapple with truths that are paradoxical and that aren’t

To bring forth a new myth requires work that is deep

necessarily a matter of knowing information. Another

and hard. We must get outside and get our hands dirty

way of putting it is to say that the myth is the primary

to re-embed in the earth; we must explore our interior

way that a culture conveys a cosmology. And a cos-

lives and do the soul-work that brings about the deep-

mology is not merely about the universe out there; it is

est insights; we must engage the old story with critical

about the universe within. It links individual and whole.

consciousness to become, in the Gramscian sense, phi-

The question we all have, I suspect, is not so much

losophers for the people; we must sing and dance and

about what happens to us after we die but whether or

play and explore.

not we are alone in the Universe. Are we participat-

My suspicion is that the new story must come from

ing in a community or not? Are we essentially inter-

the margins, from those who haven’t been served by

connected or isolated? If we are alone, no afterlife we

the story we have now. This was an insight that Jesus

seek after would be worth much; for me, even a blink of

seems to have had. He didn’t seek out the temple priests or the Greek elites or Roman power; rather, he went to

10 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


* * * * *

those who were, as he was, at the margins of society. There was a wisdom from those margins that could not be found at the centers of power. Indeed, in today’s world this would mean turning away from the university and looking to the streets, away from Wall Street and toward the shanty towns outside the centers of capitalist power. It means turning to what Martin Luther King, Jr called the “creatively maladjusted”, those who do not adapt to an insane world and instead attempt to re-imagine it. It is the kind of wisdom that the Trickster Tales teach us: that there is an insanity in the work of building human civilization, and to appear mad in the face of it is a deeper wisdom than conforming to it. But those at the margins, of course, are taught that they are there because of their own deficiencies. “Choices” is a word we will here over and over again in our poor schools, the schools that send more of our youth to prison than college—as if life were so simple, as if mere individual choices determine our fate and there is not a whole universe of other choices conspiring to affect us as well. This is the deficit narrative. The reclamation of the narrative is the counter-narrative. This must be a central aspect of any worthwhile educational program for the marginalized. It was what Jesus and Chuang Tzu and Baal Shem Tov, to name a few, offered: A narrative that challenges the one we have been given. It is easy to see, I think, how a counter-narrative might be useful for the oppressed. But we must come to terms with the fact that the condescending term “at-risk”, applied most to black and brown youth, applies to all of us. We are an at-risk species on an at-risk planet. Our work, our great work, is to tell a new story for us all. Anything less is the rearrangement of deckchairs on this planetary Titanic.

We made it to the cemetery, and I stammered through the eulogy. My brother had little patience for intellectual and spiritual laziness and preferred to face the unknown with honest unknowing. Telling people what they want to hear makes a lot of money in the pulpit, but to honor my brother I had to tell another story: that life is hard, and short; even the luckiest among us gets a mere blink of an eye and cannot avoid suffering. It is funny that the stories of so many of our great spiritual icons—Jesus and the Buddha, for example—are stories of this encounter with suffering, and yet our religions so often seek to avoid its reality. I held my mother as she placed the book in my brother’s grave. His sons stood uncomprehendingly in the face of eternity. It was autumn. For a moment, in the stillness of the cemetery, I could feel the movement of seasons. Off in the distance there was a high school. My brother had played football there once in high school, my mother said. Like the seasons, stories bring us into participation with the cosmos. We will all die. My brother’s ashes were placed in the earth like the bodies of his ancestors. And like the seasons, stories come back. The spirits of our ancestors live on in story. They do not remain static. We can participate with stories, change them. They are there to serve us now and in the future. It matters less if Jesus said exactly the words written down in the Bible than how those words come alive for us, make our lives meaningful, and, of course, what we do with those words. Words make worlds. And the mythology of my brother can be the way he remains with his sons in some small way.

Theodore Richards is a poet, writer, and religious philosopher. He has received degrees from various institutions, including the University of Chicago and The California Institute of Integral Studies, but has learned just as much from practicing the martial art of Bagua; from traveling, working or studying all over the world; and from the youth he has worked with on the South Side of Chicago, Harlem, the South Bronx, and Oakland. He is the author of Handprints on the Womb, a collection of poetry; Cosmosophia: Cosmology, Mysticism, and the Birth of a New Myth, recipient of the Independent Publisher Awards Gold Medal in religion and the Nautilus Book Awards Gold Medal; the novel The Crucifixion, recipient of the Independent Publisher Awards bronze medal; and Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto, which radically reimagines education. Theodore Richards is the founder of The Chicago Wisdom Project and teaches world religions at The New Seminary. He lives in Chicago with his wife and daughters. His next novel, The Conversions, will be released in October


Stardust and Peace

One People

by Monika John

by Monika John

My mind is joined

Pilgrims always meet again,

to victim and violator,

oceans and mountains mere trifles in their journey.

to conquerors’ greed and insights of Sufi saints.

They are drawn together by the finer stuff

My feet tread on dust

that makes toy puzzles

of blood drenched battle fields

out of continents.

and of the One

Driven by an inner calling

who walked in Palestine.

they circle the globe weaving common threads

My lungs fill with air

of one people, one planet.

expelled in Genghis Khan’s curses and the sanctified breath of Abraham. I am no more than stardust,

Until then I practice.... by Monika John

a fleeting spark in space, Since I am still learning yet I abide eternally unchanging in all embracing peace.

that all beings are my Self I practice tolerance. Till I know for certain that there is nothing to attain I practice patience. As long as I cannot love without conditions

Poems by Monika John, writer, attorney

I practice loyalty.

and world traveler living in Washington

While I yet wonder

State. Her writings have appeared in vari-

if all actions are just and fair

ous journals and magazines in the USA and

I practice forgiveness.

UK: most recently Buddhist Poetry Review,

Until ultimate Truth

Light of Consciousness Magazine, Urthona

dawns on me wholly

UK, Penwood Review, Presence International

I need to practice virtues. .

Magazine, Anthology on Tagore, UK, Fun-

But the day I hold in my hand

gi and Quiet Shorts Magazine, Sathya Sai

the One perfect rose

Magazine, Scheherazade’s Bequest. | Photo Right: Prayer Wheel Michael Bay Flickr Creative Commons

12 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

I need not count its petals.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Gary Pierluigi

It was the world I lived in. I thought people like Atticus Finch existed, and of course there was that homemade apple pie. In the moonlight I crept from yard to yard eating over ripe tomatoes. I sometimes cracked pumpkins over my knee. I was in awe that Atticus read to his little girl at night while she sat on his lap. And answered questions. In the darkness I urinated on an assortment of vegetables, carving my initials onto each and every one, and would sometimes lay on my back looking up at the stars, willing into existence a father like Atticus Finch.

Since first being published in Quills, Gary has been published in numerous poetry journals, including CV2, Queen’s Quarterly, On Spec, Filling Station, The Dalhousie Review, The Nashwaak Review, Grain, and Misunderstandings Magazine. He was short listed for the CBC 2006 Literary Awards in the poetry category, a finalist in the Lit Pop Awards and received an honorable mention in The Ontario Poetry Society’s “Open Heart” Contest. His first poetry book,* “Over the Edge”, has been published by Serengeti Press. His first novel, “Abraham Man,” is currently being revised.

14 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


Dreams

Sacrifices

by Nicolo Santilli

by Nicolo Santilli

we long for the realms of luminous beauty

a saint sees the sacrifices

where beauty dances on the swaying grass

that lie under every paving stone

with immortal love and sorrow

and in every mouthful of food

and we would follow the spirit path

how a world of suffering

glimmering through ageless forests

is condensed into every tear

surrounded by creatures alight on the transparent wings

and thousands died

of dreamspells

that one may smile

and soft desires and a million curses so that each glimpse would be a prize

had to be overcome

and if a spirit should follow us back

that we might love

we should have to see the familiar world to which we returned

and pledge our hearts

through their startled eyes

beyond the raging field of desire

as infinitely deep and dear or dreary with empty dreaming Nicolo Santilli is a philosopher and poet, residing in Berkeley, CA. | Photo by Š LadyDragonflyCC on Flickr

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 15


Rag and by Stephen Poleskie

W

e lived in the third floor apartment.

My

ing

father had been left the buildby

viding us from the people next door. Their house was as tall as ours, so I could see nothing out that way but a wall. As work at the local coal mine was slow, most of the bars on Grove Street had closed, the one underneath the neighbors be-

his

ing one of the few remain-

mother, and we

could

rent out the rooms on the second floor to lodgers for more money.

The space on the ground floor, which had been my grandmother’s shop until she died, and her third husband ran off with whatever

money

was

left

in the bank, was rented to

Mickey the barber. From the window of the bedroom I shared with my Uncle Edward, I could see Grove Street. The two rear windows in our kitchen had a view of our small yard, in the center of which stood the tiny spruce tree my father had planted the day I was born. I would come back years later to find it higher than the house; and still later gone, cut down by the new owners to make way for a clothesline. A picket fence separated one side of the yard

“I could see him now.

ing. Its sign, which was lit up at night, cast a red glow

The old man had

on the walls my bedroom.

stopped on the

would come by and wake

corner and was just

as they unloaded barrels of

sitting silently on his wagon, waiting.

In the morning huge trucks me up with a great racket, beer that were rolled down a ramp into the bar’s cold cellar. Mostly, I stayed in my

My heart was

room all day and watched

pounding with fear.

out the window. I don’t re-

I had never seen

the activity on Grove Street member

going

down

to

the street much until I was

the rag and bone

at least three years old, al-

man’s eyes look

long hair, which my moth-

so beady, so full of evil.

though I must have. I had er set in curls. People who didn’t know me used to say:

He took out a

“Oh what a beautiful girl!”

red handkerchief—

and I was changed back

was this the signal?”

cut downstairs at Mickey’s. I was afraid it was going to

The back border was formed a garage. A high wire fence ran down the other side, di16 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

into a boy. I had my hair I remember crying because

from the sidewalk and street. by a row of chicken coops and

Then my sister was born,

hurt. My mother said: “If you don’t stop crying, I am going to give you to the rag and bone man.”


Bone Man I don’t know why he was called the rag and bone

remembered from my Aunt Beatrice’s funeral, the day I

man, probably because he dressed in rags. I do re-

learned what “to be dead” meant. The horse and wagon

member he had a horse and wagon. My mother was

was in front of our house now, but I wouldn’t see the rag

always threatening to give me to the rag and bone

and bone man until he passed the corner. I squatted low-

man if I didn’t do something or other—go to sleep, eat

er in the flowers, making sure I had a clear path to the

my dinner, wash my hands. This made me feel espe-

chicken coop. I planned my escape—run across the open

cially worthless, as everything else she didn’t want she

yard, jump onto the water barrel, scramble on the coop,

“sold” to the rag and bone man; rusty pots and pans,

then over the garage roof, and get away by the back al-

broken sewing machines, anything that had outlived

ley. My grandma lived at the end of the alley. She baked

its usefulness. Was I not even worth as much as my

me cookies when I went to visit her, and would never al-

mother’s junk? I wondered. Now my father, who had

low me to be taken away by a rag and bone man.

never been home much anyway, had gone off to fight

I could see him now. The old man had stopped on the

in the war, leaving me here with mother, and my baby

corner and was just sitting silently on his wagon, wait-

sister, who always cried to get everything she wanted

ing. My heart was pounding with fear. I had never seen

given to her.

the rag and bone man’s eyes look so beady, so full of evil.

Before my mother had begun her threats I had

He took out a red handkerchief—was this the signal? I

waited in excitement for the rag and bone man to ap-

prepared to flee. But my mother did not come down. The

pear, listening to the bellow of his horn as he made his

old man blew his nose in the handkerchief, and then put

way down Grove Street. Warm days found me hanging

it back in his pocket.

out my window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the treasures he had stowed in his cart. On those infrequent

“Giddy up!” he growled, giving his horse a crack with the reins.

days when mother, or the lady from downstairs, would

Still crouched in my hiding place, I felt a sense of re-

rush out with some small item to sell and the rag and

lief come over me. I listened to the bellow of his horn,

bone man would stop on our corner, my eyes would

and the clip-clop of hoofs, as the rag and bone man

enjoy a special treat as they inventoried the contents

slowly disappeared down Grove Street.

of his rickety cart. Now I no longer waited for the rag and bone man with pleasure but with fear. Was today the day he would come for me? Had my mother made some secret pact with the gnarled old man to take me away as a punishment for something she perceived I had done wrong? At the first sound of his horn I interrupted my play and took flight, diving under the spruce trees, and then crawling behind the peonies. Small bugs circled my blinking eyelids as I peered through the picket fence. The rag and bone man’s once cheerful horn had become a mournful dirge, a sound I

Stephen Poleskie is an artist and writer. His writing has appeared in journals both here and abroad and in the anthology The Book of Love, (W.W. Norton) and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published seven novels. His artworks are in the collections of numerous museums, including the MoMA, and the Metropolitan Museum. He has taught at The School of Visual Arts, NYC, the University of California, Berkeley, and Cornell University. Poleskie lives in Ithaca, NY. website: www.StephenPoleskie.com The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 17


The Altar Of Birds by Heloise Jones

I live where birds cover marsh trees like blossoms.

I. I looked to the dawn sky over the bay, saw the coral sheets I knew colored the sand, the water, the homefronts. When I finally stood at the pink tinted shore, trails of fire-edged clouds above, I stood at the Altar of Birds. Hundreds in flight, set for flats and shallows, gathering by tribe. Heron, ibis, pelican, seagull, darter, duck. A roseate spoonbill, a rose on stilts. An osprey, a tiny fish in its talons. Far from shore, black shadows of longnecked bodies sprinkled like crooked flowers. Then, water lightens to the color of sky. The slap of big wings, throaty murmurs, aaahhs, soft clicks and loud squawks. Of all, the gulls scream for the sun. Rip the air. Only quiet when the glowing orb frees the horizon, sprays a rippled copper path across the bay, assures of another day. Later, they’ll forget morning’s promise. Their voices will rise, wail as the fireball drops, the sky flares, warning of a sun nearly gone, lost below the tree line. Marvel the mullet, I say. How they throw themselves where gills don’t work. Leap

Palms rustle like mountain streams. The stillness of egrets and herons hold space. Where pelicans glide in formation, wingtips on water, baby dolphins flip, and spindly legs reach shyly from a shell in my hand. Where rainbowed butterflies of miniature mussels join conch, all peachy and buttery cream, buried in crude on the ocean floor, in waters Corexit swirls with blood like plastics taint the Pacific. II. I hold a tiny, dried corpse of a horseshoe crab. The shell paper-thin, the legs perfectly curled, its blue blood long gone. I think of the time 22 miles out to sea, at the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic. The singular, giant dolphin. The singular bird as I stood at the stern of a boat, tipped my dad’s ashes into deepest water, watched tiny pieces of bones & ash bloom as tall and big as he was when I was a little girl. I celebrate the horseshoe’s slip past human dominion, its march through the rise and demise of epochs and species, carrying copper-laced blood as expensive as gold. I know I’ll search for them in lifetimes hence when I return, walk the shores once more, pray at the Altar of Birds.

where air means death. And yet, they fly. Airborne, again and again and again. Heloise Jones lives in St. Petersburg, Florida after I’m reminded of a time we

decades in the mountains of New Mexico and North

walked a great distance into the Gulf.

Carolina. Though she's a town dweller, she finds the

The tide at our hips. A sea warm as bathwater.

sacred in the wonder and rhythms of nature. She's

People shrunk to mere dots, specks on shore.

always loved birds. A Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize fi-

At our knees, fish as long as my thigh

nalist, her publications include a contributing essay

chased fish as big as my hand. Then, fish

in the bestselling book, 'What I Wish for You' by Patti

large as a lifeboat cruised a prairie of

Digh. www.heloisejones.com

seaweed, stalking, maybe me.

18 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


Photo Š Jamie K. Reaser


89+ by Hope Hearken red eyes in leaves statues of dead trees and azazel stood up mountains blackened my son was still gone had never been home earth jumped it's axis and i didn't know exodus demons sank islands erupted volcanoes exploded the sun paused bible time and my growth line i knew i was alone knew i was burning but i couldn't wake till god spoke i remember everything even the dragon's sting monsters at my window voices in the shadows crucifix held to my chest running in the street this was my test till god spoke

Hope Hearken has previously published poetry under the name Hope Houghton. However, a shift in ideals has caused her to take up the name Hope Hearken. Hope includes now her Christian beliefs and her love of God in her poetry. Follow her on Facebook. | Photo by: FotoKatolik Flickr Creative Commons

20 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


Waiting by D.L. Collins

She Was Not a Bird by D.L. Collins

Sometimes wading looks like waiting

She was not a bird

as we sense the approach of storm

who would stay still for no reason.

long before dark clouds appear.

It was hard to tell if she was aware of you while she sat on a twig, chirping

When waves churn deeper water

or made the nest tight for her babies.

our waiting looks like wading, or a cry of alarm, or a search for a foothold,

Always grateful for the morning, she could spend hours upon

or a feeling of foolishness, or a sink

hours telling a story about the sky;

into drunkenness, or a call to war,

she would forget to eat and drink

or jealousy, or self-righteousness, or pain.

so lost she became in the glory of it.

Rarely, like a song, our wading

Now she sits and quietly

becomes a miraculous, light step

ignores the clouds that gather.

over dangerous sea.

No longer looking out, she does not attempt to recite the colors that are there for the taking. Even as she recedes, there is something in the shadow of her glances, a look like she has heard a fair weather report from some far-off place.

D.L. Collins lives and works in the Detroit area. After a record-breaking winter freeze in the Midwest, she gazes at greening plants and trees as if they were a new invention. She anticipates basking in the glowing light that appears in Michigan in June and watching fire flies rise from the lawn when the sun is only just sinking at ten o’clock in the evening.

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 21


THE HIGHWAY by Barry Yeoman the constant groaning of diesel from route 70 below the underpass down the road we desperately hope for something anything beyond this gasoline and rust we have barricaded our hearts with ashes one can spend a lifetime dreaming of eternity we sit and wait but cannot sleep till our pockets of thought

Barry Yeoman was educated at Bowling Green

are emptied

State University, the University of Cincinnati,

the

in creative writing, world classics and the hu-

highway continues always like an endless evacuation

22 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

and The McGregor School of Antioch University, manities. He is originally from Springfield, Ohio and lives currently in London, Ohio. His work has appeared in Red Booth Review, and is forthcoming in Futures Trading, Danse Macabre, and Harbingers Asylum.


Š Serge Bystro Flickr


The Men Died First by Sharlene Cochrane

I

n my family, the men died first; the women carried on. Women in three consecutive generations faced the death of their husbands from early, unexpected illness. Necessity shaped their response as they became family matriarchs, resourceful, resilient, and alone.


I. Bina Rykena Voogd (1847-1924) Abe O. Voogd

(1847-1882)

Bina remembered the ship that brought her and her parents from Hannover, Germany, and the train to Iowa as well. She often said she never wanted to take such

Bina Rykena Voogd sat beside the bed where her hus-

a long, exhausting trip again. The Voogd and Rykena

band of eleven years lay, his weak form covered with

families each farmed land near Highway 20, between

blankets and the multi-

Parkersburg and Ap-

colored quilt they re-

lington, two tiny towns

ceived at their wedding.

serving the growing

Holding his hand tightly,

number of Iowa farms.

she bowed her head, his faint, uneven breathing in her ear as she held back tears. It all happened so suddenly; this illness, the quick decline, and now, sitting in the bedroom, a cold wind blowing outside, her dear Abe, so close to death. This was not their plan,

their

vision

for

their life together. She kept up constant prayer, repeating

fearfully,

“Please don’t die; we’ve struggled so much, and have

such

happiness

now with our young and growing family.” Abe and Bina each experienced the long journey to the United States by ship. Abe traveled from the Ostfriesland region of northern Germany, and at nineteen, the oldest of five children, he helped his family make the overland trip by train to Illinois.

“...Bina accepted that her dream with Abe of a family farm where they would support themselves and raise their children was not possible. She made a decision that changed her life and the trajectory of her children’s own dreams.”

Bina often thought about how much life improved once they settled in Iowa. The farm was hard work every day, but she loved the green fields, the wild prairies, and the

beautiful

flow-

ers. They had many friends, and families helped

each

other

with harvesting corn, building

barns,

and

preparing and storing food. Through these events

and

gather-

ings she came to know Abe, a handsome man and hard worker. After a short courtship he asked her to marry him, and she eagerly agreed. They began married life on a small farm near their families. They spent long hours

working

their

farm, and Bina gave birth to four sons: Olt-

There they lived for six

man, now ten, Richard

years within the grow-

eight,

ing Ostfriesen commu-

five

year-old

Dick, and Abe, carry-

nity there, and journeyed by train to Cedar Falls and by

ing her husband’s name, recently turned one. The boys

wagon twenty miles further west, finding rich, rolling

were a handful, especially the younger ones; still they

farm land near other German settlers in north central

___________________________________________________________ Left: © Kate Mereand-Sinha Flickr Creative Commons

Iowa.

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 25


would learn to do their farm chores, and promised to

Law School. When Dick graduated and began his law

be a big help once they grew older.

practice, Oltman stayed at the newspaper, eventually

Sitting at his bedside as she carefully watched her husband, Bina tried not to imagine what she would

purchasing it. He married, and with his wife and four children lived next door to Bina.

have to do to take care of her family without Abe. It

Dick served as one of the two lawyers in Apling-

was more than she could bear. Their four little boys,

ton, and also served as mayor for ten years. Both Dick

without a father. The family without Abe to farm the

and Abe, the youngest brother, continued to live with

land, protect them, and help these boys grow up. Abe’s

their mother at various times during these years. Abe

favorite brother John lived on the next farm, with a

managed the local grain elevator, and worked in other

growing family of his own, and constantly talked about

sales positions in the town.

moving on to Minnesota. Abe’s other two living sib-

At the age of 15, seven years after his father died,

lings were on the farm with their aging parents. There

Richard started a merchandise business, a small store

wasn’t room, and the boys weren’t old enough to help.

on Aplington’s block-long main street. Richard’s store

She would have to stay and make their farm succeed;

expanded to a larger storefront, advertising general

if not, what else could she do?

merchandise and millenary. He also bought and sold

Despite Bina’s tears and prayers, Abe Voogd died

property, establishing with a colleague the Tiedens

March 10, 1882, at the age of 34. Bina, also 34, now

and Voogd Real Estate office. He married Bena Weiss

faced all the realities she had not wanted to consider.

when he was twenty, and they had three children. The

Family members reached out to help, and neighbors

family lived in a substantial home in town, near his

were sympathetic to Bina’s plight. Within a few months,

mother.

however, Bina accepted that her dream with Abe of a

In her later years, Bina lived with her son Abe and

family farm where they would support themselves and

his wife. Called “Grandma Voogd” by all, she remained

raise their children was not possible. She made a de-

the head of the family, overseeing the activities and

cision that changed her life and the tra jectory of her

enterprises of her sons. She never married again and

children’s own dreams.

lived more than forty years without her husband Abe,

Having expected to be a farm wife in a role she

before she died in 1924.

knew well, she sold their farm, left her familiar world, and settled in the nearby town of Aplington. She purchased a modest house, and rented rooms to boarders

II. Bena Weiss Voogd (1874-1942) Richard A. Voogd (1874-1921)

to make ends meet. Bina, the sole support of her growing family, focused

Bena Weiss Voogd, Bina’s daughter-in-law, sat with her

her time and energy on the lives of her four sons. She

desk full of papers, and tried to take in their message.

stayed connected to her Ostfriesen roots, continuing

The family real estate business lost money again.

to speak German, and even listing the boys in the Iowa

The lands that seemed so lucrative a few years ago

State census of 1885 with their Ostfriesen names: Olt-

produced less now, and the situation worsened each

man, Rike (Richard), Dirk (Dick), and Ebe (Abe). She

year. Somehow the death of her husband Richard had

also made sure the boys attended the small public

opened up a hornet’s nest of bad financial news. “We

school in Aplington. Each of the brothers took advan-

were doing so well! What are we going to do now?” she

tage of the opportunities for education and leadership

kept repeating to herself in disbelief.

in their small town, and developed a profession or a business, while maintaining a close relationship with

Bena married Richard Voogd at a time of great promise for both of their families.

their mother. As the brothers became productive town

Like the Voogd’s, Bena’s parents came from Ger-

members, Bina left the demanding boarding house

many in the 1860’s, settled for a while in Illinois, where

role, supported by her sons.

Bena was born, and then moved on to Iowa. After de-

Oltman, the old

est of the four Voogd brothers,

veloping a successful farm, the family moved to town

managed The Aplington News, the weekly newspaper,

in 1889, where her father Fred Weiss ran a grain, coal

while his brother Dick attended the University of Iowa

and implement business. He also served on the city

26 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


council and the township board of trustees and had

Richard’s connections with the owner of the bank in

a small real estate business. It was a happy time for

Austinville led to Fred’s job there as a bank clerk. That

Bena, including a wonderful trip with her father to the

same summer Fred married Neva Stockdale, and they

1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. She treasured the two

began life together, living with Neva’s brother on a

beautiful glass goblets they bought there, with dark

farm at the southern edge of town. Beulah excelled

red borders and their names painted on the glass.

in school, and eagerly planned on attending college,

Bena and Richard’s marriage the year after that trip

while Ed cared less for school, spending time with

celebrated the coming together of two of the town’s

friends as a gregarious, busy young man.

leading families.

Then, without warning, Richard became seriously ill

Not all was happy, however; difficult times ar-

and lay bedridden for a month. The doctor called his

rived more than once. Their beautiful baby girl Beulah

condition, “Embulis,” (likely pulmonary embolism, or a

passed away when she was only two. With their son

blood clot that lodged in his lung), and despite con-

Fred only six, Bena’s parents living next door offered

tinuous medical care, Richard died on July 24, 1921, a

the young family support. Bena especially valued her

steamy, hot, terrifying day. He was 47 years old.

father’s energetic and positive attitude. Then, seven

Bena knew their son Fred, married and working,

years later, her father died of a heart attack, while on

could be a great help. But Beulah was 16 and Edward

a real estate business trip in Minnesota. He seemed

only 13—so many financial needs, college expectations,

so vibrant, even at 62, and traveled regularly. Now

and pressures to keep up the house and business. Like

a grieving Bena waited, while Richard and her uncle

her mother-in-law before her, Bena looked for the way

made the railroad trip north to retrieve the body. Those

to support her children while facing new and unset-

were the hardest years.

tling challenges. Fortunately, Richard’s brother Dick

Bena’s attention wandered from the piles of finan-

became the legal counsel for the business, and her son

cial documents on the desk to other memories of her

Fred, as she had expected, took over many daily re-

married life. Their two-story, beautiful home provided

sponsibilities. She hoped they could count on Richard’s

space for their family and they often welcomed visi-

business to continue to support her family. If so, they

tors. Sometimes Richard drank a little too much, like

would manage.

the time he was driving their new car and ran it right

The year after Richard died, however, the family’s

into their garage door. One Christmas, he caused a bit

fortunes began to change. Bena’s tax returns from 1922

of a scene, and wrote a letter of apology to son Fred,

and 1923 showed yearly losses of $2000. 1924 returns

away at business school, for ruining the holiday. But

improved, yet still showed a loss, and again in 1925, the

that didn’t happen very often, and he carefully moni-

losses amounted to $2000. In addition, Richard’s es-

tored his financial affairs, so they continued to live

tate remained unsettled, leaving questions about what

comfortably.

taxes to pay. The lands managed by the business of-

Richard sold his general store in 1913, and concen-

fered little security.

trated on real estate, which continued to support them

After many long discussions, Bena, Dick and Fred

well; in fact, he was able to buy a farm in the name of

decided that a trip was necessary to see these lands in

each of their children, for future security. She laughed

person and determine what recourse to follow-to sell,

when he wrote to Fred at business school urging him

rent, or continue to own the farms. This would be a

to be careful with his spending, so typical of Richard’s

ma jor undertaking, as the lands included farms in Min-

attitude: “I hope you will…get the habit of taking care

nesota, South and North Dakota, and even a farm in

of your money as I told you before, every successful

Saskatchewan. Fred arranged for his brother Edward

man absolutely has to learn this lesson. The sooner the

to go along, and Uncle Dick went, bringing his legal

better. Money is a man’s best friend.” (Richard to Fred,

experience. Fred’s best friend and brother-in-law, Bob

February 17, 1917)

Stockdale, who had his own farm, joined the travelers.

Their three children, Fred, Beulah (named after little

They set out in August 1925, Fred driving his 1922 Buick,

Beulah who died) and Edward, grew up strong, bright,

going all the way to Canada, in an effort to resolve

and healthy. Fred succeeded at business school, and

several of the unsettled land transactions. The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 27


Bena faced this loss of income and status amidst the

lings got old enough to work the farm, she could go to

increasingly depressed national farm economy. The real

college. Fred enrolled at Iowa State Teachers College

estate business gradually closed. The only farmland still

immediately following his graduation and quickly de-

in the family were the local holdings Richard had pur-

cided this school was not for him. In 1916, he enrolled

chased earlier for the children, which offered some finan-

at the Business School in Cedar Rapids; the same year

cial security. Bena continued to live in the family home,

Neva was finally able to start college. Fred advocated

in a modest fashion, staying active in church and main-

for her to attend Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, only

taining a strong hold on her children as they became

twelve miles from his school, and Neva agreed. Their

adults.

Cared

informal dat-

for by daughter

ing in Apling-

Beulah,

ton

er

“Moth-

Voogd”

re-

mained in her home until she died

in

1942,

twenty-one years after Richard’s death. III.

Neva

Sto c kd a l e Voogd

(1893-

1984) Fred R. Voogd

(1896-

1936) Neva Stockdale and Fred Voogd became

high

school

sweet-

hearts.

Neva,

became

a more established

“Women became matriarchs in the Voogd family in three consecutive generations. While the details of their lives varied, critical factors led to this identity....”

court-

ship

while

they were at school,

with

Fred traveling by

streetcar

most Fridays to visit Neva. Fred completed

his

schooling the next year and began his job at the Austinville Bank, two miles

from

the Stockdale farm. He saw no reason for Neva to con-

three years old-

tinue

er, grew up on a

college,

large farm four

though Neva

miles

of

held

back.

Aplington, while

Even

though

west

with al-

Fred lived in town. They attended the same Presbyterian

she admitted her grades needed improvement, she

Church and new two-story high school. They socialized

was having a great time at Cornell, making many

with a shared group of friends, attending occasional

friends, and she preferred to continue.

movies in near-by Parkersburg and band concerts in Ap-

Late that same spring, however, Neva’s parents

lington every Saturday night, when the farmers came to

called her home. Gladys, her oldest brother’s wife,

town. After she graduated in 1912, a member of the first

was bedridden with illness following the birth of their

high school graduating class in Aplington, Neva helped

first child. Following weeks of suffering and uncertain-

on her family’s farm, and remained a part of this social

ty, Gladys died, and the family needed Neva to stay

scene. During those years the two began to court.

with brother Ray and the new baby. Once she was

Neva hoped that once some of her five younger sib28 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

home, it was clear to Neva that she would not be re-


turning to school, and on a brilliantly sunny, hot July 24,

ing the night: June 21, 1936. The death certificate read

1917 Fred and Neva married.

“perforated gastric ulcer, peritonitis and neutropenia”—

The couple spent their first two years of married life

a massive infection in his abdominal cavity.

with Ray. Neva wrote in response to her sister-in-law’s

Neva, with 15 and 12 year old sons, faced a broken

death, “It certainly is a blessed thing that one doesn’t

heart and an unsure future. She built her life around

know what’s before them…It seems hard to think its

Fred and the family they created together. Financial

for the best but we know it must be…I always think of

support for Neva came in part from her mother’s farm

Someday We’ll Understand.” (Neva to Fred, 3/31/17)

income, and from her mother-in-law’s help in erasing

This was a reference to the Bible verse from John 13:7:

the mortgage she and Fred owed on their home. She

“Jesus answered and said unto him, what I do Thou

and her sons could stay where they were and maintain

knowest not now; But Thou shalt know hereafter.” This

much of their daily life among family and friends.

deep religious belief gave her reassurance in the midst of such losses. After living at Ray’s for two years, Fred and Neva

At the same time, the loss continued to take an emotional toll. Neva tried to hold on to her faith that there is a reason for each death, even if we don’t know what

moved to their own home, a block from Fred’s moth-

it is. As a poem she wrote at Christmas time that very

er, Bena. Neva focused on raising their sons Kenneth,

hard year suggested, “Xmas 1936” reinforced her belief

born in 1921, and Richard, born three years later. Fred

that there are reasons for the deaths that come and

stopped each afternoon at his mother’s house on the

that Fred would want them to be happy:

way home from the bank. The family continued to attend Saturday night band concerts, family activities, and the Presbyterian Church. On alternate Sundays they would visit Neva’s mother on the farm and Fred’s mother a block away. After 1921, when his father Richard died, Fred took on responsibility for the real estate business and its declining income. Probate issues continued, as well as discouraging financial losses each year. He took the road trip to Canada in 1925, assessing the land potential of various farms, time away from his young sons and Neva, who he addressed in his letters as “Dearie.” In 1934, while these probate and income issues continued, his Uncle Dick, legal counsel for his mother’s estate, died. Fred faced further financial and legal burdens. Neva knew that Fred sometimes suffered from stomach pains or bowel problems. She remembered his reassurances, after the travelers left for Canada, that he bought “some magnesia and take a dose, my bowels are in better shape than before, so don’t worry.” (Fred to Neva, August 9, 1925) However, early in the summer of 1936, at the age of 40, Fred became suddenly and seriously ill, with painful abdominal cramps. Alarmed and fearful, Neva drove him to the hospital in Waverly, thirty miles away. The doctor insisted Fred stay for observation, and told Neva to go home, get some rest, and return the next day. She assumed that meant Fred would improve, and reluctantly left the hospital. Instead, she learned the next morning that Fred had died dur-

But God Knows what is Best for All And it’s not for us to say Just who should be the ones to go Or who the ones to stay! So now ‘een tho we’re lonely We Know that Daddy dear Would want us to be Happy And wish others Christmas Cheer!! Two years later, near the anniversary of Fred’s death, Neva reflected with more subdued sadness. She questioned the belief that God determines who dies and always for some good reason. “Spring 1936,” described a yucca plant growing near the house, which the family watched throughout the spring for it’s first blooms. But as the flowers opened: … how could we know What their message was to be? When the first white bell unfolded Daddy wasn’t there - to see! But how could we have known What their message was to be? That tall stem pointing, up to Heaven Was all that we could see! April 29, 1938 The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 29


living close to their children, made my lived experiNeva never fully said goodbye to Fred. She kept his

ence part of a constant thread. That strong character

coats and straw hats in the closet upstairs, and saved his

and commitment to carrying on came through gen-

bureau contents as they were when he died. She began

erations, not only the generation I knew and loved.

to save other kinds of items, stacking church programs,

I didn’t see the possible shadow sides of their life.

magazines, and newspapers in piles in the living room

Neva continued to function in the world after Fred

and bedroom. Her sons married, served in the Army, and

died, volunteering at the small local library her sister

moved to new communities, while her saving practices

Hazel and other members of the Women’s Club began,

expanded.

making floral arrangements from her garden for Sun-

By the time Neva died, almost 50 years after Fred,

day church services, and traveling to visit her sons’

each room overflowed with saved objects and papers.

families. After she died we finally went into Neva’s

She no longer allowed anyone to come into her house;

house. We found the pathways through the house, the

visitors could only join her on the screened-in front

piles of newspapers on every surface, Fred’s clothes

porch. She still took flowers from her garden to church

in the closet, 50 years later. Her outward expression

every Sunday. She visited family living nearby, and vol-

was independent, managing well. However her home

unteered with her sister Hazel at the town library. But

became a lonely place, overflowing with saved “stuff”

no one went in the house, where Neva shuffled about

and she allowed no one to visit her. Her independence

through the pathways in each room, holding on to her

and individual life had its compromises.

Dearie, Fred.

At the same time, I slowly learned of troubling attitudes toward the earlier women’s life choices; a IV.

reminder of the way in which our choices may produce both strength and sorrow. Bina, “Grandmother

Growing up, the only story I knew about these three

Voogd,” raised four boys who became successful

generations was that my grandfather Fred died when

members of the community. The whispers criticized

my father was twelve. No details, no back story, and only

how demanding she was, perhaps how her strength

a few hints about how strong “Grandma Voogd” was,

to carry on meant pressure and expectations on her

raising four boys, and a photo of “Mother Voogd” at a

children that led them to do what they did, whether

holiday dinner in her home, surrounded by family mem-

they wanted to or not. Her son Richard opened a store

bers.

when he was 15—how did that come about? Perhaps

Whenever we visited Grandma Neva, we stayed with

he found satisfaction in that step; or did he want to go

her younger sister, Hazel, who lived in a two-story frame

to school like his brother Dick, or farm nearby, rather

house on Main Street. Hazel never married and was ac-

than buy and sell farms? Was his occasional drinking

tive in the library, and her home was the gathering place

connected to the pressure he experienced, his own

for the various family members. We always stopped in

unfulfilled dreams, or his loss of a father when he was

Des Moines on our family visits, where Fred’s sister Beu-

only eight? Did his drinking contribute to a thread of

lah lived. She was a teacher for many years, and having

alcohol abuse in future generations?

waited until her mother passed on to marry, became a widow a few short years later.

Bena, “Mother Voogd,” also required much from her children. Her son Fred stopped at her home every

These women shaped my ideas about gender. They

day after work, before returning home to his wife and

lived independently in their own houses. They traveled

children. Neva hinted more than once that she was

to visit us and took trips to several western states. Their

unhappy about that. Beulah lived with and took care

lives included friends, work or volunteer activities, and

of her mother, delaying her own marriage until after

few interactions with men, other than their brothers. I

she was forty. She never had children, and her hus-

loved these women, admired them, and wanted to be like

band (like her brother and father) died young, within

them. To find out that my great grandmother Bena and

a short time after their delayed marriage. Perhaps

Great-great Grandmother Bina also had this experience,

Beulah chose that delay, accepting the expectation

also lived independently and well, never remarrying and

that she should not marry while her mother needed

30 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

her.


The place where these women lived, the land and

I tended to romanticize my grandmother Neva

farms of north central Iowa, played a role in their abil-

and grand-aunts Hazel, and Beulah, imagining them

ity to survive. Bina had the resources to change her

as happy, independent, and capable. While they were

life because she and husband Abe had a farm that

all of that, at some level, each of them, and I have no

provided her with funds to move to town and estab-

doubt Bena and Bina as well, had their share of lone-

lish a boarding house. Bena and her husband Richard

liness, heartbreak, fear of the future, and challenges

started with a small store in town that served primarily

around children, finances, and managing in difficult

farmers, and then a real estate business that provided

circumstances.

well for them for many years, mostly by buying and

Women became matriarchs in the Voogd family

selling farmland. Neva’s mother and the resources of

in three consecutive generations. While the details of

her family’s farm supported her after Fred died. Each

their lives varied, critical factors led to this identity;

was in some way dependent on the land to provide

most importantly, each faced the death of her hus-

their financial stability.

band from early, unexpected illness. Unlike many wid-

The network of families, especially women, that

owed women of their times, they each chose not to

existed in each generation offered critical additional

marry again. Their situations offered limited options,

support. The Voogd’s came from Ostfreisland as an ex-

often disrupting the lives the family had known. They

tended family, and interacted and traveled with others

exhibited independence, resourcefulness, and, espe-

from their home country. They farmed in an area where

cially with Grandma Voogd and Mother Voogd, an un-

many of their fellow immigrants settled. While they

bending will. They also counted upon their children as

lived far from everything they had known, they were

they aged, and created expectations that shaped the

also part of a stream of immigrants from that area,

children’s experiences as well. And sometimes grief

and experienced a shared culture. While Bina moved

and loneliness continued, as each woman carried on

to town and left the farm life she knew, she moved to

for her children, while holding on to what she could of

Aplington, four miles away, and stayed in contact with

an earlier time.

those around her. She lived alone, yet had siblings and other women she knew and could depend on for support, advice, and understanding. Bena also had friends and links to immigrant families of her mother and father, and was part of the Voogd extended family. Though her financial status declined in the years following Richard’s death, her links within the community and the church continued. Her children were older, too, so her needs for support differed from her mother-in-law with her young boys. Bena’s children, especially her daughter Beulah, became part of her support network. Neva, the most fragile of these women, depended heavily on the women around her. Her sister Hazel was an important support, living two blocks away, and serving as the center of family gatherings and interactions. With five brothers, all married and with children of their own, the family connections and interconnections within the town and nearby farms provided childcare, travel companions, and help with typical auto and house problems. While her quirky ways tended toward isolation, the family as a whole served to keep

Sharlene Voogd Cochrane grew up in Nebraska, but “always felt I was from Iowa.” She teaches in the self-designed master’s degree at Lesley University, and is currently writing a series of stories based on a collection of her Iowa grandmother’s letters. She also facilitates Courage and Renewal retreats for educators and recently published “Courage in the Academy: Sustaining the Heart of College and University Faculty” in the Journal of Faculty Development.

her connected. The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 31


Compass by C.M. Rivers

Feature Poet C.M. Rivers

How do we become so fenced in, afraid, mean-spirited? Why not instead leave a trail of breadcrumbs along the hedgerow. Some acts of heroism are so quiet no one sees. Let them go. Someone doesn’t always need to know. You are the keeper of the knowing, and that can be enough. Before you stow fragments of your life

Knapsack by C.M. Rivers

in a shoebox in the closet, you may want to reconsider

It’s a shame

the heart compass,

I don’t have the patience to garden,

study the topography of spirit

my mother being who she was,

and the surrounding earthworks,

doing what she did with sunflowers

look where lines are drawn

and lemon balm.

between what others claim as truth

And with me being who I am-

and what you, yourself, have chosen.

a fine cook responsible for so many glowing embers,

Watch how I behave.

so many bubbling broths.

See how I welcome silence?

The memory of her is light enough

There were days when I, too,

to take with me wherever I go,

fled from it,

propelled by the sea breeze,

days like smoldering cellos,

pushed along by intimate hands,

days that came down along the coast.

drawn down muddy roads

I would put myself in the silence,

slashed with the watercolors

as a trial, then run away pleading.

of coming summer,

Prophecies might be foretold

medicine wheels whirling

in mirrors and temples.

in my stumbling eyes.

So be a little less organized, let things clutter up. Dust and muck are a part of it. See the mountains? Fling yourself out the window, swing yourself across the peaks and valleys, back to where your journey began.

32 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


Š John Fowler Flickr Creative Commons


Ephemeral by C.M. Rivers There are transitory moments between seasons when the world comes out of its dressing room, so stunning we lose our balance. This moment of spiritual frenzy does not wait to be discovered. It comes and goes like a fire of dry kindling, and can be easy to miss depending on one’s latitude. Light spills through antique bottles on a sunken windowsill, stones and tree-roots are less discreet than usual. We feel our fingertips more closely, an unnamable itch turns over inside us and we want to know everything. It is my job to point this out, as I pointed out the copper-plated bar top while you slurped mussels from their sleek shells, floating in cream and brown roux. Planets may rotate and stars explode, but earthbound as we are, we listen for warblers. We look ahead to coffee, meals, holidays, weather.

C.M. Rivers is a native of the Pacific Northwest, currently living in Ithaca, New York. Once-nominated for a Pushcart Prize, his poetry has appeared in Rosebud Magazine, Orbis International Journal, and several online literary journals. He is at work on a book of poetry and a young adult fantasy series. You can read more of his writing at www.cmrivers.com

34 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


A COMPASSIONATE CYNIC’S GUIDE TO SURVIVAL

I

by Karuna Das

’m writing this in a dark place. Physically

who never had a chance or some “square peg” who

and emotionally.

living room shades are

can’t fit in or some former “eager beaver” who was

down well into the afternoon. It’s gloomy

treated unfairly by the system. (But I can identify

out there anyway.

with all those types.)

My

Physically

and emotion-

ally.

I’m a well-educated white male from a middle-

Jack Johnson Radio plays on Pandora.

class, progressive family who’s excelled at—and

Matisyahu’s “One Day” at the moment. I lis-

been rewarded for—most of my endeavors over the

ten to this station because the music on it—with the exception of all the John Mayer songs (I fucking hate John Mayer)—makes me feel good. Most of the time anyway.

course of my forty-six years. I’m aware of my privilege. Or at least some of it. The parts I’ve learned to see.

Occasionally—like today—it reminds me of ways the

Compared to many people in the world, my life is

world fails to live up to my ideals. Ways I fail to live up to

very good. I never doubt that my basic needs will be

my ideals.

met. I have fulfilling relationships with others. I feel a

I’m writing this because, here in the dark, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that by writing this I can save my life. Or maybe someone else’s.

lot of joy. And gratitude. But, man, when I slip into the pit of despair … it’s an abyss.

Today is the third Monday in January. The day desig-

My belief—the belief that often stops me from

nated to honor the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. You’d

taking actions that might improve my existence or

think that’d be a good day for me. But it’s not. You’d think

the existence of others and that periodically propels

I’d be out attending community celebrations. But I’m not.

me into the abyss—is that, in the grand scheme of

And that gets to the crux of my problem. My dilemma.

things, in the overwhelmingly unjust and seeming-

Paradox even.

ly cruel world we live in, the impact of any action

I care so much about the world that I can’t see the point of … well, most everything. I fucking hate John Mayer. But I don’t tell Pandora to skip his songs.

I might take would be so negligible that it’d be a waste of energy. I’m well acquainted with the “celebrate small victories” maxim. I think it’s bullshit. One more way the

I admire the folks out there trying to follow Dr. King’s

structures of power in our civilization channel poten-

teachings and bring about a more just world—including

tially revolutionary impulses into activity that pres-

those who do it only this one day a year. But I don’t join

ents no real threat to the status quo. Impotence you

them.

can feel good about.

It’s not laziness. It’s learned behavior. Or belief. And what is behavior but manifested belief? (Even if those beliefs are often unconscious.) I’m not some alienated teenager going through my

But I don’t believe in bloody revolution. I’m a pacifist. I won’t even kill insects. Sometimes I think I need help. I don’t mean psycho-analysis. I’m perfectly capable of conduct-

“rebel without a cause” phase. I’m not some “sad sack” The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 35


ing my own analysis, of myself included. Too capable

chocolate. Sensations of cool and sweet and salt and

perhaps. (Also, I can’t believe that shedding whatever

heat linger in my mouth.

“baggage” I carry from my upbringing would alleviate

I’ve been a vegetarian for a while now. I stopped

the weight I feel over the state of the world.) The help

eating mammals nearly ten years ago and phased out

I mean is the help offered by Big Pharma. Better living

birds and fish (and shellfish) over time. When people

through chemistry. But I can’t stand the thought of be-

ask why, I tell them it’s for a combination of the stan-

ing comfortably numbed on a permanent basis.

dard reasons: health, ethics, environmentalism, and

Instead I medicate myself—usually through alco-

spirituality.

hol—on a “need-to-numb” basis. I know it doesn’t really

It’s not because I believe my choice makes any real

help. In the long run, it worsens my depression. But I do

difference in the world. It’s a purely personal matter.

it anyway.

And I’m not rigid about it. I’m not a vegan. I sometimes

I know the answer. Not just to my problem. To the

eat things made with gelatin. But I can’t imagine con-

world’s. It’s quite straightforward. I’m by no means the

suming actual animal flesh. I’ve completely lost my

first person to articulate it. Humanity must evolve—

taste for it.

spiritually—to the point where our collective values

It’s snowing here today. The shades are up, and I can

shift. To where everyone truly appreciates the intercon-

see tiny flakes falling straight down or on a diagonal, or

nection between all forms of life. That—and only that—

swirling, or blowing sideways, depending how the wind

will end hunger, violence, and our other ills.

gusts.

The catch is that collective spiritual evolution seems

I even went outside for a while, right after breakfast,

highly improbable in a world where so many people

to shovel the sidewalk in front of our house and in front

struggle to survive—in terms of material existence—on

of the attached houses of our neighbors on each side.

a daily basis. When your very survival is at stake, you’re

It was my turn. I sprinkled expensive eco-friendly ice

most likely not too concerned with the “big picture” of

melt on the sidewalk afterward. It didn’t do much good.

earthly life. And rightly so.

I’d planned to go grocery shopping this morning. But

So … we need a spiritual evolution to develop values

right as I was getting ready to leave, the snow really

that will alleviate human suffering. And…we need to al-

started coming down, and I figured there was no reason

leviate human suffering in order to be in a position to

to subject myself to the cold and wet. We have plenty

evolve spiritually.

of food in the house. I’ll go tomorrow. Or Thursday.

Another fucking paradox.

I’m considering going to yoga later. I could really

Maybe they have to happen together. Maybe small

use it. Physically and emotionally. But I’ll probably find

steps forward really are all we can hope for. Maybe we

an excuse not to go. It’s supposed to snow hard again

do each have to “heal” ourselves in order to heal the

around then.

world. Or maybe those are comforting lies that allow us to carry on in the face of hopelessness.

I did exercise a bit yesterday, after I finished my journal entry. I walked a while on the treadmill, then did some stretching, a little core work, a few push

Or maybe that’s a self-defeating mindset that keeps

ups. Several years ago I finished a marathon in under

me from acting in a way that might make a real dif-

four hours. But I’ve been hampered by recurring ham-

ference in the world and actually helps maintain the

string and lower back problems the last couple years. I

status quo.

haven’t run for months.

Or maybe …

As I age, I relate more and more to the characters

Or maybe …

in Samuel Beckett’s plays. Especially when it comes to

You get the idea.

trimming my nails. Seriously. It’s absurd how much of

Welcome to the vicious circle of my compassionate

our lives we spend on basic grooming. Existence can be

cynicism.

so fucking mundane.

It’s Tuesday afternoon.

ration of our bodies. And our minds. Although that—by

But what I’m really talking about is the slow deterioI just ate lunch. Veggie potstickers with a Sriracha sour cream sauce, followed by a mint-crème-filled 36 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

its very nature—is, fortunately, less noticeable. I suppose the only alternative is death.


I just skipped a John Mayer song on Pandora. Third

My first year as a tenure-track college professor, I

one I skipped in the last hour. I wonder how many times

worked eighty hours a week. After eight more years of

I have to do that before the program starts to weed

full-time teaching (and creating art on the side or dur-

them out for me.

ing summers), I finally walked away from academia. Even though I’d managed, through repetition, to make

As expected, I

the

didn’t make it

more

to yoga yester-

able,

day. It wasn’t

see any point

snowing much

in

when I would’ve had

to

leave

“Helping other people

workload sustainI

didn’t

continuing

to labor in that e nv i ro n m e n t .

the house, but I

(Also, repetition

was in the mid-

becomes

dle of watching

is never a wrong choice.

ing.) I could rant

a movie. You be

might

thinking

I

have too much time

bor-

on

Even if in some abstract

You

might be right.

and convoluted way

I spent many

merous failings education system.

I

could

make a strong

It wasn’t always this way.

about the nuof our higher

my

hands.

for quite a while

it ultimately hinders

case

justify-

ing the perks

years with my

of

nose to the pro-

life as well. I’ll

verbial

grind-

stone.

In

my

the kind of total transformation

nose buried in books.

tory and criticism

two

especially compared to all the

to see in the world.

adjunct instructors struggling

cultural

what frequent-

Nine

I know that. When I’m not mired

graduate (MFA

ly comes out to less than minimum wage.

earning

degrees

in some ways—

to survive on

theory and philosophy.

I definitely had

well.

as

And

years

I want—­so desperately—

Plays,

mostly. But his-

spare you both. it pretty good

case that often meant with my

academic

in the abyss, I even believe it.”

Te a c h e r s want to believe

and PhD) in the-

they’re making

atre. I learned a

a difference. I

lot about dra-

no longer be-

ma and about

lieved that. So

art in general. About the world. About people, and the systems we

I quit. It didn’t matter that I had (some) students who

construct and enforce. The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 37


clearly appreciated my efforts and even a few who

Facebook this week has been a report that the richest

told me I’d changed the way they look at the world and

eighty-five people own as much wealth as the poorest

their art. That did help. At least in terms of my tolerat-

half of the world.

ing aspects of the job I hated. Like grading. Or, as I call it, de-grading.

Come on! I won’t argue that wealth should—or could—be distributed equally across the entire popu-

For a while I accepted less palatable aspects of

lation. But how extreme will we let it get? Fewer than

the job as “necessary evils” in an overall worthy cause.

one hundred souls possess the equivalent assets of 3.5

But at some point I’d come to the realization that my

billion—thirty-five million hundred—human beings. It’s

changing a few lives—or even dozens and dozens of

obscene.

them—would never have a tangible impact on the

Everything else I might point out—corporate control

world. I know, I know: Ripple effect blah blah blah. I wish

of our dysfunctional and divisive political system, en-

I could believe that.

vironmental degradation for the sake of shareholder

I don’t believe it. Nor do I accept the view that

profits, abuses of power by police and other authorities,

change takes a long time, so we have to be patient and

widespread lack of basic civility and at times horrifying

“I simply couldn’t go on wasting my energy. I was, in fact, training students to become cogs in the machine, even though I also tried to teach them how to examine the machinery with a critical mind. It all seemed—and seems—so futile.”

trust that justice will eventually triumph. That strikes

disregard for human life—flows from that basic reality.

me as a convenient outlook.

From the values inextricably linked to that reality.

It’s convenient for those working for change. It gives

I do understand why so many people put up with

them the impression—an appealing one—that their

such injustice, even though they themselves struggle to

lives matter.

survive. They’ve been trained to think that they don’t

It’s also convenient for those who prefer that things

have a choice or that they don’t deserve better or that

remain as they are. They can rest easy knowing that

it’s them against (most) everyone else or that fortune

none of the work being done actually jeopardizes their

might suddenly smile on them and catapult them into

power.

the ranks of the affluent.

My evidence is the world around us. Do I really need to list everything that’s wrong and seems to be getting worse? I wouldn’t know where to start. Actually I do know where to start. A hot “share” on

I get it. It drives me absolutely bonkers, but I get it. Here’s an inconvenient truth. Whatever effort you or I might make to “level” the economic playing field, or to help those less fortunate or more oppressed than us, at best temporarily alleviates a tiny bit of suffering.

38 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it. But let’s be clear: You do it because it makes you feel good. Not because—

get caught up in a sense of communion. Of purpose. To feel good about what I’m doing.

in the big picture, in the grand scheme of things—it

But at some point, after the moment has passed, the

makes a real difference. Even if millions of others did

rush wears off. I come back to the feeling that none of

the same, the impact would be superficial. A band-aid

it matters. Nothing really changes. The world reminds

on a deep wound.

me of that every day.

Here’s the worst part. What you actually do when

Much of what we do is done simply to make our-

you give your hard-earned money to a political group

selves feel better in a world we can’t control. Sometimes

or charitable organization—or to a panhandler—is al-

we realize that’s what we’re doing. Other times we en-

low people who truly can afford to give up some of

gage in willful ignorance. Signing petitions? Sending

their wealth to not be forced to do so. In doing your

letters to elected officials? Are you kidding me? Who

perceived duty, in demonstrating your humanity, you

the fuck cares? (And, yes, I do those things, too. Not of-

let them off the hook from doing and demonstrating

ten, though. Only when I can’t not do something.)

theirs.

Anyway … for the last two years I’ve been voluntarily

By the way, I do that sort of thing anyway. Give to

unemployed. That’s been possible only because my life

charitable organizations. Sometimes. And—more rare-

partner continues to toil away within the system and

ly—even to panhandlers. But I don’t feel good about it.

we reside in a place where we can get by on a single

Here’s why I can’t feel good about it. Whenever we’re

(non-profit even!) salary.

permitted—and especially if we’re encouraged—by

So I do have a lot of time on my hands. Even more

the structures and institutions of our civilization to do

than usual lately, as my partner has been putting in es-

something, that’s a sure sign that doing it only perpetu-

pecially long days between her job-related responsibil-

ates the status quo. All efforts to work within or slightly

ities and various volunteer commitments. (She doesn’t

around—or even to reform—any of our broken systems

share my cynicism. But, thankfully, she understands it.)

ultimately support the overall set-up and waste energy

I fill the hours in various ways. First and foremost,

that might be used to re-imagine, more meaningfully,

I manage most of our domestic affairs. I do nearly all

how we live.

the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry. A blow for

This perspective is why I quit my job. I simply couldn’t

household gender equity!

go on wasting my energy. I was, in fact, training stu-

I also take freelance jobs—as a theatre artist, teacher,

dents to become cogs in the machine, even though I

or editor—from time to time. (I have two such projects

also tried to teach them how to examine the machinery

underway right now.) And even though I’m no longer

with a critical mind. It all seemed—and seems—so futile.

a career educator, I read manuscripts for former stu-

Anything you might say to try to change my per-

dents and give them (literally: I do it for free) feedback.

spective, I’ve most likely already heard. From the Se-

I do the same for professional associates and some-

renity Prayer to Buddhist philosophy, I’ve heard it. I’ve

times even for strangers (if they’re friends of friends).

heard it, I’ve considered it, I’ve made a concerted effort

And I write. This week it’s a journal of sorts. Mostly

to embrace much of it, and I’ve rejected all of it. I’ve re-

it’s drama. Screenplays in particular. I’ve completed

jected it as propaganda for the big picture status quo.

four feature-length scripts since I left academia.

“That’s the best we can hope for” doesn’t cut it with me. I hope for more. I demand more.

Last fall I started pitching the stories to Hollywood managers and producers. Several have requested

I consider anything short of a total transformation of

scripts. But I’m under no illusion I’ll ever sell one, much

our collective existence an unacceptable compromise.

less see one filmed. Although my screenwriting compe-

And I consider anything that encourages me to accept

tition results (finalist or semifinalist more than a dozen

such a compromise an attack on my integrity. An attack

times) might indicate that I have some recognizable

on my humanity. Even when it disguises itself as the op-

talent, the “coverage” I’ve gotten from industry profes-

posite, as an appeal to my humanity.

sionals has made it clear that my artistic vision—much

I still—sometimes—do “political” things. I attend select rallies and protests. I occasionally produce theatre events with an activist thrust. When I’m in the midst of

like my political and spiritual vision—doesn’t quite fit into the mainstream (commercial) mold. I again refuse to compromise.

those things I’m often able to lose myself in them. To The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 39


It was important to me to give it a shot. I’ll continue marketing my finished works, but I don’t see any point

So I guess, in a way, by watching that movie I was doing yoga after all.

in generating new material that will inevitably elicit the same response.

My partner stayed home sick today. She’s working from

All of which is to say I watch a fair number of mov-

the house, though. It takes a lot to get her to agree to

ies. Partly for diversion, partly as research—to study

even that. She’s been battling a cold-like illness since

the craft.

early December—for nearly seven weeks. Every time

The movie I was watching when I bailed on yoga yesterday is called The Way. It was written, directed,

she seems to have shaken it, she has a relapse, usually after a string of her not-so-unusual twelve-hour days.

and produced by Emilio Estevez. It stars his father, Mar-

She hasn’t seen a doctor and probably won’t. Even

tin Sheen, as a man who goes to Europe to retrieve the

though her employment provides her with a decent

remains of his adult son (played in flashbacks and vi-

health plan—much better than my individual policy—

sions by Estevez) and spontaneously decides to make

she’d still owe a copayment. Why spend thirty bucks

an 800+ kilometer pilgrimage through northern Spain

and waste an hour of her valuable time to be told what

to complete a journey his son had barely started be-

she already knows? It’s (most likely) a virus. Drink fluids,

fore dying in a freak accident.

eat right, and—this is the tricky part—rest.

I found the story compelling because I’ve experienced the loss of several loved ones recently.

I’m glad to have her here. It gives me a chance to take care of her—physically and emotionally—the way

Last June, a dear friend and artistic collabora-

she does for me on a regular basis. I don’t know what

tor died of a brain tumor diagnosed about eighteen

I’d do without her support and affection. I try to return

months earlier, not long after we closed a run of her

them but rarely feel like I’ve given back enough.

solo show about—in an eerie coincidence—a young

I do keep her well fed. I make us a healthy and hearty

mother dying of cancer. She was forty. She left be-

breakfast almost every morning. I cook us a nutritious

hind a husband and two small children. I went to their

(and usually delicious) dinner most evenings, general-

house Sunday evening, with food I’d made, to watch

ly with sufficient leftovers to send her off to work with

football and play with the kids.

lunch the next day.

Last August, a friend from graduate school died,

Feeding people is one of my true joys. I like to say

also of cancer and also in her early forties. She left be-

that the secret ingredient of everything I make is love.

hind a husband—whom, prior to her diagnosis, she’d

And it really is. I’m not at all sorry if that sounds cheesy.

been in the process of divorcing due to his ongoing

(I told you I’m not a vegan.)

substance abuse—and two pre-teen children. They

Having her home also gives me a good excuse to put

don’t live anywhere near here, and I have no idea how

off grocery shopping for another day. (It’s snowing again

they’re doing. My last (only) attempt to reach out to

and quite cold out today.) I don’t know why I dread go-

him got no response.

ing to the grocery store. It’s most often a painless—and

Perhaps the hardest loss for me to deal with has

sometimes even pleasant—experience and rarely ap-

been the death of one of our cats last November. She

proaches the frustrating scenario described by David

was ten and had suffered from chronic health issues

Foster Wallace in his “This Is Water” essay.

for several years, so we knew her days might be num-

If you’re not familiar with that piece, I highly recom-

bered. But she’d been doing quite well for a while, and

mend checking it out. Originally delivered at a college

she died suddenly from an unrelated condition (unde-

commencement ceremony in 2005, it was published—

tected cancer). More accurately, she died from eutha-

posthumously—in 2009. You can find it—in text, audio,

nasia. In my arms.

and probably video versions—online.

The depth of my combined grief has been over-

I read it again this morning. I don’t find his advice

whelming. It’s brought tremendous pain, and consid-

about surviving the day-to-day routine of adulthood any

erable perspective. My compassion for all who expe-

less incisive just because he ended up killing himself. On

rience similar losses, whether of pets or people, has

the contrary, I find his death a tragic illustration of what

expanded infinitely.

he identifies as the difficulty—and the necessity—of ad-

40 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


justing the way we think about our experiences in order

to reserve street space in front of a house—I just smile.

to reduce our own suffering. He saw the mental strug-

Even when my perfectly able-bodied but overly en-

gle of human existence so clearly, and he still lost.

titled neighbor down the block uses a parking chair, I

After reading the article today, I did a little research

usually smile as I remove it from the street. Of course,

on the author. It turns out he graduated from Amherst

that’s a mischievous smile and not the friendly one I

College the year I graduated from Amherst Regional

wear while running errands.

High School. So we inhabited the same small town in

Before I left home, I shoveled the sidewalk again. I

Western Massachusetts for much of the early 1980s. He

stopped my next-door neighbor from doing it so I could

was about five and a half years older than me. He com-

take another turn. We don’t follow a formal rotation.

mitted suicide almost five and a half years ago, at age

The chore falls to whichever resident of these three

“Yet, if I weren’t such a dreamer, maybe I wouldn’t be so susceptible to disappointment....I’ve labeled myself a cynic. I wonder if that’s the right word for someone with the heart and soul of an idealist and the eyes and mind of a realist.”

forty-six.

houses feels motivated—or obligated—to step up and

Studies around the world have found that—in the U-

do it. It seems to work out to everyone’s satisfaction.

shaped curve of happiness over a lifetime—depression

Ours is frequently the first stretch on the block to be

typically peaks at age forty-six. I will turn forty-seven in

cleared.

September.

It’s cold again today. But every now and then the sun shines through the winter haze.

I finally made it to the grocery store this morning. In hindsight, waiting until Friday may not have been the best decision. At least I went early. It was crowded, but my patience was never really tested.

The shades are up. I’m listening to Jack Johnson Radio. It’s having the desired impact. I noticed something on Pandora the other day. Right below the option to skip a song are two icons: thumbs-

It takes a lot to get me worked up these days. Since

up and thumbs-down. Apparently that’s actually how

quitting my job I’ve been able to maintain a much more

you customize a station. It takes a little extra effort—a

even keel as I navigate the world and interact with peo-

couple more button presses—but it’s extremely enjoy-

ple operating on what David Foster Wallace calls our

able to give John Mayer a thumbs-down. (It’s not like it

default—“It’s all about me”—setting. With few excep-

hurts his feelings.) Time will tell if it’s effective.

tions—like the local tradition of using “parking chairs”

By the way … I didn’t mean everything I wrote the

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 41


other day about your efforts not making any real differ-

this point, it’s probably safe to assume I didn’t make

ence in the world. Well, no, I did mean it. When I wrote

the short list of candidates. I also applied for a full-time

it. But I don’t mean it today. At least not fully.

position (educational outreach) at a local non-profit

Of course they make a difference. And even if it’s a small one, it’s important.

with a social mission of special interest to me. I didn’t get an interview.

We each have the ability to choose how we par-

My partner and I are exploring less conventional

ticipate in the system. As far as I can tell, there’s no

paths as well. One would reduce our participation in

right way. But—at the risk of moralizing (even more)—

the system significantly. In March we’re going to Belize

it should be a choice and not a default action. And

to investigate several small lodges for sale in the moun-

the choice should be an informed one. With as much

tain district. Apparently it’s possible—for a much less

awareness of the implications—short-and long-term—

substantial investment than I expected—to live simply

as we can fathom. There may be no right way to par-

and well there, almost totally off the grid.

ticipate, but there are wrong ones. It’s up to each of

It’s a long shot we’ll actually make the leap. Buy-

us to determine—based on our individual values and

ing even the least expensive of the available proper-

circumstances—the ones that are wrong for us and to

ties would tie up pretty much all our assets. We might

do our best to avoid them.

decide it’s too big a risk. Either way, we’ll have had an

Helping other people is never a wrong choice. Even if in some abstract and convoluted way it ultimately hinders the kind of total transformation I want—so desperately—to see in the world. I know that. When I’m not mired in the abyss, I even believe it. If I had the right computer skills, I’d join Anonymous. But I don’t have those skills.

adventure. And, for now, dreaming about it helps me get through the day. Yet, if I weren’t such a dreamer, maybe I wouldn’t be so susceptible to disappointment. I’ve labeled myself a cynic. I wonder if that’s the right word for someone with the heart and soul of an idealist and the eyes and mind of a realist.

I’m already starting to get the hang of this Pandora

Truth be told, I feel a little ridiculous for having writ-

customization thing, though. I just gave a thumbs-up

ten this, even though I needed to do it. My privileged

to a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. “Parallel Universe”

ennui seems laughable when people are out there in

sounds good.

the world struggling to survive.

Lately I’ve been on the lookout for opportunities to more fully employ the skills I do have. When I left academia, I hoped to share my radical spiritual vision with

Then again, in a way—perhaps lesser, perhaps just different—here in my living room, so am I. Peace.

the world through screenwriting. Maybe that will still come to pass someday.

24 January 2014

In the meantime, my personal status quo is not sustainable. When I have a writing project underway—

Epilogue: A John Mayer tune just came on Pandora. I

such as this one—I do fairly well. But I’m not the kind

quickly gave it a thumbs-down—without even consid-

of writer who can write a few hours every day. I work

ering the particular song. I realized after the fact that I

intensely on something until it’s done and then need a

actually do kind of like that one. It’s called “Waiting on

break before starting the next thing. And it’s in those

the World to Change.” Maybe you know how it goes?

lulls that the gaping mouth of the abyss beckons. (In case you were wondering, those lulls can occur any time of year.) I’m open-minded but selective in considering possibilities. Taking a job just to have one is not an option for me. That is, unless it becomes absolutely necessary— phynancially (sic) or emotionally.

Karuna Das lives, with his partner and cat, in Pitts-

I applied for an academic gig (teaching theatre for

burgh—a city of bridges (which he crosses regularly

social change) with an early December review date. At

without jumping), where even hearts are forged of steel.

42 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


6 Questions play and dozens of spiritual awakenings hidden in every sentence he pens. Whenever I read him, I travel to distant worlds and forget who I am. 4. Tell us a little about your own creative process. Nora: I am a morning bird. Even on weekends, I am up at the crack of dawn. Perhaps it’s because my Chinese sign is a rooster, but I have never been able to write at night. I wake up, drink my black Chinese tea, and sit down to write for two or three hours before the work day begins. I find my mind sharper and clearer early morning. I find inspiration in nature and in silence; cities are the worst place for me to write. If I find I lack inspiration, I just drive to the nearest mountain or beach

with Nora Caron, author of The New Dimensions Trilogy 1. What books are on your nightstand? Nora: I am currently reading The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. 2. What book are you an evangelist for—what book do you feel that everyone needs to read? Nora: One of my book bibles is Women Who Run with the Wol ves. Every woman should read this book and begin the journey inward. 3.If you could sit down with one author living or dead who would it be and why? Nora: I would sit down with William Shakespeare. I truly believe he is the greatest writer that ever walked this earth; his insights into human nature blow anyone’s mind and his talent as a writer surpasses anyone else I have ever read. There are hundreds of layers to each 44 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

and walk for hours, soaking in the free medicine nature has to offer us. If I can run into animals, all the better, because they always bring me to a place of love and gratitude. 5. At what point did you feel you crossed the line between “hobbyist” writer and “author”? Nora: When I published Journey to the Heart seven years ago, I knew there was no turning back. I took my first publishing endeavor very seriously and made it my priority to spread the word. I was 27 years old at the time. To be honest, though, I knew I would be a serious writer from the early age of eight years old. I used to walk around and tell my family I would be a writer one day, and everyone rolled their eyes at me, thinking I was a very imaginative little blond-haired girl. 6. What are you working on now? Nora: Currently I am working on my fourth book, which will not be part of any trilogy. It will be a love story in the realm of Romeo & Juliet but more magical and modern with my usual twist of philosophy and history.


J aguar Dreams is now available! “Shamans believe that we are one with everything; the plants, the waters, the earth, and the animals. Jaguar Dreams is the story of a search for that oneness. So often when we begin a search we think we are looking for a particular thing, and we end up finding something much more valuable: ourselves. When you embark on this journey with lucina as she explores the sacred, encountering spirit animals and other teachers that help her answer her deepest queries and provide her with life-changing support and healing, don’t be surprised if you sense changes occurring within yourself as well” —Colleen Deatsman, author of The Hollow Bone: A Field Guide to Shamanism “once i started reading Jaguar Dreams i could not put it down! nora Caron brilliantly weaves together a beautifully written, engaging, and inspiring story with powerful spiritual wisdom. Jaguar Dreams inspires us to fully engage in life, be grateful, courageous, surrender, and live from our inner power and strength. This is a great book!” —Sandra ingerman, author of Soul Retrieval Jaguar Dreams, the final book in The new Dimensions Trilogy, finds lucina in Guatemala searching for her lover who has run away. When she discovers the news that he is somewhere deep in the petén jungle, lucina hires an intimidating mysterious older guide named alejandro who forces her to face more fears than she ever imagined she could handle. it is on dangerous and frightening jungle trails that lucina at last surrenders to the greater powers that are guiding her life. in a dramatic scene, she encounters a deadly predator and transforms into a new woman, one who understands the world in a completely different light.

WWW.noraCaron.Com | WWW.homeBounDpuBliCaTionS.Com


creativity Column

Cre a t i v i t y Inalienable, Indispensible & Praise-worthy “While Jefferson, Adams and Franklin labored long hours to succinctly define a document that would lead to the birth of our nation, this is not an exhaustive, exclusive treatment. I believe that Creativity is another inalienable right. Your creativity is your sovereign own.” birth of our nation, this is not an exhaustive, exclusive treatment. I believe that Creativity is another inalien-

By Staff Writer J. K. McDowell

W

able right. Your creativity is your sovereign own. My column on

creativity is my sovereign own. No law of government

Creativity. As we explore the various as-

grants you your creative right nor can the same instru-

pects of creativity and the creative life in

ment deny this right. The creative right itself cannot

elcome to

The Wayfarer’s

want to start some initial

be sold, bartered or given away, yet its works may be.

notions to get us going on this adven-

The creative right is essential in the same way that

I believe that these first notions will hold or at least

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are. The

this column

ture.

I

not hold us back.

creative right is so important that no longer can we

Let’s start with declarations. We all know the docu-

accept phrases like “I am not very creative.” as self-

ment and those lines penned by Thomas Jefferson, John

talk or “He is not creative.” as casual judgments. To

Adams and Benjamin Franklin:

counter such cliché’s we must go deeper to the chains that bind us and to the fears that block us. This cor-

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all

rect recognition of the creative right is an important

men are created equal, that they are endowed

starting point for me.

by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,

Next we move from inalienable to indispensible.

that among these are Life, Liberty and the pur-

You might know this quote from Henry David Thoreau:

suit of Happiness.”

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.

While Jefferson, Adams and Franklin labored long hours

From the desperate city you go into the desperate

to succinctly define a document that would lead to the

country, … A stereotyped but unconscious despair is

46 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


concealed even under what are called the games and

“My fiftieth year had come and gone,

amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for

I sat, a solitary man,

this comes after work.”

In a crowded London shop,

These often-misquoted words from Walden are 160

An open book and empty cup

years old and the sicknesses they describe still have us

On the marble table-top.

in their grip. Quiet desperation is the silenced creative

While on the shop and street I gazed

spirit. We need to awaken this spirit in ourselves and in

My body of a sudden blazed;

others to loosen the grip of hopelessness that plagues

And twenty minutes more or less

this modern world. We are enrapt by distractions as

It seemed, so great my happiness,

we are cheered on to answer the calls of consumer and

That I was blessed and could bless.”

media culture.

Is everything so wound around selling,

urging the sale of widget A to sell advertising to sell

Yeats describes a singular precious event, unplanned

widget B and on and on? There are more important

and unexpected.

challenges in our lives and in the world and they will

There is no longer any time to wait till you are over

not be solved in these “amusements of mankind” like

fifty and twenty minutes more or less, is not long

consumerism. We need the creative spirit in all of us

enough. The creative needs to be praised and en-

to move us forward into a new era. An unexercised

couraged and blessed. Now, often, in your life and in

creative spirit leads to despair, leads to numbness and

other people’s lives. The praise needs to be genuine.

leads to hopelessness.

Spend some time in praise and gratitude.

We need to do better than this.

The creative spirit is celebratory. The creative eye,

Creativity is an inalienable right. Yours, mine, no

when opened, pays attention to the miraculous in the

permission necessary, no one can take it away. Cre-

so-called mundane.

ativity is needed in these times, to address the chal-

We need to say that the creative spirit is a thousand

lenges, the small and the big ones in life. Creativity

strong. No, a million strong. No, a billion strong. Yes,

needs fed with praise. No time to hold the applause.

a billion strong. The creative spirit is a billion strong.

These three small notions will sustain us on this ad-

You think this is impossible? That is only one in seven

venture into creativity.

of every one of us on this planet. The challenges are

The autumn issue of The Wayfarer will celebrate

great. The world is more complex and more precious

New England, its writers and themes. I have already

than previously imagined. We need the creative spirit

mentioned two men of New England, Adams and Tho-

to move from “quiet desperation” to a sense of richness

reau. In the autumn issue of The Wayfarer I will ex-

in ourselves and the world around us.

plore Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas around and about

Now moving from indispensible to praise-worthy.

creativity. I know Emerson’s essay “On Self-Reliance”

Here is one of my favorite quotes from William Butler

shaped my thinking early on and revisiting his wis-

Yeats, from his poem Vacillation:

dom will be refreshing to this pursuit of the creative. Enjoy the summer; make the season shine with creativity. See you in the autumn.

J. K. McDowell is an artist, poet and mystic, an Ohioan expat living in Ca jun country. Always immersed in poetry, raised in Buckeye country by a mother who told of Sam I Am, Danny Deaver and Annabel Lee and a father who quoted Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam. In the last decade a deepened study of poetry and shamanism and nature has inspired a regular practice of writing poetry that blossomed into the works presented in this collection. Lately, mixing Lorca and Lovecraft, McDowell lives twenty miles north of the Gulf Coast with his soul mate who also happens to be his wife and their two beautiful companion parrots. He is the author of Night, Mystery & Light.


Photo Cueva de las Manos


Photo Š Jamie K. Reaser

50 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


B lo odro ot

tities.

by Jamie K. Reaser

cember in 2005, I found myself, quite unexpected-

I

I have goats on my farm. In the middle of De-

Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), a white-petalled member of the poppy family, n the

ly, watching goat kids emerge from their mothers’ wide-stretched vaginas. I had never before witnessed birth. It was messy. It was sys-

is one of the first

tematically chaotic.

plants to emerge dur-

ing the waking of

Spring.

Hiking along the wood-

“Sacred silence is an offering.

land trails, one finds it suddenly

there;

clean,

pure, declarative clusters breeze-dancing

where

not even a hint of a flower

In reciprocity, the soul may

feet must stop. The eyes and mind must fix to substrate. Mustn’t they? Yes. Change

is

sing to us the navigation song

flowers and season and possibilities. If you listen closely, you can hear the

meant to guide us across

ing concealed. (b) The process of cominto

existence

or

prominence. Birds emerge—they pip their way out of shells perfectly the

designed

exchange

of

for oxy-

the

stiff spans of golden straw that I’d

witnessed

eight

breaths,

the

first crying out of

seemingly desolate terrain.

eight newly-defined selves, the first relational nuzzle of four mothers

Such songs have enabled

pairs

of

ing—it

Pacific Islanders to precisely chart

seemed—

that breathes while simultaneously buffooning voracious newts and other would-be predators. Snakes emerge from skins too small. Butterflies and moths emerge from capsules in which they become nameless between iden-

to

goats. I was fascinated by where they had before

they

We humans emerge, too—over

from one realm to the next.

a gelatinous encasement

how

it was like there.

and curanderos to travel

masses, pushing through

siblings,

emerged, and what

vast expanses of ocean,

wriggle forth from egg

four

be what they are—

been

emerge—they

and

twelve beings know-

to cross the Outback deserts,

gen and carbon dioxide. Tadpoles

among

first

the wide-reaches of

coming visible after be-

ing

slimy-wet and clo-

precisely

(a) The process of be-

front

body, they landed,

I

the Aboriginal Australians

Emergence (Noun):

in

crouched

gentle their arrival.

tenor in the Hallelujah choir.

my

spread, in haste, to

witnessed.

Something new exists—

There, of

ven,

occupied the dusty leaf litter the day before. The

It was a process.

and over again. We emerge from our own mother’s womb, from stages of

maturity,

from

relationships—some of us more scarred than

others—from

sleep, out the front door, and from our lives into something so untouched by our fright-constrained The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 51


curiosities that we can describe it no better than, ‘death.’ In his poem, What to Remember When Waking, David Whyte writes:

Sacred silence is an offering. In reciprocity, the soul may sing to us the navigation song meant to guide us across the wide-reaches of seemingly desolate terrain. Such songs have enabled the Aboriginal Australians to cross the Outback deserts, Pacific Islanders to pre-

“To be human is to become visible

cisely chart vast expanses of ocean, and curanderos to

while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.”

travel from one realm to the next. Upon reflection, I realize how often I have filled

We must emerge to become human and be in service

what I thought to be life-voids not with sacred silence,

of the world into which we have emerged. But, what of

but with words: words of frustration, of anger, of accu-

the hidden places? What of the dark, often nameless,

sation, of self-pity, of entitlement. I have been known

places from which we emerge?

to scold the gods for the absence of things, including

What of the soil-world in which is nestled the awaiting seed? What of the interior of the egg, the cocoon, and the chrysalis? What of the occupied space in literal and metaphoric wombs? ‘Bardo’ is a Tibetan word for the ‘in-between’ or ‘transitional state.’ What of the bardos—all those pe-

the clarity of next steps—where to place my mind, my heart, and my feet. In her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chödrön observes: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. ”

riods in our lives in which something has ended and something else has not yet begun, all those places in

It would seem that we require life’s proverbial ‘no-

our lives between where we have departed and where

man’s land’ in just the same way that a fledging re-

we have not yet arrived, all the crises of identity in

quires thin air. And, like the fledgling who must take a

which we feel like ‘anonymous’ is the old valid signa-

leap of faith, we must lift each foot and, in turn, replace

ture?

it in the detritus of an unmarked trail.

Yes, what of them? Looking downward and backward, I conclude that we living beings fundamentally

Bloodroot garners its common English name from the

require the dark, the hidden, the nameless, the inde-

dark red-orange color of its rhizomes and the juice

scribable—let me say ‘the mysterious’—places and

therein. The genus, Sanguinaria, means bleeding in

spans of time in order to manifest something—our-

Latin. In the Algonquian languages it was known as

selves—that can be seen, named, described, and has

poughkone—red dye—a reference to one of its com-

the capacity to touch others in the light.

mon uses. Native Americans also employed bloodroot

The known emerges from the unknowable.

to treat fever, rheumatism, ulcers, and various skin ail-

If a “Hallelujah!” is appropriate for emergence,

ments. In recent years, the bloodroot has been com-

what’s the best way to celebrate the in-between? I

mercially applied as an anti-plaque agent in tooth-

think, perhaps, it is silence. No. It is a sacred silence,

pastes and mouthwashes. Currently, it is being studied

a silence infused with an inherent gratitude for these

for anti-cancer properties.

places and these times that are the gestating, creative

Bloodroot’s most potent gifts to humanity are hid-

spaces in which the blessed templates of what-to-

den in the darkness. And, it is darkness from which a

come are scribed.

single stem emerges to support the pure, white de-

Sacred silence is not passive. ‘To be silent’ is a verb

clarative clusters that dance in the breeze.

phrase. Sacred silence requires intent and inner-action. It requires receptivity and holding—actions that

Just a few feet down the path, I spot the first Hepatica

we humans don’t seem particularly well versed at; oth-

blooms.

erwise we might not have such an aversion to silence, and the times and spaces it demarcates. Jamie K. Reaser’s see bio page 2. 52 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


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The Sinner’s Prayer by Dan Leach

F

rom my house to hers was pretty long for a short

“Okay, but if He’s real, then why don’t He answer

walk.

prayers?” she said, picking up the loose thread of a con-

blue

Dusk had soaked our street in that chalky light that slows everything down, making

versation we had a couple weeks earlier. Ever since we

the neighbors sitting out on their porches look

were kids she had done this, making it impossible to

like statues carved with a mason jar in one hand and a

know, when she opened her mouth, if she was going to

Marlboro in the other, their lime-stone limbs coming to

say something related to what we were talking about

life for the flick of a wave. Even the sun seemed stuck

two minutes or two months earlier.

in place and looked less like a star with someplace else

“Look at your cousin,” I said and tried to remember

to be and more like an orange rubber ball that a boy

if I had already used Kayla Jean as a proof of God’s

had tossed into the trees, sworn to knock loose, and

providence.

then forgot to come back for. Fireflies aside, the world

“The one whose husband ran off to St. Augustine with

seemed all but frozen. So we walked together, her and

the cleaning lady?” she said and removed another wax

me, with nowhere to go and all of eternity to get there.

bottle, a blue one this time, from her back pocket. She bit the tip off first and chewed the wax while studying

54 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


the syrup inside by holding it up against the sky. This is

be fiery and defined, perfect little bones at work in

another habit I’ve observed since we were kids—her and

the cheeks and jaw, had taken on a softer, more de-

her endless supply of bottles stuffed somewhere down

feated look, almost but not quite like the moms who

in her pockets. Now that we’re grown I have to believe

drive around in mini-vans wearing sweatpants and no

that she’s the last person on earth who still eats them.

make-up.

“The one whose cancer is in remission,” I said.

“What motivates someone to do that?” she said

“You didn’t hear?” she said, kind of smiling, but also

and let the neck of the bottle rest on her lower lip for

kind of frowning as she brought

a moment before biting

the tiny bottle to her lips.

into it.

“Hear what?”

“Prayer

isn’t

like

“It’s back.”

punching in a request

“What is?”

on a vending machine. If

“Kayla Jean’s cancer,” she said, draining the bottle in one decisive swig. “How’s that for an answer?” We had been through this before—God’s

ways

being

higher than ours, the necessity of mystery, what the Scriptures say about suffering—so I didn’t feel like getting into it again. We had been through quite a bit of religious talk since she came back from college for the summer. She had been gone for almost two years, in which time she had found a ma jor (Mass Communications), a boyfriend (Trevor from Ohio), and a newfound aversion for all things Southern, especially Christianity. I didn’t go to college. Just stuck around and found Jesus. Naturally, we didn’t talk the way we used to. I wondered if I looked as different to her eyes as she did to mine. Her hair used to be a shade of blonde that reminded

Fireflies aside, the world seemed all but frozen. So we walked together, her and me, with nowhere to go and all of eternity to get there.

me of sunshine in the old cartoons and it was so thin that it

you think about it, it’s actually a lot like—“ “I’m not talking about prayer,” she said. “I’m talking about that.” I followed her finger to Mr. Thoroughgood’s lawn, which was covered, as it had been ever since

he

moved

onto

our street seven years ago, in a veritable army of lawn gnomes. There must have been at least a hundred of them, some peering out from behind shrubs or rocks, most brandishing their pointed hats and tiny tools out in the open. One of them,

a

portly

fellow

standing guard over the perennials, was proudly hoisting up a Confederate Battle Flag like he expected it to come alive in the summer air. I knew it was that one that upset her, but I also knew she wouldn’t admit it. The one closest to the

was always swaying whether the wind was blowing or

curb was a mischievous little guy who was thrusting

not. Somehow it got thick. And darker too. She wore it

its ceramic rear up in the air and casting a know-

up, all tangled together in a tight little ball, but with a

ing wink over his shoulder. There was a smug sort of

couple of loose strands falling out. She had put on some

twinkle painted into his eyes, a reckless little splash

weight too, probably about ten or twelve pounds, which, spread out on her swimmer’s frame, hardly made a difference except for in the face. Her face, which used to

[Left] © Sparklers by Derek Key (Flickr Creative Commons)

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 55


of white calling out from inside the blackness of his irises

implies about everyone else’s eternity. Calls it “coun-

that reminded me, strangely enough, of her. He seemed,

try-club thinking.” Most of all, she hates the idea of a

poised as he was on the verge of whatever mischief his

God who needs to save people from Himself. Hate, I

maker had in mind, to be in possession of some great se-

learned, can build a pretty thick wall. When she first

cret that the rest of the world was dying to know about.

got back from school, she tried to bring it down all at

Man, the years I spent wondering what her secret was.

once. We had intense late-night conversations in the

“So he likes gnomes,” I said. “Everybody’s got a thing, right?”

corner booth at the Waffle House where I would order hash-browns and she would slam her fists down

“Fair enough,” she said. “Remember when yours was

so hard the spoons would rattle and coffee would

Springsteen? You had all his albums lined up along the

spill. After a few of those, I think she began to se-

baseboards of your room and you would freak when any-

cretly hope that a steady supply of small comments

one tried to touch one. I always liked the one with him

would bring it down. Where blunt force failed, time

smiling and leaning up against that big black fella. Which

and steady pressure might do the trick, seemed to

one was that?”

be her way of thinking.

“Born to Run.” “Right,” she said. “That one had the song about the guy and the car, right?” “They all have a guy and a car in them,” I replied, trying, and failing, to think of an exception. “Yeah, you were pretty obsessed.”

And, inexplicably, it’s her trick, not mine, to always be talking about Him. Like a single-minded salesman, she can talk about something seemingly unrelated—wildflowers, jazz piano, the weather—but still be somehow circling around the one much larger, more significant thing.

“I was,” I admitted. “But I also distinctly remember

“If cicadas really only come out every 17 years,

someone who was fixated on horses. I think I recall a pret-

why do I hear them every summer?” she asked.

ty impressive collection of horse sweaters.”

“Aren’t some of them supposed to be dead at least

“Touché,” she said, spitting out the wax into a patch of weeds on the side of the road. “Everybody’s got a thing and mine was horses.” I had been watching the tips of my boots scrap against the gravel, which is where I normally look when I walk, but I looked up to make sure the sun was still stuck up in the trees. It was and even though we’d been walking for

some of the time?” “Cycles, I suppose,” I said, taking a moment to listen to the scratchy hum that rattles on so incessantly in the evenings that, like white noise or waves, it almost ceases to be. “Can you imagine waking up after 17 years?” she said.

a few minutes, her cul-de-sac was as far up ahead as it

“It’d be quite a nap.”

was the last time I looked. I say her cul-de-sac, despite

“You would know,” she almost whispered out of

knowing that, as far as that goes, it was really just a place that she stays with her parents when she decides to come home from school. To me, she was and always will be the

the side of her mouth. “Look,” I said and pointed to a sparkler lying directly in the middle of the road.

girl from up the street, but home is funny word and who

Like a child discovering a penny, she rushed

knows where—or, for that matter, who-- she associated

forward and scooped it up. After examining its tip,

with it.

she skipped back to me and asked for my lighter. It

“I had this World Religions professor,” she started in.

was an old Bic, almost dead, but she eventually got

“Said Jesus was a teacher and probably even a doctor

a flame out of it and let out a high-pitched squeal

too. But said that all that stuff about his miracles and res-

when the sparkler, without any prelude, sent a show-

urrection was just something that got added in when the

er of white-hot flecks across our waiting faces.

apostles wrote down the Bible later on.”

For a moment, we just watched the thing burn.

There was not, in all likelihood, a professor, or even a

Then, she started skipping again, flicking her wrist

World Religions class. Like most of what she says, it’s just

in the air above her head, writing out incandescent

something she throws out in hopes that it will chip away

scribblings against the darkening sky. First it was

at the wall that went up between us since I got saved. She

circles, then 8s, then, when the thing had almost

hates that word—saved. Hates its exclusivity. Hates what it

burned down completely, she turned back to me and said, “You ever wonder why He didn’t just sign

56 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

His name across the sky?”


This question was punctuated with the sulfuric letters G-O-D written in her sloppy hand on the space in front of me and then, beneath the name, a heart that seemed to linger in the hazy blue air even after the sparkler had fizzled out. “I mean,” she said and chucked the handle into someone’s lawn like she was a playing fetch with some invisible dog. “It would make sense if He really wanted everyone to know that He was up there.” “Where’s the choice in that?” I said. “There’s got to be a choice.” “Choice,” she murmured. “Because He doesn’t want—how did you put it?—a race of robots, right?”

“Remember Quick Draw?” she said, replacing several strands of hair that had worked their way loose. “I remember you thought you were John Wayne and practically singed Jeff Avery’s eyebrow off his face.” Her face lit up with the first memory then soured with a second one. “His mother was irate. She threatened to sue. And that was back before everybody threatened to sue.” “I imagine so,” I said. “Half an inch lower and…” “Well, it didn’t,” she said lazily, stretching her arms to the sky so that the tanned strip of skin below her navel and above her jeans flashed like a winning smile. “Or I guess you’d say couldn’t, right?”

As she said that, she stiffened the joints in her arms

When it comes to mocking certain aspects of my

and legs and simulated a robot walking, then waving,

faith, destiny is, for her, the most irresistible. And I have

and then, after a series of spastic motions, dying. Her

probably failed, I don’t mind admitting, to give a sat-

eyes were closed and she had made her upper body

isfactory explanation about how free will relates to a

bend slightly forward at the waist and her arms were

sovereign God. “Choosing from His choices” was how

still locked in ninety degree angles.

she put it in one of our more heated Waffle House de-

“Come on,” I said and nudged her.

bates. And I conceded to this wording because I didn’t

When she did not move I decided to tickle her back

know a better way to put it.

to life and ran my fingers across her rib-cage. When we were kids, that used to drive her crazy, but she didn’t budge an inch even after I tried both sides and then under her neck. “Come on,” I repeated. “The neighbors are going to think you’re crazy.” Her lips moved and something less than a whisper came out.

“I would say that there is a reason Jeff Avery’s has two good eyes right now,” I said. “But you’d say the same thing if I’d shot half an inch lower and he was living with one,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason,” I said. “Everything?” she said and stopped so suddenly that I nearly tripped trying to stay beside her. “Not tonight,” I whispered and embraced her, notic-

“What?” I said and leaned in.

ing, as I looked over her shoulder, that we had arrived

She said it again, but I still could not make it out.

at her house.

“What?” I said, leaning in so close our cheeks were touching.

She pried herself free and wiped the one tear that had escaped. Without us noticing it, an ice-cream truck

“Even robots need saving,” she whispered and sud-

had turned on to the street and was parked outside of

denly jerked herself upright and darted off leaving me

a house. That damned melody, so soaked in nostalgia

standing in the middle of the road.

that I could not help but think of Bomb Pops and Pix-

We kept walking. The sun had tumbled down into

ies Sticks, was the worst possible sub-text for all the

the lower branches of the tree-line and except for a

words to come, but it played on anyways as kids burst

pinkish smudge surrounding it, the sky had turned a

out of houses clutching quarters or sometimes a dollar

darker shade of blue. Stars like spilled sugar spread out

in their little balled up fists. It played on as she tried to

across the sky. The cicadas were still singing, but softer

hide her trembling fingers.

now, as if some mother had leaned out of a bedroom

“You know,” she said, ascending the stairs to her

window and warned them to keep it down. The pave-

porch. “I really did used to believe. Before that, before

ment beneath our feet took on that glittering quality

we lost Madison, I had something like faith. It wasn’t

that comes with the moon, even though there was no

strong like yours is, but it was something.”

moon in sight. The rhythmic muffled phmphs of a Ro-

Madison. Once spoken, the word seems to expand

man Candle sounded behind us and we turned around

until it is so large that everything—the cicadas, the ice

to see a series of orange orbs complete their tiny arch

cream truck, even her breathing—are all drowned out

and fall back to earth. The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 57


by the unbearable implications of these three syllables. Madison. She was almost six months pregnant when she miscarried. She switched schools for her senior year of

“Will I see her again?” “The Bible says that whosoever believes in the name of—“

high-school, lived with an aunt three counties over. It

“I know what the Bible says,” she snapped, her fist

was not until later, her first semester of college to be

balled and nearly drawn back like she meant to break

exact, when I learned that she had picked out a name,

my nose. “I want to know what you think. Will I see her

had even ordered a tiny pair of monogrammed pa ja-

again?”

mas. Madison.

“Outside of the Cross?” I said, closing my eyes and

Faith, in any God or gods, required accepting that

offering up my face, half-hoping to feel her fist come

something, or, even worse, Someone, had possessed

crashing down again and again and again before I

the power to save, but had chosen instead to kill. Rather

could speak what I knew must be spoken.

than believe in a God with such a terrible prerogative, she believed in no God at all, believed only in a world governed by time and matter and chance, none of which

“No,” I whispered, when no fist or hand or word struck out against me. “The answer is no.” When I opened my eyes she was gone. A tiny sliver

Faith, in any God or gods, required accepting that something, or, even worse, Someone, had possessed the power to save, but had chosen instead to kill. Rather than believe in a God with such a terrible prerogative, she believed in no God at all, believed only in a world governed by time and matter and chance... could be blamed for what happened to Madison.

of a moon had taken the sun’s place above the trees

“Pray for me,” she said.

and bathed the street in a sad and holy glow. I started

“I always do.”

walking home and had reached the edge of her lawn

“No,” she said, taking my hands in hers. “Now.”

when I turned around and saw a light go on in her room.

“What should I pray for?”

The rest of her house was dark and that one square of

“Pray that sinner’s prayer. The one they used to pray

soft yellow light seemed to signify something beautiful

on the last night of camp before they’d ask you to stand

and profound, though I don’t know what. I only know

up and say that Jesus was your Savior and Lord. Pray

that I could not stop staring at it as I prayed the only

that one. Pray for my salvation.”

sinner’s prayer I knew.

“That’s not how it works.”

“May we know You well enough to love You,” I prayed

“Seemed to work fine back then. Couple dozen kids

and then walked home, hoping against hope that it

got saved every summer. Then came back the next sum-

would be enough. “Please, Father. Let that be enough.”

mer and got saved again. So go ahead and pray it. Save me tonight and then, next time I see you, you can pray it again. Maybe that’s the reason, I have you as a friend.

Dan Leach earned his BA in English from Clemson Uni-

So you can keep on saving me. Go on, now. Save me.”

versity in 2008. Since then, he has taught English at

“I can’t,” I practically whispered. “Only He can—“

various high-schools across South Carolina. He cur-

“What about her?” she interrupted, a darkness creep-

rently works at a high-school on James Island, South

ing into her tone.

Carolina. On weekends and summers, he writes short-

“Who?”

fiction that explores connections between faith, mas-

“You know who.”

culinity, and the South. His work has been published

“I believe she’s with Him.”

in Deep South Magazine, 2 Bridges Review, Crack the Spine, and Drafthorse Literary Journal.

58 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


Chapter One

Book Spotlight

W

ith bags packed, I made my way to the airport for a midnight flight out of Anchorage. I felt an eerie excitement as I drove in pitch-black darkness along

deserted lanes. The streetlights stood muted behind a veil of falling snow, giving a surreal quality to the hushed night. I still carried my guilt and felt like a thief sneaking away from the responsible path, slipping off for adventure. As I sat back in my plane seat and felt the jet pulling away from Earth, my mind was calmer than I could ever remember. I had done it. I had blasted out of the orbit I was stuck in, and jetting off into a boundless unknown. I looked out the window down into the vast darkness, filled with satisfaction at flying over that chasm which had held me back. * * * * * Surely I must be crazy. Really I could say I had it all, and here I wanted to leave. I was blessed with a terrific job, the perfect apartment, my family nearby and a close circle of friends. And for someone whose passion was nature, how could anything be more spectacular than a home in the Last Frontier. As a private pilot, I took flight over Alaska’s sprawl of wilderness, soaring above rugged mountains, feeling lighter than air as I cruised amongst the clouds. In awe, I gazed down into the splintered depths of ice-blue glaciers, feeding rivers like molten steel that rolled out to shimmering inlets. With my mother or a friend next to me, we’d eagerly peer into the deep green below for glimpses of wide-antlered moose, or scan the inlet’s waters for the pearly humps of beluga whales. All the while, noble bald eagles glided with easy freedom off the plane’s wingtips. So why then exactly, did I have such an urge to flee? Actually, I felt guilty about it. I should be more

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appreciative, I told myself, for the good fortune of being born in one of the most inspiring places on Earth. After all, I had been raised by parents who celebrated Alaska as their Shangri La. Certainly I’d run out of patience with the neverending trial of being snowed under for six months of

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the year. Now at thirty, I wryly calculated I’d spent half my life trudging through winter’s icy clutches. The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 59


It seemed a cruelty of nature to have so few months

ing to make things too difficult, I decided to set out

when a cushion of grass lay under foot, and windows

for somewhere that spoke English. I’d once spent a

could be thrown open to fresh air.

few weeks hiking the evergreen hills of New Zealand,

And that was a big part of it. I hated spending so

and found myself enchanted. Or instead, what about

much time closeted indoors. I envied other accoun-

the wide plains of sunny Australia? But no, I knew this

tants who thrived in their desk jobs, wishing it could

voyage must take me to a place with unusual possibili-

be me. Meanwhile, sitting at my desk, I longed to feel

ties, even perhaps some measure of risk. It should be a

the brush of a warm breeze against my cheek, and to

place where people’s lives were lived differently from

hear the lilting echoes of songbirds. One consolation

anything I’d ever known.

was that my office had a large window, letting in a

One enticing option was southern Africa, which I’d

sprinkle of sunlight, and through which I looked upon a

already visited twice, the first time six years earlier.

lushly leafed tree growing from a square in the pave-

On this trip I’d been subtly captivated by the friendly

ment. This tree had been brought from another place

country of Zimbabwe, drawn to her rich landscape of

where the climate was different, and when the more

bold African bush, breezy woodlands, and fields of wild

Spartan native trees all turned yellow and lost their

grass where buck browsed untroubled. Although her

leaves in autumn, it carried on being lush and green.

charm was blemished by the towns’ ramshackle colo-

When winter’s flurries arrived, the snow clung heavily

nial buildings, their faded paint peeling and fronted by

to its leaves, while next to it the austere branches of

littered sidewalks, she was still an alluring prospect and

the native trees rested unburdened. Gazing out my of-

I began to be swayed.

fice window, with the Arctic afternoon already drowsy

As a wildlife enthusiast, Mary also awarded Zimba-

in winter twilight, I often thought how I, too, seemed

bwe high marks on our list. She too had visited this

out of sync.

Eden-like country with its enviable climate, easygoing

But more than just feeling as though planted in the

folk and low crime, which made an appealing spot for

wrong spot, something in the back of my mind needled

adventure. So after months of entertaining debates, we

me. I couldn’t stop thinking I’d tumbled into a rut that

reached the conclusion of our game and all that was

wasn’t my groove, and felt a growing panic that I need-

left was for me to put the plan into action.

ed to find a way out. As time passed, with both excitement and a little apprehension, I realized my only cure would be to set sail for distant parts, and leave behind the place where I’d spent every year of my life. * * * * *

* * * * * Actually, Zimbabwe was an ironic choice. Because while I’d been thrilled by my first trek into southern Africa in 1992, during the few weeks I’d spent in Zimbabwe she didn’t strike me as a place to call home. To begin with,

Like an oilskin chart to a pirate’s treasure, sprawled

even though a decade had passed since the end of her

on the wall above my desk hung a colorful map of the

civil war, in this land of opportunity I found a country

world. Glinting in a dapple of light, during stolen hours

still hobbled and suppressed. Catching my attention

at work my friend Mary and I would study it and amuse

the most were all the ready-for-the-junkyard cars and

ourselves by discussing the endless places for adven-

old buses clattering about, unbelievably not a new one

ture. Certainly the vastness of the United States itself

to be seen. This circumstance was the natural outcome

held intrigue, with its own grand fusion of pined moun-

of a bizarre law that banned the importation of vehi-

tains, sunbaked deserts, whispered forests and beck-

cles, plus a lack of assembly plants in the country. Also

oning plains. Yet something pulled me farther away.

puzzling to find were bare store shelves, kept empty in

The wandering blood that had spurred my ancestors

part by extortionate customs duties and surely an un-

over the ocean to America also pulsed in my veins like

necessary deprivation. Zimbabweans struggled to buy

an urge that couldn’t be subdued. Only in a foreign

such basics as toothpaste and ink pens, not to mention

land could I find my cure.

the unavailable “luxuries” of magazines, spices, and

As the months went by, with Mary’s help I narrowed

anything other than rudimentary clothing.

the options. Having had my fill of wintry weather, I

On my first wanderings into this beautiful domain I

flatly ruled out northern destinations. And not want-

was also astonished, in a tourist’s amused way, by Zim’s antiquated phones still used in 1992, which resembled

60 | The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature


those in the U.S. during the 1930s. A caller had to shout

In my friends’ homes were now computers and fax ma-

over crackling party lines, while his neighbors might be

chines, satellite dishes and VCRs, CD players and cell

listening in. Television and radio amounted to a couple

phones, plus just-out-of-the-box washing machines

of mundane government stations. A washing machine

and microwaves. With amazement I looked upon mag-

was a rare find, with most laundry being laboriously

azine racks full of foreign newspapers, store shelves full

scrubbed by hand. My Zimbabwean peers had their

of everything, photo shops, video stores, and even a

own eccentric style of dress, with men wearing shorts

trendy clothing outlet or two. I discovered Zimbabwe-

that barely covered their buttocks in 1970s style, along

ans could now buy contact lenses and sunglasses, and

with rough-cut locally made shoes of brushed animal

they even had the Internet! Plus, as a mark of progres-

hide. Women’s wear was meager, especially footwear,

sive thinking, I was told wives were now taxed the same

the ladies’ battered heels looking like Depression Era

as men. I could hardly believe that in only a few years,

dustbowl fashion. And while Coca-Cola had reached

and as an outcome of an economic plan put in motion

into this forgotten corner of the globe, it came only in

with encouragement from the International Monetary

recyclable glass bottles, the same as an early 1900s

Fund, the country could change so drastically.

collectible.

With this momentum of a revved up economic en-

“...the next step of my plot took me into reality, and I suddenly found myself intimidated. Although my scheming with Mary had sounded practical enough, it now dawned on me that a real life-changing journey would mean quitting my comfortable job, giving up my hard-to-comeby apartment, selling my Bronco, packing my things, and jetting off to a land as far as I could go from home. A pesky whisper in the back of my mind said might it not be better to keep to the safe path, buying a nice little house and filling it with my favorite things....” It seemed I’d stumbled back several decades in

gine, one sector to benefit was wildlife. A now thriv-

time, landing in a place with a dose of dilapidation laid

ing tourism industry meant a breeding herd of game

upon it, its people deprived of much outside news so

had become a valuable asset, and particularly in arid

their point of view could be skewed, then mixed with a

parts of the country, private ranch land was turned into

measure of simplicity from having only the very basics

wildlife sanctuaries. Intrinsically, this also meant the

in life. Topped off with some odd laws such as taxing

protection of birds, reptiles, amphibians, rabbits and

working wives at 90% in order to keep them at home,

rodents, beetles and butterflies. Zimbabwe was exactly

I confidently commented at the time, “I’d never live

my kind of paradise, this vigorous land abundant with

here!”

the world’s most intriguing fauna.

Four years passed before I next ventured to south-

And when I scouted the map for a destination to

ern Africa in 1996, on this trip allotting The Country

launch myself, above all it had to be a place where na-

That Time Forgot only a few days. Once again I was

ture dominated. There weren’t many spots on the globe

astounded on my visit to Zimbabwe— yet this time in a

that could outdo Zimbabwe on this account, and now

completely opposite way. Wide-eyed and speechless,

combined with her economic renaissance, this flourish-

I looked upon a bounty of shiny new vehicles whizzing

ing country became the obvious choice.

about. Next to the old masonry buildings peeling in dirty pastels, soared modern highrises of glinting glass.

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 61


Attorneys. No surprise, the conference was as exciting * * * * *

as the name suggests, a week of tedium spent in sterile rooms of subdued lighting and grey decor. The atmo-

Yet the next step of my plot took me into reality, and

sphere could make adventurous pursuits appealing to

I suddenly found myself intimidated. Although my

anyone, and my plea for three months to traipse off to

scheming with Mary had sounded practical enough,

Africa seem downright reasonable.

it now dawned on me that a real life-changing jour-

As conference guests, one evening my boss and I

ney would mean quitting my comfortable job, giving

were invited to a reception at the aquarium, where our

up my hard-to-come-by apartment, selling my Bronco,

hosts generously plied us with alcohol. After snagging

packing my things, and jetting off to a land as far as

a couple of meatballs on toothpicks we went off on a

I could go from home. A pesky whisper in the back of

stroll, casually looking at tanks filled with creatures

my mind said might it not be better to keep to the safe

from the deep, sipping our drinks all the while. At the

path, buying a nice little house and filling it with my fa-

indoor pool we relaxed on bleachers and sipped plenty

vorite things. Certainly the idea of spending the years

more, watching the lively dolphins put on a show. Af-

ahead in my secure little circle also had its appeal.

ter a few hours we walked back to the hotel, making

Perhaps I wouldn’t like it in another place, or couldn’t

our way along the waterfront in the mystic darkness

get a job. What if I ended up lonely, and found myself

of late evening. A tantalizing smell of sea air whispered

unhappy on that far-off foreign soil.

round us, mixing with lapping waves that sparkled with

Yet this intriguing thought of a faraway land was

moonlight, and when mingled with the pleasantness of

exactly what kept me yearning, and when another

the wine, drew us into talk of adventure and the free-

friend made an interesting—if not entirely practical—

dom to pursue our dreams. Sensing my chance, I took

suggestion of simply trying it out for a few months, I

a deep breath and asked for a few months off to head

was conspiring once more. Yes, that’s right, I thought

out to Africa. While I was prepared to beg, make con-

to myself, if I could wrangle three months off from my

cessions, or at least give a long justification, instead to

good-natured boss, then I’d have my job and home

my surprise he simply said yes.

waiting for me, if things didn’t work out on the oth-

Next week back in the reality of the office I fully

er side of the world. While I wasn’t convinced I could

expected him to renege. But he didn’t, so I wasted no

make it happen, I still pressed myself to think of a way

time in making my plans before either he, or I, could

to persuade him to grant me several months of leave.

change our minds. Mary helpfully gave me the name of

Unexpectedly, an opportunity soon appeared while

a friend, Georgie, with whom I could stay in Zimbabwe,

he and I attended a Medicaid conference in Baltimore,

and I swiftly completed my plans. I’d leave Alaska’s win-

put on jointly by the National Healthcare Lawyers As-

ter at its coldest and darkest, and fly off into the south-

sociation and the American Association of Healthcare

ern hemisphere’s summer sunshine.


Š Christiaan Triebert, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Flickr

The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature

| 63


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The Wayfarer Vol 3 issue 2  

Feature Articles: Feature Poet: C.M. Rivers, Saving the World by Jamie K. Reaser, Cosmos, Mythos & Spirit by Theodore Richards, The Men Died...

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