2018…

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Today
is the last day
of the worst year
of my life

The only comfort is so small
that it is no comfort at all:
that next year will be even worse
as will each one that follows

There is no road ahead, just a path
with cliffs on either side
and the disorienting knowledge of
the ugliness of self-pity

The Christmas Trigger

 

christmas triggerFor a lot of people, this season is not the jolly one that it is supposed to be. Songs and movies that give comfort and joy to many, pull a decidedly nasty trigger for others. It is no coincidence that suicide rates rise during the holidays.

The days are as short as they get in the northern hemisphere and the darkness at the end of each one gets longer. It gets so cold at this time of year that our bones shiver and teeth chatter. Nature throws some of her worst at us and the way our society responds – with parties and gifts and time off from work – has the opposite of its intended effect on many of the ones it is trying to comfort.

This is a season of reflection. I think of family and friends who have died or drifted away. Luck and institutional advantages have offered me a life filled with joys big and small, so most of my memories are happy ones that help me get through these short, cold days but some people would just as soon forget all the ghosts of Christmas past.

Christmas is the season of love, the kind of love that exists in its purest form in every religion, moral philosophy, and agency that works to get food to the hungry and justice to the abused. And when justice is not possible, that pure love gives compassion and hope.

You don’t need to have a picture-perfect holiday, or find the greatest gift, or pretend that you’re jolly at the holiday parties. You do need to know that there are people in the world, even if they don’t know you, who are thinking about you in the midst of their holiday hoopla, and are hoping that you make it through this season stronger for your fight against the Christmas trigger.

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Like most people…

Like most people, the first time I saw a ghost it was hanging over the bathroom sink. Part of him was me but most of him was not. What was most recognizable about him was the fact that it would take very little effort to shatter him into shards.

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Memorial – Ruth Detjen

I recently went to a memorial service for the mother of a friend.

You can tell a lot about a person by the things people say about them when they’re not around, and by the memories of the people who love her.

They talked about strawberry shortcake and Volkswagens; falling trees and fireworks; telephone calls and Pretty in Pink. But what they were really talking about was love.

You can also tell a lot about a person by the memories and thoughts she shares through her art.

Ruth’s family offered her paintings to the gathering, an invitation to take a piece of her home with us.

The colors and mood of this one grabbed my attention:

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Ruth was also a poet, and we went home with a book of her poems, written over all the decades of her adult life. Here are four of the ones that found a place in my memory:

Secrets

There are no secrets.

They are plainly seen

in the pain and sadness

of a woman’s eyes.

Old Cup

The gossamer veins in the porcelain cup

Reveal a pattern,

like the crinkled folds in a love letter

impulsively crumpled, then rescued, smoothed.

The cup comforts my hand, warming, loving –

its healing roundness a balm of

honey mint and tea.

If this cup was carelessly dropped,

Shattering into fragments like falling stars,

if this should happen,

Falling, shattering, scattering china amidst

dust and crumbs on the floor –

I would sweep it all up, then carefully select

Just one piece – the largest, smoothest curve

of pure white china –

and place it gently on the window sill

in the warm pristine morning light.

Ladies of the Day Room 1956

tired of searching for a wandering,

feisty old person singing

Christmas Carols to herself and

muttering in German, they put her away.

They took me to see her in the

state hospital.

I saw patients being

led through the halls with staring

opaque glass eyes and silly smiles.

A beaming round faced colored woman

padded over to us on swollen feet and ankles

spilling out of her green institutional

slippers

told me in her lilting voice about the fish

she caught last night, cooked it

at it and it was so good,

smacked her lips, praised the Lord

laughing showing a

gold tooth.

And she was led away, humming to herself.

My grandmother – think, boney – paper-skinned

complexion as white as her hair,

fire barely flickering in her pale blue eyes

looked blankly at us.

she was hell on wheels, once.

Agitated, she asked “where’s Mama?

there’s something I have to ask her

when are we getting off this train?”

Grandma gripped my had so tightly,

I thought it would break.

Lost Dream

Waking with a delicate thread of a dream

just at the fringes of memory –

I should have grabbed a pencil, jotted down

the elusive thoughts and tied them

to paper before they slipped away.

the longing sensation lingers in my consciousness

somewhere under the busy-ness

of the day.

If only the thoughts had a name –

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Ruth Detjen and her daughter Amy