Letters to Luthien

Letters to My Future Bride

Sundry Thoughts and New Beginnings

Hello Darling,

The week is drawing to a close at last, and with it spring’s respite. I’ve been glad of the time off, but I’ll be glad to get back to a regular schedule; this week’s been awfully full. In a way, it’s a week of new starts…new week, new season, new house. I’ve left the megachurch job as well as making the move to another house — back with Alegfast, incidentally. A clean break from some unhealthy places, and a good chance to make some changes.

I’m here in the new place tonight in fact, hopefully to stay for at least a year. It smells old, like my great-grandmother’s house I was just telling you about. I like that. It’s a lot closer to work and school which will be nice. Moving three times in one year is quite a feat, and it can take a toll. And what is it about change that makes you nostalgic even for the times that weren’t that great? Just because they were present in your life for some part of it, even a difficult part?

And what is it about darkness that frees my thoughts?

1) The other night as the shift wound down, my colleague thanked me profusely for my help, knowing that her labors would have doubled if I hadn’t come in. “Mister big personality,” she called me. “Works his butt off.” It certainly had been a busy shift, and with the occasional gratification of achieving tasks that even the nurses weren’t able. That’s always nice, right up until they start asking you to do them again.

2) Have you ever wondered what people say about you behind your back? You shouldn’t eavesdrop if you don’t want to hear the truth, but I do wonder. “Ah, old Beren,” they might say. “Pleasant enough in his own way. Bit of a dreamer, he is. Bit of a loner too, not a lot of fun to be around and a bit taken with himself.” I wonder…I wonder what they’d say at my funeral. Oh, all nice things of course, no one’s allowed to be mean. But I’m not convinced it would be well-attended, even at this stage of the game. And it makes me wonder, have I made enough of a difference in the world, proportionate to what I’ve been given? Am I doing enough? Will people remember me? Is it so important that they do? God also gave me the ability to function well in the spotlight. Even to need the spotlight now and again. So he also made me want to shy away from credit, because I know my inclination towards pride. I work as well behind the scenes as in front of them, and sometimes I prefer the anonymity for its own sake.

3) It’s only within the last few years that I feel like I’ve broken out, firmly established my place in the world and found my calling in it. I used to walk up and down the lane late at night praying for guidance and purpose. Now it feels strange not to pray for purpose, but in a sense I know I’m now following the path God has intended for me, and the main thing is to thank Him and to ask for course adjustments as events warrant.

4) I’ve mentioned before the concept of broad shoulders. God gave me the fortitude to muscle through tough situations, to be a sturdy influence, and to absorb a lot from the world. A few people know they can hit me up online or call me if they’ve had bad days and want to vent. And sometimes I read back the thoughts written within these letters and think, there’s no way any self-respecting woman would find this attractive, it’s just the belching out of each and every hidden angst and insecurity, most of which should be shut up and shut out and not talked about. Guys aren’t really supposed to be this whiny. Is that what it looks like to you? I suppose I’ve been just arrogant enough to presume you had the same view as I, that any thoughts or sadness was precious, because it came from the dark and raw recesses of your heart, the place I long to go, to earn enough trust to be escorted into. Perhaps I misjudged. I recall telling you before how they say Winston Churchill, who put on so brave a face as the leader of the free world, would go behind close doors, put his head on his wife’s lap and just sob. Are you willing to know that side of me, and to bear it up on occasion?

5) What value do you assign to aesthetics and appearance? I don’t find myself altogether terribly handsome. Some would disagree. Of course, beauty is only skin-deep, and personality survives as we age. But don’t looks matter? Fitness? My sister admonished me about looks recently, because I mentioned someone to her, and noted she was not altogether attractive. It’s not as though that’s all I value, but on the face of it, that’s all one can evaluate someone by. That’s the flaw I’ve mentioned before as a single Christian. We can’t just approach someone we find attractive and say “say kiddo, what are you doing for church next Sunday and let’s go together!” More likely than not, they’re unbelievers. Even within the ranks of believers, it’s tough to find someone compatible. And yes, looks, personality, fitness and chemistry all have their part to play. Fitness is becoming increasingly important to me, perhaps as an outlet to burn off some of this fire within.

6)  I think the flaw of so many people today, trusting themselves too much. It’s hard to find the voice you trust enough to place more weight on it than your own judgments. And yet, although I have to trust them enough to act on them, I know myself too well to place too high a premium on my own judgment. My record has taught me to be wary of it.

7) I was thinking recently on the subject of going against the grain, and how I’ve always wanted to go against the crowd because the direction of the cultural is so diametrically opposite of true north as to function as its own poor man’s moral compass. I realized that, in general, I like finding and hearing the things I don’t want to hear. I don’t want sermons that tell me I’m okay the way I am, because I know I’m not. I don’t want to listen to my mind telling me to lay around and be unproductive, or my mouth telling me to eat unhealthy foods for their taste. Sometimes, doing the exact opposite of what your body tells you is how best to grow. Oh sure, I lay around or eat unhealthy often enough, but in general I thrive best in challenging and disciplining myself. I’m a fighter, and my greatest and most challenging foe is myself. I don’t need to be told what’s good and right…I need reminding of it. I need to dwell in it and inhabit it, constantly, because like every other human being, I forget. And somehow, we need to find a way for you to challenge me like this, or to help in those disciplines.

8) What does it mean to be a great guy? I think if you asked the random girl, she’d say a guy who listens and understands, who gets the doors and isn’t mean, who takes out the trash or does laundry and dishes once in a while. I don’t know, I find myself striving towards this standard, and when I think about it, I don’t quite know what it entails. When I fall into the trap of comparing, I have to admit, my pride looks at a fellow and gets ahead of itself, saying there’s a lot I have that he doesn’t. What does that mean to you?

9) The gathering last night went well, quite well indeed for the first real hosting I’ve done solo. The “act like you’ve been there” part is a bit eclipsed behind “I have friends! And they’ll all come over to my house when I invite them, and enjoy themselves, and thank me on their way out!” But I was feeling a bit lonesome after everyone went home. I’m not sure why. I guess any theater feels empty after the crowd leaves. Which means nothing will ever truly be fulfilling because it ends. You could throw a party tomorrow, invite guests and honor me before all the world. And even if I were willing to relish the moment, a part of it would be tinged with bitterness because it would end. Sometimes it’s hard for me to live in the moment because of its transience. But to go out with you and know I can see you again, or one day when I can go out with you and then come back home with you, tuck into bed with you. That has more meaning to me than the rest of the moments of boom-and-bust. Sometimes boom-and-bust is the story of my life, and I love the running, but there are aspects of my life in which I would prefer something quiet, steady and constant.

10) Have you figured out people very much yet, dear? Me neither. It’s a progressive and limitless task. People, my dear, want the world to be different and better. When it isn’t, they drift into stories. That is why movie stars make so much money and why the magazines sell so well which dissect their everyday lives. People don’t want to be told the truth — that the world is crumbling, that we have a duty to save whom we may, that dragons roam the land and that our boots must be planted firmly to resist the darkness. People want their life cozy and soft, with just enough solid underneath to keep from sinking. I’ve been engaging in a bit of an experiment lately with social media, posting thoughts about dogs and cookies and beaches and movies, and less of the news of peril and danger and duty. The response has confirmed the hypothesis. They don’t want to read your deeper thoughts, or know you’re in pain. People, my dear, are the same. The more you meet of them, the more commonalities you find in human nature. There are divergent people out there though. I call them Outliers, and I do love a good outlier. Outliers are familiar with a state of semi-gloom. They are wise enough to be content neither with the world nor with themselves, for they are wise enough to know the limits of both. Outliers are not so easily satisfied by the world, and more attuned to its darkness. (If only such darkness passed as quickly and surely as winter.)

11) This site was recently compromised, my dear. People I didn’t ever want seeing these letters found their way. It’s hard to complain too loud since this place, although anonymous, is public. Yet it took some searching to find, so it’s still an invasion of sorts. I contemplated removing the site, shutting the walls and staunching the soul. After all, there are parts of every soul that were never made to be seen, at least by those close to them. I considered returning to my old medium, and found plain document paper not at all compelling. There’s something, my dear, about knowing these words to you may give light and warmth and comfort and inspiration to others as they wing their way to you. A hundred people have subscribed so far (which means there’s maybe two dozen actual pairs of eyes that read) and in a way, knowing that someone else is watching keeps me accountable. But for whatever value such promises hold, I’ve been promised it won’t be viewed again. To have rawest secrets rooted out and ingested is a bit like being robbed or pillaged, so I trust those promises will be kept.

12) Writing these letters is like cooking, plucking the best of thoughts from my mind and moments from a day. Some of these thoughts have been on ice for a while, I’ll admit. And how many more times do you think I can reprise the theme of missing and needing you without you growing tired of it? How often can I reiterate that I’m empty and lost without you? At least a few more times, I am sure. Will you ever grow tired of such a message, of being told you’re needed and wanted and missed?

My time is long since gone. Thank you for reading, and I hope you rest well.

Yours,
Beren

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March 24, 2014 Posted by | About Me, Sundry Thoughts | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Time Is Coming, Part 2

On The Marriage of T.K and C.C. The Morning Stormy
Thomas Carew

Such should this day be, so the sun should hide
His bashful face, and let the conquering Bride
Without a rival shine, whilst he forbears
To mingle his unequal beams with hers;
Or if sometimes he glance his squinting eye
Between the parting clouds, ’tis but to spy,
Not emulate her glories, so comes dressed
In veils, but as a masquer to the feast.
Thus heaven should lower, such stormy gusts should blow
Not to denounce ungentle Fates, but show
The cheerful Bridegroom to the clouds and wind
Hath all his tears, and all his sighs assigned.
Let tempests struggle in the air, but rest
Eternal calms within thy peaceful breast,
Thrice happy Youth; but ever sacrifice
To that fair hand that dried thy blubbered eyes,
That crowned thy head with roses, and turned all
The plagues of love into a cordial,
When first it joined her virgin snow to thine,
Which when today the Priest shall recombine,
From the mysterious holy touch such charms
Will flow, as shall unlock her wreathed arms,
And open a free passage to that fruit
Which thou hast toiled for with a long pursuit.
But ere thou feed, that thou may’st better taste
Thy present joys, think on thy torments past.
Think on the mercy freed thee, think upon
Her virtues, graces, beauties, one by one,
So shalt thou relish all, enjoying the whole
Delights of her fair body, and pure soul.
Then boldly to the fight of love proceed,
‘Tis mercy not to pity though she bleed,
We’ll strew no nuts, but change that ancient form,
For till tomorrow we’ll prorougue the storm,
Which shall confound with its loud whistling noise
Her pleasing shrieks, and fan thy panting joys.

March 21, 2014 Posted by | Poems | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tips

Dear Darling,

I was thinking the other night about what I could give you, right here, right now. These written echoes are all I know to give, other than to build myself up in anticipation of your desires. And I realized, if I had a list of “insider tips” about you, insights into your character and even a suggestion for how to respond, it would probably be invaluable.

These are not directives or instructions on catering to my moods, or anything resembling “how you should treat me.” As I’ve said, understanding myself is an ongoing process, and I learn more about me all the time. These are the results of those reflections on myself, and suggestions for how to act or react to my various flaws, quirks and eccentricities.

1. Whatever you do, don’t say anything bad about my mom. Even if I do.

2. Care. Please, oh please care, always and ever. Actively listen and engage me. Draw me out of myself, ask me about my day, or how I feel about something, because that’s so much of what I need and look for and seek after. Men aren’t supposed to spill their guts, nor have the arrogance to presume it’s wanted. But I want someone to care enough to ask and give me permission to spill a little, who won’t take “fine” as an answer. If you want me to, I’ll spill. But only if you want me to. And then, I’ll tidy up, recompose myself, dismiss the darkness, and turn the spotlight back on you.

3. Nudge me if I’m hogging the spotlight. I think we all try to use personal examples to relate to people, but sometimes it blurs the lines between identifying with someone and hijacking the conversation to talk about yourself. I’m fairly conscious of this, but if you ever feel we’ve shifted focus, do say so won’t you?

4. Be gentle and kind. Do you know how rare those traits are becoming? Darling, there will be times, plenty of them, when I’m going to slip and be a totally clueless idiot. I’ll say the wrong things, do the wrong things, make a terrible hash of it and be an insensitive jerk. As much as possible, cut me some slack and point that out gracefully. 90 percent of the time, it’s not on purpose. I’ll feel even worse than if you snap back, but if you are really patient and earn a trust even in the heat of argument, I know I’ll listen better.

5. Help me make decisions. I’m really good at right/wrong decisions, but if it’s not right or wrong, it’s not always easy.

6. Question me. Ask me the questions you’ve always wanted to ask a guy and never felt you could. “What were you like as a child?” “What’s it like to be a man?” “What are your greatest doubts or fears?” I don’t mind explaining, and it makes me feel good that you want to learn about me.

7. Accept that work is part of who I am. Every man derives some of his identity from his work and the ability to provide. I will try to preserve the balance, but please understand that sometimes, if I’m not working, I won’t feel fulfilled or useful, or even know what to do with myself.

8. Study me. Notice the little things. Pay attention to the things I like. There’s few things more gratifying than for someone to give you a gift or mention something in a comment that shows they remember something about you, that they studied, observed and didn’t forget it, and let it come out somewhere else in a compassionate way: “Oh! You were remembered that?” It shows understanding, accommodation, deference.

9. “Would you do that…for me?” A somewhat helpless, imploring appeal, will probably go pretty far and is also known as “not playing fair.”

10. Tell me what you need. I’ll always try to anticipate your needs, to expect them and plan for them, but sometimes I draw a blank and come up short. Sometimes I just need you to tell me what you need from me.

11. Remind me. Remind me to cut people slack. Remind me to be gracious…graciously. I forget that people are only human. Remind me to be encouraging. Remind me to put God and His will first. Remind me to pray for others. We all need those reminders, every day of our lives.

12. Try to understand me. It’s hard to keep the world off my shoulders sometimes, and there are certain darknesses in my soul you’ll just have to accept. Some things bothers me that don’t usually bother others. The fate my people troubles me, the fate of the nation. Please understand, or at least try. If you don’t, ask for clarification. There are times I think being understood is greater than being loved.

13. Be willing to show vulnerability and weakness. If you need me to hold you while you sob, there’s nothing I would rather do.

14. Validate me. A man’s ego is neither as strong nor as fragile as it seems, and we all need to hear we’re appreciated. Recognize, acknowledge and remind me that I’m a “great guy.” I try hard to live up to that, but sometimes I doubt.

15. Give me time. Some people are blessed with the ability to know their reaction to a comment and immediately respond. I am not always one of those people. Sometimes, a comment is made which takes me a while to realize actually upset me greatly.

16. Show me you appreciate and are grateful for my work and sacrifice. Smiling, giving me a peck on the cheek and saying “thank you for waiting” or “I really, really appreciate the work you put into this evening” or “I’m really grateful you chose to spend time with me tonight” would really, really validate those decisions, and keep me looking for the next right thing to do. Men aren’t that complicated, Darling, I’ve told you that. Any good dog will do what you want for praise and reward. Men are the same, trust me. Bestow a warm smile, a gracious hug or a heart-warming compliment to us and just watch us dance. Make a man feel like the greatest guy in the world, and it will inspire him to become even better.

17. Sometimes I have short temper bursts, usually at inanimate objects that drop or won’t close or won’t open or that hurt me. It’s petty, I know. I’m pretty sure words don’t fix those situations. Just a little sympathy is all. I’m good at putting big-boy pants on.

18. Celebrate me. I’ve got a birthday in a couple of weeks and I want it to be more than just the simple quiet family affair I’ve had for the last quarter-century. I would do this for people more often if I knew them well enough, or if enough people existed who would come to a surprise party. I helped put one together for two younger siblings a couple of years ago. And this past summer, I put a lot of effort into making one birthday special. It’s nice to have someone make a big deal for me, every once in a while. I have in mind to pick certain days at random in our family just to celebrate each member.

19. Inspire me. Give me the impossible advice of righteousness…the kind that will make me protest that only a perfect person could live up to it. The kind where I’m frustrated or angry and want to indulge my sinful nature and you say “why don’t you love them instead” or “why don’t you forgive them.” Of course it’s the right thing to do, and darn it if it’s the last thing I want to hear. But what are spouses for if not to spur each other on to impossibly higher heights of character?

20. Cook for me. Yes, there are plenty of male chefs, and no, a woman’s place is not in the kitchen. But like it or not, cooking is still kind of a woman’s thing. No diner ever made a killing by invoking memories of Dad’s cooking, and the prepackaged food in the stores doesn’t try to sell you on Grandpa’s apple turnovers. Now, I’m no a rube in the kitchen; I grill meats and scramble eggs. I fry fish, slice vegetables and peel fruit. I don’t order pizzas, or eat out except to join friends. If I want to get creative with the cutlery, I can. I just don’t have a palate that demands an hour of food prep, nor do I consider myself worth that much effort. But if you take it on as your job to keep your man fed, you get mad respect for that one. Part of the reason people get married is to look after each other, and part of the reason people date is to see if they want to get married. So if you’re dating me, note that I’ll be modeling the behavior I plan to show all throughout marriage, and that includes my desire to care for you in every aspect. In return, I’m looking for the same.

21. Cheer me. Sometimes a man needs his bride to be a coach. Sometimes, a team manager. Sometimes, a team player. And sometimes, he just needs someone cheering him on, being his biggest fan and his loudest champion.

I’ll be adding to this list as time goes by, so don’t forget to check back from time to time. And if you haven’t made one of these, I think it would be a loving and sensitive thing to do. We all need as much help as we can get.

Love,
Beren

March 20, 2014 Posted by | About Me, Things Other Guys Won't Do | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Moonlight and Memory

Dear Darling,

A week’s respite is working its charm. A walk tonight under a cloudy moon found my mind much more at ease, even if it’s still fairly chilly tonight. I indulged my domestic side with some dishes and laundry, and as the sun went down I lit the lamps, listened to a few sermons and cooked up a tray of chicken and a pan of cookies. I sure wish you could have come over to join me.

Tonight is one of those times where I say to myself, “Beren old chap, you’re really not that bad off. Truth be told, you’re among the luckiest of men and that’s a fact.” Maybe that’s why I’m loneliest too.

I’m writing an article right now, I have two more proposals in, and am working on a third for a much larger company I’ve published with before which paid me enough to buy the truck. I just sent in a piece to the New York Times, don’t know if it will be published or not. I’ve worked the past two nights and again that’s been meaningful. (I’ve almost…missed night shift.) I’m scheduled to spend time at the races next month, not as a spectator, but a responder. They come from thousands of miles to watch the horses and bid on them, but few are so fortunate as to ride behind them as they run.

In a year I’ll be a nurse, and that climb is less steep for the rest of the year. I’m working out and seeing results. I’m setting examples for people. I can tell I’m already becoming a better person each day than I was. I know that I’m going somewhere, and with purpose, and in a small way, am content even in loneliness. The strangest part of ongoing growth is seeing how small the me of each yesterday seems.

I’ve had a run of flashbacks recently. I rediscovered a melody with which I was enamored last year (was it only a year ago?) and scattering back with it were the memories of summertime and independence and travel and the ocean. It took a decided dip long about September, but all told last year really was a good year, with a lot of fond memories. I wish those moments lasted longer, and I wish I could relive a lot of them.

But even more than that, I’ve had flashbacks into my distant past. The rattle of a fan or a certain fragrance have, on separate occasions, taken me back to the house of my great-grandmother where we’d stay sometimes as children. She was a relic from the past, my great-grandmother. She had memories of her grandmother retelling the story of hiding escaped slaves under piles of cotton. She had a portrait of an ancestor during the Civil War, and the cloak in which she was photographed still hung in her garage. I can still recall the smell of the dogs she kept in her house, the echo of the switchback staircase, the rotary dial phones and floral-patterned wallpaper. The dank and musty basement, the endless knickknacks on her shelves, the colored glass lampshades. Her push-button light switches, the gas stove and the smell of buttered toast. I used to sit out on her front porch sipping orange juice and watch the cars. She always used to have orange juice on hand because she knew I liked it. I think I’d even pray out there. My mother was a child here, she grew up right down the lane. I don’t know why I remember that house more than one or two that I’ve lived in. Nor why those memories come back tonight. Nor indeed why they should be terribly important for you to read. If you’ve ever had the simple joy of wandering back through rooms of your mind you’ve neglected for some time, then you’ll understand. And I suppose the hallmark of getting old(er) is the increasing value of memories.

Funny how memories only seem valuable after the fact.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that children today are living different childhoods than I, but no less formative. And sometimes, I really, really wish you and I were already in the position to make our parents proud with grandchildren. I’ve seen a lot of new parents the last two months. I’ve seen two homosexual couples, a large number of drug addicts, people with sexually-transmitted diseases, smokers and poor couples from the impoverished hill country. I’ve even seen one woman in her forties with a newborn baby whose father came out of a jar. These couples are far less equipped to find their way than we are, and in most cases they’re much younger than I. It would be nice to stop reading the instructions on these things and get started on the actual assembly. There’s only so much books can tell you.

Ah my dear, we’re going to need to remember to stay outward focused. We need to be the type that is organized enough to entertain couples and families. When our union rises from the ashes of loneliness, we shouldn’t forget those still left behind. The lonely, the single and the bereft…where will they go if not to the church and its members? To bars, or movies. I’ve not yet been in the situation in which I could sponsor random and serendipitous dinner invitations, but would you mind terribly if, on some occasion after church, we forced ourselves to invite some young couple or a struggling single to our house?

I’m always grateful for the times when my brain and body have opportunity to push their limits. Such limits also mean the times of relaxation are twice-blessed, and they allow more freedom for thoughts about you. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about you, I daresay. There are a lot of phone calls, text messages and invitations you’ve never received, along with a lot of flowers and gifts and kisses. We’ve fought a hundred times already in my mind, but we’ve made up a thousand times more.

Life is good, my dear. But it would be better if you were here. Do hurry up, won’t you?

Love,
Beren

March 20, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Your Time Is Coming

GleamingBrideDear Darling,

We all have our time in the light.

I’m not talking about fifteen minutes of fame. I’m talking about the moments where the sun shines fair and the light catches us just right to magnify all of our best and favorite features. We look our best, and feel our best, we feel grand and capable and hopeful, and everyone is looking at us while it happens, wishing us happiness and joy.

You’ve had a taste of that here and there, I know. Times you won, times you were proud of yourself, never happier to be you, times when everything came together at just the right time, or you were paid a compliment that somehow fell through your defenses, or you caught your reflection smiling back and approving your favorite outfit.

One day, someday soon, that day is coming round, bigger and better than it ever has been. It’ll be the sum of all those parts put together. Your friends will come to honor you, our families will celebrate and give gifts. The bells will ring, the organ play and down the aisle will come the only person that matters among the whole crowd in the entire church. Every eye will turn to you, radiant and glorious in white.

You will get to fret over wedding cards and decorations and venues just like you’ve wanted to, only this time you won’t be worried about bridesmaids’ outfits which fit or compliment you, but your friends. You’ll shine brightly in our engagement and wedding photos, and of these I attach the greatest premium. I don’t see us lacking for photographers with as many friends as I know in the industry, and these are the captured moments that can outlast a wedding gown or bouquet. We won’t let our friends and family be snapping away with their phones, but invite them to be present in the moment itself.

You will go from joy to joy as we seal our vows with a kiss, celebrate our union with a dance, and then depart at last.

But it’s not just a day, sweet heart. Days can disappoint, fail, be sabotaged. Winds can mar, rain can soak, tempers can flare. We can’t hinge all these golden hopes on the one day, but each one after. We can rest in each new morning, in the simple and intricate confidence of knowing we rise together to face life’s challenges.

You can rise knowing you’ve found something equal, something new. Something that turns your head because it touches your mind or heart in a way no one ever does, that you thought no one could. Something surprising and unexpected. Someone who asks questions, appreciates rawness, can get you to talk more, invite themselves to listen more. Someone who gives you an outlet, a ray of hope, a new perspective…or who will at least try.

Oh my dear, you’ve lived in the shadow often enough, unappreciated, unrecognized. You’re a crown of beauty, and one day the curtain will draw back and you’ll be properly brought into the light.

And oh, how you’ll gleam.

Until then.

Love,
Beren

March 20, 2014 Posted by | Anticipation, Our Timeline, Our Wedding | , , , , | Leave a comment

Work Without Hope

Work without Hope
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter, slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrighten’d, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.

March 18, 2014 Posted by | Poems | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fireside

Dear Darling,

It’s the winter that won’t quit, but I don’t mind. When seasons change slowly, we don’t appreciate the differences. This year, we have spring one day and winter the next. Last night I walked outside. Tonight there’s snow again. Several days past, I was running on the old highway in shorts, and the day after it was bitterly cold again. Ah, but again, I don’t mind. I have faith in spring.

For now, I’m warm and content to be bedded down by the fire tonight.

I am leaving my post at the megachurch at last my dear, pursuing a true church and the preaching of the word. For a short time, I’m accompanying Alegfast, his nonromantic girlfriend Gladhbrui and Loswen to visit some area houses of worship. This morning was small, sparse and aging, with an eager population repeatedly encouraging us to do what I knew we would almost certainly not do — return. I also find it more challenging to focus on God and knowingly worship Him through music if I’m constantly taking in the new customs, faces and surroundings.

It would be nice if you’d have been around to call. I have a lot of free time this week, with no plans on how to spend it other than work. It would have been so nice to phone you to catch up, or for you to come over and spend time. (Time, not the night.)

There are other thoughts bidding to be in print, but they are too fragmented yet to air.

I hope you’re well tonight, love.

Yours,
Beren

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Good Days and Loud Thoughts

man-and-the-moonlightDear Darling,

I’m back on the homestead tonight, managing by myself. It’s a full moon, and probably the first one in months whose light I can walk in, quietly and undisturbed. But like a head that keeps spinning after the ride has stopped, a swirling mist of thoughts still impede the calm I’m seeking. It would take a World Detox to restore the full potency of the moon’s calming effect.

It’s not that I lack peace, or am deeply troubled by these thoughts. It’s only that the ringing of ears and whooshing of thoughts doesn’t slow just because my pace has. And anyway, the pace the last few days has still been crazy.

I fear my prayers are falling into something of a cycle any more. I’m rising before the sun five days a week now, and often eating the morning meal while preparing the afternoon meal. Thus, the Word falls by the wayside, and while I’m making up for it by listening to its preaching, I know I need to be more diligent about carving off my own slices when I can. I’m mostly praying for friends, family and my own horizons. (And, of course, you.) But the slain saints in Iraq? The oppressed in Russia? The grieving in Nigeria, the laboring in Haiti, the political struggles and ever-diminishing freedoms of my own people? The patients I see at the hospital? Not often enough.

Here we find two conundrums of the Christian’s walk. The first, forgetfulness of neglect or forgetfulness of repetition. The Lord repeatedly admonished His people on ways to remember, because we humans are prone to forget. He carved these traditions deep into the minds of His people, lest we forget. But then, how many times have we said a token prayer before a meal because it’s ingrained in our mind to pray and we sent not the slightest emotion of true gratitude heavenward?

The second, the balance of living in the world while not being of it. You want to find some degree of comfort and rhythm to this life, but not finding a place in the world so much that it finds a place in you.

That’s where I am right now. I’ve had several good days recently. The weather has changed, and kept on changing, bringing with it the sunshine’s thaw and then winter’s freeze, sometimes under the same sunrise. I just don’t want to drift afoul of God’s will.

So these thoughts continue to swirl along as I walk. The robins in the pine trees protest my presence, and I’m pretty sure that’s a rabbit I hear bounding away in fright. Maybe my thoughts are too loud for them. And unless I’m mistaken, that’s the first spider-web of the season caught on my forehead.

I like a good quiet walk…but I like a mad pace too. Yesterday I wrapped a class, ran some errands and then returned to swim a personal best distance of six and a half furlongs, on top of a mile run. This morning I ran a race with a classmate and his brother-in-law, and we unexpectedly took second ranking in the whole city.

I previewed the miracle of birth this past week, my dear. Three tiny lives newly-begun in the world. I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s such a privilege to be at the forefront of such pivotal moments in life, spending time with the laboring mothers or the nursery with the infants. Once again, it will put me ahead of the curve for when our time comes.

Looks like I’m moving this weekend. Although I do believe the Lord opened up the opportunity at the time, I came home the other night and am fairly certain my roommate had engaged the services of a hired woman to share his bed. He isn’t the sort I estimated conducting such business at all, and my judgment may be far askance. However vague the nature of the transaction, the process was abundantly obvious. I believe I even heard the muffled exclamations. Such things were thoroughly lacking throughout my upbringing. So, yes. Time to move on. It tends to keep one imbalanced when “home” changes so much, you know.

Also, I hope you’re not particularly attached to television. Mind you, the point is inconsequential. I simply find that if I sit down to watch it, the hours while away in idleness and I’m ill-at-ease when I rise and see how much time is wasted with nothing done.

Ah, but these have been some good days of late. I’m laying by some promising plans for the summer, and it’s only another handful of weeks before that begins.

I hope your mind is bathed in serenity and your hair bathed in moonlight tonight. Rest well, love. Pleasant dreams.

-Beren

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Painfully Incorruptible

TemplarMeditation_1

“Lay a whisper on my pillow
Leave the winter on the ground
I wake up lonely, this air of silence
In the bedroom, and all around…”

Dear Darling,

I woke up this morning with a sense of loneliness and emptiness, deeper than it’s been in a while — which is saying something. You know well enough that I hit these spells of finding myself needing an intervention, someone to pull me up out of the fatigue, dust me off, cheer me up, take me along.

Surely you’ve felt that feeling before. If you’ve never experienced that emptiness, I don’t know how to describe it to you. It’s the wanting of a voice — almost any will do if it speaks kindly — that reminds you that you’re good, kind, worthwhile, desired, special. But the catch is, you need not just to be told you’re not alone or good or wanted, but to feel it and believe it…and believe it from someone you trust. Now, there are plenty of voices that are complimentary out there…the voices of sheep, those made to feel safe or be safe by my presence. But none of such stature as to make me receptive to their compliments. I think only yours is the one that will actually make me believe that.

You may stop and ask me, “what did you mean by sheep just now?” That sounds derogatory, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it to. But years ago I learned that the world made more sense when viewed through the classification of wolves, sheep and sheepdogs. If I never shared this illuminating article on the subject, please read it now. It explains my nature better even than I could, and helped me understand myself — the impulse to serve, the instinct to react, the drive to learn and study how to be more useful to the world. (I’m thinking of certifying as a life guard this summer for instance.) I think it makes sense that for some, God implanted the desire to serve and guard and protect…a compulsion to better the world even if the world worsens you in the process. To care for people, to care about them, to your own endless fatigue. They don’t, after all, care for you in return. I don’t remember the last time anyone called me “just to catch up” or to see how I’m doing, and few are the friends who text me just to see how the day is going.

There is something about dealing with emergencies for a living that sets you apart. It’s not ego or condescension Darling, it’s just the truth. I went out to dinner with my same friends last night, Loswen and Alegfast and the rest. Having just come off the floor of a busy medicine ICU, having stood by those who were waging their silent war against death, I was struck again by the banality and triviality of their pursuits and conversations. It’s one reason why they’ll never understand me, not really. They sipped their wine and their jokes became increasingly vulgar, and I see anew that these people are sheep. They are harmless and safe — exactly what I hope never to be. There’s nothing wrong with being a sheep after all, and these work hard and have their own set of skills and talents given them by God. But I know I would be claustrophobic in their lives, and never be content being a sheep. It’s just who I was made to be.  I’ve never stopped running, never stopped trying to better myself, never stopped trying to be useful.

But when you want to be understood, it’s hard to find kinship among the sheep, and hard to go from participating in the most significant moments in a person’s life — of life itself — to chatting about the most ridiculous stories and useless societal engagements. Maybe I’m tired of being a big person in a world of small people. Maybe I just want the same respect I had for my field that I did when it was only an aspiration. I asked a colleague about it tonight, an officer of thirteen years. He strongly agreed, it’s hard to exist in a world where you are always prepared not for if things go wrong, but when. Because when they do, you have to bring your A-game, he said, and no one understands that. When sheep make mistakes, an art print goes wrong, a printer doesn’t work, a tuxedo is misshapen. When a sheepdog makes mistakes, lives hang in the balance. It would be nice if they would at least appreciate that some of us are willing to face those odds, I mused to him. He chuckled and said he was a bitter man in some ways because of it, but thirteen years has taught him never to expect appreciation.

I could never tell them this is how I feel. Sheep show little regard for the sheepdog until he is needed, but even then, it would be ungentle to tell them, and they wouldn’t understand. And I suppose, to help him forget the weight of life and the battle of wolves, the sheepdog needs the sheep.

“I just feel like whenever you hang around with us, we’re corrupting you!” Dirvestalë exclaimed. (It was his birthday we were celebrating, and though I had no great desire for wine or overpriced entrees, I put myself in his shoes and felt I should be present for a while.)  I spoke not a word of judgment, even as the wine loosened their tongues, so I don’t know whence this observation came. I grasped for tactful words to deflect, but truthfully I’m not sure he’s wrong.

I’m far from incorruptible. But I never did feel as comfortable invoicing God’s account of grace as others seem to. I know I can’t earn salvation, but I’m still puzzled by this equalization wherein the deeds of a man seem not to weigh on his account, such that grace simply steps in and makes up for any deficit. It’s as if God’s grace is an overdraft protection against sin, and we all need that protection and forgiveness, some of us try to need it less, or to make sure the debits are neither as big nor as willful. I want to spend my deeds responsibly, make them be worthwhile and lasting. Sports, pop culture, reality TV…none of that is lasting. “Civic religion,” a friend called it; a slow idolatry of letting the world cozy into your heart. But grace covers every overdraft, and again, how does that promote responsibility?

Sometimes I get lost in the could-be’s or might-have’s. Wondering if I missed a chance, or made the wrong move. I have to remind myself God’s in control, even if it’s hard to believe my circumstances are where He wants me to be. I struggle to know how best to operate within my culture. Where does acceptance, tolerance or compromise end, and integration, grace and evangelism begin? Of Jesus, they said he was a gluttonous man and drunkard who sat with sinners. Does that mean we shouldn’t care about our witness before men? Or doesn’t the world expect that a Christian doesn’t frequent bars? People tell me I can be short on grace. Some of these voices are the sheep who find taking a stand distasteful. But even sheep can be wise, and some of them ring with a truth I can’t deny, even if I have difficulty merging it with everyday life. If only my own sins grieved me as much as others. The price of having been a Christian your whole life and having not really made breathtaking overdraws on the account — and living in a culture which makes overdrawing into a spectator sport — you start to feel a little proud of yourself for staying strong and above the fray.

“Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.” Aha, but good is a dwindling commodity in this world, that no one can deny. Even the seemingly committed Christians don’t seem to mind the darkness, not as much as they ought. “Doesn’t this bother you,” I ask. Not really. And if we become increasingly tolerant of the deeds of darkness, and accept them in the name of tolerance rather than renouncing the deeds and imploring the doers to escape them, where will our culture end up? (Hint: I think we’re already nine-tenths there.)

Invariably, the people who don’t operate under this model — the outliers — interest me. People who don’t follow the normal script, who stand out and are exceptional, who have seen the darkness, and sometimes live under its shadow. But it’s hard to find someone who’s an outlier and a sheepdog…who knows the weight of the compulsion to serve, who cares and appreciates and listens, if such a thing will be done to them in their turn.

It makes you think and feel and wonder…having never met anyone else like me, is it possible there really is no one else? A man with a legacy of political change under his belt (who just this week was on the line with the editor of the New York Times) but who traded that cape for a plastic hospital gown, who carries enough knowledge and equipment of his own to save a life, or render that life beyond saving, that “funny critter” with his nose to the wind even though he’s not paid to protect?

And the truth is, in finding no one that seems to reflect or understand these perspectives and principles, on what do I base this great hope to find someone as psychologically and emotionally compatible as I’ve thought I might? Maybe I truly am a unique, one-of-a-kind. If I’ve dwelt in my head for this long and still continually seek to explain myself, how could I expect someone else to understand me? If so I need to dismiss the hopes of finding someone that sees the world as I do…maybe expect that the person I find really won’t be on the same page as me in a lot of ways.

You may think I’m making my life out to be grander than I ought. Maybe I am. But Darling, keep in mind, I’m confiding to you the hardships and pitfalls of it all, not the glories. I’m lamenting this existence, not lauding it. It requires massive energy to sustain, and has a cyclic effect of peaks and troughs. Sometimes it depends gentle classic tunes to soothe it, and sometimes the wild and angry storms to appease its tumult.

Believe me my dear, this life, this love, these thoughts, make for far better reading than they do living.

Yours,
Beren

“Make-believing we’re together
That I’m sheltered by your heart.
But in and outside I’ve turned to water
Like a teardrop in your palm.
And it’s a hard winters day, I dream away…”

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | | 1 Comment

Always and Never Alone

HeWalksAlone

“Where has that old friend gone, lost in a February song
Tell him it won’t be long til he opens his eyes, opens his eyes
Where is that simple day before colors broke into shades
And how did I ever fade into this life, into this life?”

Dear Darling,

The page turns and another month is concluded. It’s been a year of ups and downs so far Darling, nothing phenomenal and nothing terrible, just an increasing speed as we plow through the breakers.

I’ve always been a bit wary of occasions in which a man and woman share dinner and a movie, or operate under similar circumstances which would normally be branded a date. At times, the line between kindness and flirtation already grows thin enough. I don’t want to lead a girl on, nor feed a placebo relationship and shortchange the soul of the nourishment it requires. But twice this week, I’ve been “out” with different friends in a form some would construe as a date. Loswen and I met for casual dinner, and somehow she found a way to make me do most of the talking.

Tonight, having invited several friends, only one could make it, a classmate I’ll call Nyérëwen. I knew we had similar beliefs, and that she was a single mom whose husband left her. She was on the verge of mourning due to the death of a mutual classmate. I asked her questions about her life. My intent was to listen to her and let her talk, because obviously she’d come by bitter roads, although I doubt she feels I did her a favor by listening. It doesn’t matter…the actual benefit given is what matters. She was distracted and occupied tonight, and perhaps that’s reason enough that no one else came. I suppose I don’t mind. She obviously needed to get her mind off the bad day she’d been having, even if it was dinner and a dollar movie with me. I wanted to hug her close and tell her she’d made the Lord proud through all of her struggles, and that she was so close to finally breaking even. But one restrains such expressions; knowing what to say isn’t always useful if you know you shouldn’t say it. Words weave powerful spells, and you must take caution on whom you cast them.

Still, I wonder how many people have wanted to do that to me and restrained themselves? And I can’t remember the time someone sat down with me just to listen, asking questions when the words ran dry, intentionally applying therapeutic listening skills to help me feel better. And then, I presume, patted themselves on the back before going straight home to tell their unknown bride what a good listener they are.

I wish I could say I knew this classmate that died, but with so many women in the program, I didn’t. I wish I’d shared the gospel with her, but how could I have known? Sometimes the gospel is lived, not preached, but maybe that’s just as easily a coward’s way out. I’m sure I’ve told you how, whether megachurches, airports or the vast complex of hospital floors on which I work, I’ve always wound up working with large masses of people. It’s been difficult to remember names or faces, and I’ve been known to lose track of who’s already heard what story or bit of news.

It does seem that loneliness transcends these crowds. I’ve been with friends this week, in a few different groups and settings. For a little while, it staves off loneliness. But only at the time. I had most of the day off today, and again, after a packed week, I still went slightly stir crazy with “only” an article to work on.

I’m always looking for things that explain me as you know, Darling. Half the sum of these letters are my meager attempts to explain myself, to me as much as you. In light of that, take a look at this article. Traits one through six apply directly, as well as numbers ten and fourteen. I always thought sensitivity was a trait you chose, a behavior you selected. I’m not sure it occurred to me that “some people just aren’t as sensitive.”

I went to the bookstore two nights back. Their anthologies of poetry were unfortunate, and I walked out without one book of poetry in hand. What is the world coming to?

I’m likely to be moving again. A dark-hearted cheat tried to sell me a dream about renting my own house, but in time I saw through the lies. And the fellow I room with currently is presenting behaviors I don’t think I can long abide. So, in all likelihood it’s back with Alegfast, in a house too old and cramped and tight for my liking. But the price, company and proximity are right.

More icy weather is on the way this week. They say it could be bad, in the truest tradition of my city’s ice storm heritage. Bring it on.

I’m still praying for you, you know. I hope your weekend has a little more receiving and a little less giving than mine.

Love,
Beren

“And I never want to let you down; forgive me if I slip away
When all that I’ve known is lost and found
I promise you I, I’ll come back to you one day.”

– Josh Groban

March 1, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment