Letters to Luthien

Letters to My Future Bride

Twilight Nigh

019-roadsThe Road Goes Ever On and On
J.R.R. Tolkein

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

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August 30, 2014 Posted by | Poems | , , , , | Leave a comment

Happiness Pursued Was Never Caught

I hold these two.  Contentment comes when sought,
While Happiness pursued was never caught.
   But, sudden, storms the heart with mighty throes
   Whenceforth, mild eyed Content affrighted goes,
To seek some calmer heart, less danger fraught.

Bold Happiness knows but one rival—Fear;
   Who follows ever on his footsteps, sent
   By jealous Fate who calls great joy a crime.
While in far ways ’mong leaves just turning sere,
With gaze serene and placid, walks Content.
   No heart ere held these two guests at one time.

-Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Dear Darling,

What makes you happy?

Are you happy right now? Am I? Is happiness even the goal? Are we sure it even should be. What would make you happy right now? What would be your second choice?

What is happiness? What do you call happy, and when is it? Can it truly be found this side of heaven, and if so, where and how? Is happiness absolute, or on a spectrum? Does it grow because of circumstances or in spite of them? Is it a choice, or serendipity? What causes it? Do we deserve it? Is it selfish any time we pursue our own happiness at the expense of others? Is there a reward for pursuing the happiness of others at our own expense?

Is it better to be easily pleased, or should one derive greater meaning? How much happiness does it take before its pursuit produces diminishing returns, or diminishes the cause of the kingdom?

Good evening Darling, and yes, another fusillade of futility tonight, an inquisition into the depths of inquiry long since probed and plumbed out. If you’d rather find answers than more questions, stay with me, there are some here towards the end.

In asking these questions, one looks to the people around to see what their answer is, and how it is. Of course, it is seldom easy to discover “happy” people in a job dealing with suffering. The slow and grinding years of absorbing pain and sadness do seem to take a toll on people — there’s a lot of talk of burn-out, and I believe it. And I’ve told you before how different it is from than the lives of the people I see around me. The mid-30’s, buying houses and rings and bassinets.

I recently helped a friend move, finding it encouraging to see so many people set aside their evening to help. But it seemed strange to see a single woman who has lived with her parents rent-free for years move into a house with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, as we carried a plethora of couches, exercise equipment and a massage chair into her house. One person who helped worked at an “experiential center” and conducted “horse yoga.” Yoga. On horseback.

I try not to let envy take root Darling, and I’ve no use for a massage chair. Rather, it’s peculiar to see people self-absorbed with their own amusements and pleasures. They’re far up the pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, flirting with self-actualization and esteem, while I’m spending more time in life just trying to get by with safety and productivity, with employment and bills and my studies. People buying houses with more rooms or space than they need and customizing their dwellings, like their lives, to suit their whims, is just a little out of reach. It’s anathema to me. I’m a knight at heart. My dwellings are humble right now. As much as I’d like a nice house, a very nice house, I don’t know that I find great satisfaction in a customization of opulence.  I do see these conditions as temporary. And given that these types of people are several years older than me, it’s still easily believable I’ll overtake them, if one were to draw the comparison.

And aren’t we commanded to have joy? Is it happiness we seek, or peace? Contentment or fulfillment? Ease or Purpose?

Well Darling, being as how I’ve been a bit glum of late, perhaps it will serve you well to hear some of the things that please your Beren’s heart.

What makes me happy? The smell of leather. A cool winter wind, with hints of smoke and snow. The first winter’s fire or the smell of lilac on the first mild spring night. Turning the heat on for the first time, and the first time you grab a jacket for a nippy autumn evening. Driving with the windows down, the wind blowing, and the perfect music playing. Finding a perfect new song or poem that describes exactly how I feel.

I’m happy with live jazz and nature. With bookstores and quiet churches or chapels. A busy but fulfilling night at work.  Classic rock songs, or a perfectly wistful melody on a melancholy evening. A deep, intellectual conversation filled with thoughtful reflection, mutual listening and agreement. A gentle nap on a sleepy afternoon. Weekends. Paydays. The satisfaction of nailing a perfect photograph. A glass of orange juice in the mornings. That moment at the end of your workout when you feel the satisfied fatigue of aches and exertion; catching sight of yourself in the mirror and recognizing progress.

A tune played through adequately on piano. Those rare times when someone actually seems to understand, and offers wisdom that actually applies. Timid wild animals that are unafraid. Black and white movies, and old songs. A long walk. A passage of scripture that reaches out and touches you. Walking with Christ in the Bible. Actually finding the words you want to use in prayer.

Making a dinner. Making a difference. Every piece of equipment I buy, skill I learn, or training I receive to be more prepared against calamity and trouble. And, the times when having it on hand actually makes a difference. An achievement or triumph; an article finished, an interview snagged, a debate won. The kind, unrepayable gratitude of patients or the weak.

I don’t think man was ever meant to be naturally happy absent his better half; I don’t know that I’ll ever be content or fulfilled or at peace until we’re together. But if you ask me whether or not there are times when I am happy, yes.

And so, I hope and trust that you too can find happiness without me. It may be that our time together, as sweet as it is, will be short, and one of us must learn how to be happy again without the other. If that’s so, we’re on great training grounds now, are we not?

Live, and pray and laugh, my love. Let not all of these years of absence be years of silence and famine.

Yours,
Beren

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Questions | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Forbidden Wounds

WoundedKnightEach on his own strict line we move,
And some find death ere they find love.
So far apart their lives are thrown
From the twin soul that halves their own.

And sometimes, by still harder fate,
The lovers meet, but meet too late.
—Thy heart is mine!—True, true! ah, true!
—Then, love, thy hand!—Ah, no! adieu!

Hello Darling,

On many occasions, I have remarked to you of the inexplicable contradictions wedded to my existence. To most anyone on the outside looking in, my life in narrative could seem impressive and satisfying. Here, after all, is a chap who spent his last weekend swimming several hundred meters in the water and a sunny poolside visit with Hemingway. Yesterday, a visit to the archery range, a twelve mile bike ride, a dinner by himself with a Dickens novel. Business degree, nursing degree, published, credentialed, all that nonsense.

I have near-constant occasion to reflect on my life as a summary, because in my job new encounters are constant. As support staff across the healthcare enterprise, I’ve worked day shift and night shift for two and a half years on over twelve floors, across thirty different wings and eight ICUs, meeting literally hundreds of nurses and probably thousands of patients and family members. They think it’s wit that allows quick answers to their questions. It’s only that I’ve heard them in nearly every incarnation imaginable. I have to delay my response to avoid sounding sarcastic.

But what does it seem to me? Where does Beren see himself in all this? Does he enjoy this biking and hiking and swimming and arrows? Right now, they’re just another skill, another means of distraction and escape. Need I tell you again how I really feel, Darling? Lonely and aloof, like on a pedestal through no fault or credit of my own, unable to be helped, living an illusion, spending too much time completely outside of my own head — or too far inside of it. People my age…they’ve already their careers and families with which to gratify and identify. They’re stabilizing financially. They’re buying houses, getting married, settling down. The people still swimming upstream don’t.

I plan my days from week to week, but with an incurable bent towards Tomorrow, always Tomorrow. Not in the sense of procrastination, but weighing a moment by its lasting outcomes, so much that I can’t “live in the moment.” Things are always a Big Deal, and there’s always a “now what?” when the work is through. I like to read, but I don’t like to stay at home and read. Staying home at all seems a torture and I always have to find somewhere to go. (This city is short on such havens and refuges, quiet reading nooks or splendid sunset overlooks.) Relationships, like work, seem both a curse and a cure.

“You can do anything you want!” the actor exclaimed to the movie’s hero. “What makes you happy?”

“I don’t know,” the hero replied.

I don’t know.

Tell me…where do you go in your times of weakness? Who lifts you up and who do you turn to? That’s where I am tonight; weak and wounded. Only difference is, when I look around for some place to go or someone to call, no one is there. At times, I just look for a book to read, a song to hear, a movie to distract. I know Alegfast struggles with uncertainties and anxieties too, though he seldom talks of them. And I hesitate to voice my own.

You see, in our world, it’s not okay for men to be weak. We can’t be weak, and we can’t be hurt. If you are, you don’t talk about it and you don’t let it show. You man up. You be assertive, not weak, decisive, not needy. No matter the songs, don’t confess your need for a friend in the lonely hour. (Such a perfect song for tonight!)

There is a friend who, it seems, desires to be closer to me. She took it upon herself to address what she felt was my lack of joy, which she termed a serious issue in my life. I took to explaining the various attacks this week which have eroded such joy. Financial concerns. Ailing or unemployed loved ones, disputes with the family, disputes with the world, disputes in the workplace. You know I’m comfortable with disputes, Darling. “The gift of confrontation” some call it. But lately, I view disputes with a tired and grim resignation. A nurse began vigorously lecturing on her political beliefs while we were involved in patient care, and I knew I could quite convincingly construct and prove my case, but why bother? People will think what they will. There’s no reasoning with them.

I’m feeling defeated, that’s what. In most depths you have hope, but right now I’m just hoping to regain hope. There’s a lot to carry, but the people who matter are far worse off, and the ones who don’t matter dry up. When you stop checking on some of them and let them fend for themselves, the airwaves go silent. People who have been friends for years say not so much as a “how are you?” You wonder sometimes if it was an illusion, or just a one-way ministry. And the ironic thing is, whenever someone shows special attention as a giver, it’s rare I will receive it passively. Instead, I recognize a giver like me, and I will take compassion on you because I know what it feels like to burn with a compassion for people that is seldom requited. (Mind you, there are some people ill-pleased with me right now who would snatch up a chance to publicly scorn the notion that I am a giver and compelled to give.)

I’m not the only one fighting these sorts of battles. Browse WordPress for lonely souls. They’re all out there, and all of them hope someone is listening. They don’t want to ask for help. They can’t or don’t know how, or they know no one will come. I’ll wager most of them would be the greatest givers in the world — certainly if they’ve found they must give to others to be satisfied. If the world were to invest just a little nourishment to them, how inestimable would the benefit become?

And I have something they don’t all have. I know I serve a God of providence and grace. I know that it is in defeat that we become wise. I have a job and am happy when I work, even if that’s the only time I’m happy. I know that I don’t live at all without you, but that you’ll come one day and my life will be full of everything again. I know that when I have you to look after, how I feel will matter less. Looking after your needs will become paramount.

Anyone who knows anything about relationships will tell you they take work. And that’s exhausting sometimes, isn’t it? My job already saps much of my investive energy, and at times it looks like a mountain to climb every time. Men take the initiative, or we should. We carry the load, assume the risk. We can’t be afraid, can’t ask for help, can’t admit we’re weak. Women, for all your saber-rattling that you are strong (and you are) you also have license to be weak. Sometimes nature conspires to make you look and feel weak.

Maybe it’s just an excuse for the abdication of leadership to which we men are so prone, but sometimes, I don’t want to do the heavy lifting or take the initiative. Sometimes men want someone who will tie the knots in our stomach into butterflies. I want something senseless and intoxicating; something to escape the fetters of rationality and reason; an inexplicable draw and desire that I simply have to be with you, put up with you no matter the cost. I want an easy ascent for at least part of the journey, not this plodding climb. I want an onslaught of love so great it overwhelms my resistance.

And what of you? Will you attach yourself to be me with the conviction of Ruth — “where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay”? With beauty of Esther, loyalty of Sarah, wisdom of Deborah? Someone of strong will and unwavering conviction? Can you be not just the woman who needs a man, but the woman a man needs? Someone with a heart like mine?

Where do these sad and lonely people go when they aren’t online? There was a girl in line at the restaurant last night by herself. I would have bought her dinner just to be kind, because she’s here by herself. But she bought for two, and bought it to go. When I am older, maybe I will build a place called The Lonely, a place where people go if they’re lonely and alone. Then at least people will know where to go not to feel quite as alone. No one can un-lonely themselves.

Everyone is lonely, and everyone has demons nipping at their heels. Maybe I write so that you know I am honest, even when honesty isn’t attractive. Maybe writers are the only ones brave enough to give form to the dark thoughts which others push to the fringe.

At any rate, I will not bow to the world’s defeat. Despair is for the sons of Satan with whom the world populates its kingdoms, and to this I will not yield, if only for refusal’s sake. Tomorrow shall find me a brighter and happier man, and if not then, the day after. Autumn will be upon us, the home stretch of my studies begins, and there are many ripe fields of happiness yet to be discovered. Tread them yourself, as you may, until we meet.

Love,
Beren

August 18, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Summer’s Night

Lonely WalkA Summer’s Night
Matthew Arnold

In the deserted, moon-blanched street,
How lonely rings the echo of my feet!
Those windows, which I gaze at, frown,
Silent and white, unopening down,
Repellent as the world,–but see,
A break between the housetops shows
The moon! and lost behind her, fading dim
Into the dewy dark obscurity
Down at the far horizon’s rim,
Doth a whole tract of heaven disclose!

And to my mind the thought
Is on a sudden brought
Of a past night, and a far different scene:
Headlands stood out into the moonlit deep
As clearly as at noon;
The spring-tide’s brimming flow
Heaved dazzlingly between;
Houses, with long wide sweep,
Girdled the glistening bay;
Behind, through the soft air,
The blue haze-cradled mountains spread away.
That night was far more fair–
But the same restless pacings to and fro,
And the same vainly throbbing heart was there,
And the same bright, calm moon.

And the calm moonlight seems to say:–
Hast thou then still the old unquiet breast,
Which neither deadens into rest,
Nor ever feels the fiery glow
That whirls the spirit from itself away,
But fluctuates to and fro,
Never by passion quite possessed
And never quite benumbed by the world’s sway?–
And I, I know not if to pray
Still to be what I am, or yield, and be
Like all the other men I see.

For most men in a brazen prison live,
Where, in the sun’s hot eye,
With heads bent o’er their toil, they languidly
Their lives to some unmeaning taskwork give,
Dreaming of naught beyond their prison wall.
And as, year after year,
Fresh products of their barren labor fall
From their tired hands, and rest
Never yet comes more near,
Gloom settles slowly down over their breast.
And while they try to stem
The waves of mournful thought by which they are prest,
Death in their prison reaches them,
Unfreed, having seen nothing, still unblest

And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where’er his heart
Listeth will sail;
Nor doth he know how there prevail,
Despotic on that sea.
Trade-winds which cross it from eternity:
Awhile he holds some false way, undebarred
By thwarting signs, and braves
The freshening wind and blackening waves.
And then the tempest strikes him; and between
The lightning bursts is seen
Only a driving wreck,
And the pale master on his spar-strewn deck
With anguished face and flying hair
Grasping the rudder hard,
Still bent to make some port he knows not where,
Still standing for some false, impossible shore.
And sterner comes the roar
Of sea and wind, and through the deepening gloom
Fainter and fainter wreck and helmsman loom,
And he too disappears, and comes no more.

Is there no life, but these alone?

Madman or slave, must man be one?
Plainness and clearness without shadow of stain!
Clearness divine!
Ye heavens, whose pure dark regions have no sign
Of languor, though so calm, and though so great
Are yet untroubled and unpassionate;
Who, though so noble, share in the world’s toil,
And, though so tasked, keep free from dust and soil!
I will not say that your mild deeps retain
A tinge, it may be, of their silent pain
Who have longed deeply once, and longed in vain–
But I will rather say that you remain

A world above man’s head, to let him see
How boundless might his soul’s horizons be,
How vast, yet of what clear transparency!
How it were good to live there, and breathe free;
How fair a lot to fill
Is left to each man still!

August 11, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Heartbeat Away

heartbeat

I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust too.

– John Masefield

Dear Darling,

I made it a week without writing, or needing you, or even, almost, without thinking about you. And then I reach another week’s end. Last night and the night before were two of the most trying nights of my career. I watched the tears of a family gathered around one man’s bed as they were told his life was waning. I saw the slow, tearful defeat welling up in the eyes of another man, speechless and tired of fighting. This is why I do what I do. This is who I am. And yet, I think how nice it would be just to sit on the couch after a long day and talk. To tell my thoughts and hear yours; the simple pleasure of knowing you’re only a heartbeat away. I think I would find it exceedingly precious to hold your hand and feel your pulse, or to put my stethoscope against your chest and listen to your actual heart.

I’m on about hearts tonight because I held someone else’s in my hands last night — a girl not much younger than I, for whom death was knocking. I confess, I don’t wish death to come for anyone, but come he must, and when he does, I want to be there. So through her chest, her heart having stopped, I became her heart. Her frame was small, the effort was minimal. With a small army crowding into a smaller room, we brought her back. Such order and anarchy striving together after one imperiled soul.

A short eternity later, the ordeal ended. The exchanges of “good job” were made. And not long after, we turn control over to the next watch, and we each of us get into our cars and go home. They to friends, family, love. Doubtless to share their modest but poignant roles in the saving of a life, the restarting of a heart. I come home in silence and to silence, an uncaring house occupied in its own musings.

Thousands of shifters are coming home from their watches at the same time as I, fading to silence and quiet. Police. Medics. Firefighters. Nurses. Soldiers. They pour out themselves for the simple and noble task of preserving the lives of their neighbors. To take a bullet, tread the flame or thread the needle. And for whom? Someone’s mother or grandmother; a wife, an uncle, a husband. Behind every hospital door or curtain, some-one’s world may hang in peril of crumbling. And to what thanks do these simple warriors return? To an applauding public, a grateful city, a generous paycheck? Folly. Money brings not life, nor preserves it. No-one courts their favor as they would businessmen or politicians, because their giving is a foregone conclusion. The daily victories won or lost on ten thousand bedside battlefronts between sun’s rising and setting are too numerous to applaud each as they deserve. Affliction and illness are tireless foes, and although we cannot unburden ourselves from the weight of the world in a single night, we return to the battle the very next night.

The ringing of summons, the fittings and fixtures of each room, the coughs and calls, the needs and protestations, all fade into a deafening silence when I go home, as though it never were.

“I helped restart a heart last night,” I might say to one friend or another. “That’s nice.” “You’re not a marine!” someone else retorted as I related some of these thoughts once before. I changed the subject. Not everyone’s mettle is cut for the thickest of the fighting. And of course, some would rather turn a blind eye to it entirely, embracing denial until their own lifestyles catch up with them. Truth and reality make poor drinking buddies, and people are never grateful for the rope-holders, until they’re off a cliff’s edge.

The job is fulfilling. There’s no money as could pay for what any of us do. And from patients themselves, “thank-you” is heard just often enough to be routine and therefore of diminished significance, much as you would think the barista who hands you the coffee you ordered. Only those that do it know what it’s really worth.

Before leaving, I went and found the nurse alongside whom we’d fought to restart the girl’s heart. She’s my age (married of course) but becoming a good friend. We work as a team, and working as a team to survive a crisis creates a unique bond. She was near tears as I hugged her. She told me she couldn’t have done it without me. (Yes, she could have.)

You see then why I privately hold some complaints of “bad days” contemptuously. I have seen survivors of attack, abuse and trauma. Horrific crashes, mountaintop plunges, gaping wounds; scars of the body and mind, the slow decay of time. We brush the ash and darkness off those who survive, and honor the ones who don’t. You mean to tell me that car parts, splinters, demanding clients, bent nails or challenging coworkers compare?

And Darling, when I walk through the door to eat, wash and surrender to the silent (and occasionally elusive) indifference of sleep, I don’t only wish I could unload these thoughts on you and demand of your sympathy and affection in return. I want also to hold you and cushion the tears wrung from you by a difficult day, and share a hug of greater duration and license than a chaste hug among friends and co-laborers. I want to fold you into the richness of the same compassion that drives me at work, and share this love, this heart without caution or reserve.

Time grows short before studies resume. For the second week in a row, none of the dozen invites I sent out to join me for a movie were answered or accepted, so I spent an evening in a restaurant with a Dickens novel. I went for a walk under the bright glow of a full August moon, one of the year’s brightest they say. Mists are rising from the ground as I walk and pray. Someone drives past and a woman shouts out the window something to the effect of “see you later, baby!” Yes my lady, if you continue your habit of weekly inebriation and driving, I expect you will.

My mother herself had surgery this past week. She seems to be recovering.

And I, at last, seem to have depleted either the words to write, or the will to write them. I hope your week has been of equal significance but less challenge, and you know already that my prayers accompany you on whatever difficulties you face. Even a bent fingernail.

Yours ever,
Beren

August 10, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Haven of Tempests

Caught in the StormDear Darling,

The fireflies are gone from the meadows, their light replaced by the whirring buzz of cicadas.

I don’t find a lot of answers hanging from the overhead limbs near the bridge as I walk tonight. Maybe that’s because I’m too tired to ask the questions. Last weekend, the lightning lit up the sky terrifically and while it quite reflected the disquiet within, it also shortened the time spent outdoors. And yet, sometimes the best shelter is the storm.

The moonless night offers very little sympathy, and off yet another long week of shifts, with barely time to wash, dine and sleep before rising to repeat, I find myself mentally probing through the lack of havens I have. I have plenty of friends with whom I can call up and go see a movie. Plenty that identify with the dim and daunting view of a rotting society. But no one that’s proved much of a shelter, nurturing, energizing, pleasant, and yet without sacrificing the knowledge and understanding that might contribute to such concern. It’s uncanny that some of the people with whom I am on best terms are at work. Long labor is, like people themselves, both the curse and the cure.

“What’s really wrong?” I imagine you asking, as if you were in spirit at my elbow and writing the question across the page.

Darling, you know enough, and I needn’t multiply these thoughts by spreading them.

You’re hurting. Tell me.

Very well, you asked.

What’s wrong is that I’m tired, the kind of tired that cannot be fixed by a vacation. It dawned on me this week that for the first time, I grow a little tired of this job, or at least of its dominance in the schedule I keep. Whether clouds or sun, there is a tempest within that cannot be fled.

I grow tired of an amoral society. Of mediocre friends who neither understand nor support nor share my fledgling attempts at righteousness, who don’t see the storms forming in the eastern sky. Of working and eating and showering and sleeping, and then working and eating and showering and sleeping. Tired of dwelling with those who put forth a fraction of effort and reap far more generous harvests, enriching businesses but not lives. He produces value for companies; I produce value for people, one tender and failing soul at a time. Everyone looks down on someone whose job expects of him to bathe old people for a living — until it’s their grandmother that needs a gentle hand. I don’t understand the people who live for themselves and their personal pleasures. “Day is done, now my life can resume”; the people who get loud and drunk, who have card games and drinking matches, club binges, all-nighters.

I’m tired of being inundated by sex; of seeking a quarry so necessary and yet so elusive.  Tired of needing someone who understands, but too tired or or too unwiling to lift the weights and raise the gate. I don’t want to feel invaded, nor to be someone’s burden. Tired of seeming worthwhile and impressive to everyone except the people I find worthwhile and impressive. Tired of making sacrifices which are seldom seen and less often appreciated. Of giving all night and being underappreciated. Of sleeping through the choice times of day because I need the money by night.

I met a man who told of revitalizing the asphalt industry by infusing greater percentages of polymer into the mix, at a time when it was most needed. Then competing companies orchestrated false reports of danger to undercut his efficiency and maintain their lucrative contracts. There now, you see? Everyone who does important work is overlooked. The cleaners and bakers, the butchers and road-makers, pilots and engineers. I suppose in the end, everyone’s story is forgotten, even if their labors live on.

I’m tired of eating right, living right, exercising right, working right, and sensing no reward. Of all that I need being all that I lack. Of the song and singer, act and actor, the poet and lover, all confessing “You are all I need” and “how could I live without you?” and knowing their fear has been my reality I every day of my life.

Tired of feeling like I have no true haven. Tired of being suspicious of those that portend compassion, holding people at arms length because I distrust the ambition behind their kindness.

I’m tired of a ceaseless flurry of thoughts unfulfilled. Of becoming dull and witless, by virtue of time spent in the company of the dull and witless.

Of loving more and not being able to. Of hungering and thirsting and not being filled. Of seeking the kingdom of God and not having the rest added. Of being told God is enough, yet feeling empty as often as not. I’m weary and heavy laden, but not given rest. But then, maybe Jesus didn’t mean those choosing to work overtime hours to put themselves through school.

I’m tired of civil enemies and uncivil friends. Of waking up on a Friday and having no idea what to do with the evening because places are closed and you aren’t here to spend it with.

Of looking for something new.  That’s why a stranger saying hello at the theater was welcome, even though I was guarded against it. Even though I had to tell her I wasn’t looking for a relationship, not with someone who wasn’t in the kingdom. It’s also why I bought a trove of new books recently. Maybe one day I’ll take you to that store and buy you some books.

I suppose, in the end, I see very few caretakers left in the world, and I worry that I won’t be able to find someone to take care of me.

I flatter myself in taking for granted that I will care for you. Caring is in my DNA. To protect you, I have worked federal and private security, trained with weapons, my hands and my mind. I am tall, my gun is never far, and I train to be strong. To provide for you, I have left the calling I thought I knew to pursue a sure career. It will provide opportunity to grow and advance. I have given of my life to learn how to save the lives of others. To look after you, I’ve learned about how your body works, and the battle-plans of the many diseases which afflict mankind. To please you…well, we will discuss that when the time comes. To plan for you, to prepare for you, to listen to you. I’m ready for that. I’m ready to try. I’m not afraid.

One reason I hesitate to venture into the land of internet matching is because I am ever the writer; in my head, the story you and I are writing separately, but will one day harmonize, writes much better if we meet and happen to hit it off unintentionally, rather than selecting each other as acceptable to meet in hopes that we will hit it off. There is so much less pressure, obligation, expectation.

There you have it, dearest. There’s the lion’s share of the clouds in my heart tonight. Thank you for asking, and listening. To know you care, well, that is a gale that would daunt any dark horizon. They aren’t always yours to drive away. Sometimes God drives away the storm…and sometimes His greatest lessons are taught in its midst.

I remain ever

Yours most sincerely,
Beren

August 2, 2014 Posted by | About Me, Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Due Season

Be Not Weary
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Sometimes, when I am toil-worn and aweary,
All tired out, with working long, and well,
And earth is dark, and skies above are dreary,
And heart and soul are all too sick to tell,
These words have come to me, like angel fingers,
Pressing the spirit eyelids down in sleep.
“Oh let us not be weary in well doing,
For in due season we shall surely reap.”

Oh blessed promise! when I seem to hear it,
Whispered by angel voices on the air,
It breathes new life, and courage to my spirit,
And gives me strength to suffer and forbear.
And I can wait most patiently for harvest,
And cast my seeds, nor ever faint, nor weep,
If I know surely, that my work availeth,
And in God’s season, I at last shall reap.

When mind and body were borne down completely
And I have thought my efforts were all vain,
These words have come to me, so softly, sweetly,
And whispered hope, and urged me on again.
And though my labor seems all unavailing,
And all my strivings fruitless, yet the Lord
Doth treasure up each little seed I scatter,
And sometime, sometime, I shall reap reward.

July 17, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Poems | , , , , | Leave a comment

There Was Evening, And There Was Morning

MaidenVoyageDear Darling,

The days and feelings all jumble together.

Two nights ago, there was a great storm. Alegfast is away and I’ve the house to myself, and my heart smiled to hear rain on the roof. The clock struck midnight, and the lightning flashed on the horizon. I chanced to venture outside before a particularly close bolt strongly recommended the indoors as a safer alternative.

What phenomenal creatures, lightning! Transient suns in forests of rain, huntless game both proud and wild. They contain more power than we could hope to harvest, and yet are casually wasted in errant displays of might, flashing as if only for their own sport. They outpaces the blink of an eye, creatures “which doth cease to be, ere one can say it lightens” leaving its footprint on the ear only in the wake of departure. Yet they are idle enough to meander in their path. Fearsome to hunt indeed, would be the lightning.

The following day is mild and beautiful; it wants something done with it. It wants wordless enjoyment and appreciation, it beckons to be celebrated and reveled in. Yet, here I am torn, for words are all I can avail myself of which affords any sort of connection with you!

Changing winds always stoke up the restlessness, and this preview of autumn is no different. It wants for impatient chasing through pastures and by creeks, it wants for hiking and biking, snuggling and conversing. It challenges us to chase starlight and hail the smiling moon. There is nothing I can contrive to satisfy what this day wants of me. It wants us. Fleeting winds brush the skin only remind me they can’t be caressed in return, nor do they care. They only whisper “She’s not here. She’s not here. She’s not here.”

Uncertain of how to answer these challenges, I load up my bike and drive to the southern trail. The rain-washed sky against the vibrant green fields makes the perfect backdrop, and I listen to sermons as I ride.

Telling myself I can still go to work later in the evening, I open the windows, wash and lay down to rest. Hours later, I awaken halfway through the night, well-rested and faced with a neighborhood submerged in silence. Circadian rhythms are overrated once you break out of them. Now, with nothing better to do, I dress and go for a walk. It’s a morning crisp and chill, promising another mild and inviting day. Prayer and memory mingle with aromas and essences, some of them unexplainable. Why do I smell the old motorhome that my grandparents once brought to my childhood home? Or why the disinfectant which recalls a class three summers ago? How inextricable are the aromas from their memories.

Wherever you are, I imagine you are somewhere adrift on the high seas of your dreams. Your chest is rising and falling amid slumbering sighs, missing me during your days too if I’m not mistaken; you’ve no idea that you’re being prayed so intently while you sleep.

I’ve examined this paradox before, but I remove it from its box to ponder yet again. Contained within this life of mine are all the ingredients that should make a body happy. (And indeed, coming off one of my longest stretches yet, logging nearly a hundred hours at work, there is a sort of blissful content to be had, the kind only wrought by cessation of an unpleasant task, or a pleasant one maintained too long.) My work has purpose and meaning. I seem to find favor with my colleagues and clients alike. The path none too distant can only improve. During intervals in which I don’t work, I collect whomever will follow and find some dinner or a movie or both. I owe no financial attachment to anyone, and the Lord is attending all my needs. My prayers ought to consist only of thanks and gratitude. Indeed, for the present, there should be no petitions to present, no pleas to proffer. The Lord knew them before they were spoken the first time, and they’ve been spoken often enough since.

And yet. And yet, when I’m out here, I am aware that in a way, life hasn’t truly even begun yet. That’s a harrowing thought, considering the ages and afflictions of some of my patients aren’t so much greater than mine. This life misses the care and companionship of someone sensible, gentle and devoted, someone made kind from seeing enough pain and loneliness. The kind of person who wins me over with the little things.And you know, it will really be the little things. It’s always the little things that catch my eye, that give grounds for a second look. Someone using a minced oath rather than a true one. Someone who ignores or walks away from the obvious vulgarity. Something as simple as handing someone else a piece of cake before taking yours. The way you interact with children. There was a girl with whom I worked some days back. A patient, half out of her head, expressed fear. We attended her physical fears as much as we could, and as I left the room, I heard her gently ask if she was a woman of faith. Halfway out the door, I was awestruck as I listened to her unfold a prayer before the throne that would make any minister’s congregation proud. Oh, she’s taken, never fear. But it’s little things like that which grab and hold my attention. It’s the behavior of an outlier, and seldom have I seen such deeds as make me give glory to God.

She later confided troubles she faced between her family and her current suitor, troubles which I could tell she would not tell just anyone. (I’m always so infernally safe for people to confide in.)

And look at all my friendships. Most of them seem to be ministries of a sort. I wasn’t the sort of kid when younger whom others came up to and invited me along. I learned how to grow up on my own two feet. I can’t immediately think of someone who isn’t family that I’m not on guard against in some small way. Some nights, I conclude I need to leave people to spin on their own wheels for a while and attend my own needs. But only for a night. A full night’s sleep later, I’m fresh enough to start the circuit of checking in on people again, because I know they need someone to check in on them. I can’t really think of anyone who’s doing the same for me.

You know, I was listening to a radio program on my way home from biking, one of those programs that troubleshoots and advises couples on love and marriage. The wife interviewed spoke of mismatched blind spots she didn’t anticipate, like being a morning person versus a night owl, or serving someone who’s laid up sick. Surely these are the words spoken this side of ignorance, but the warnings mentioned did not even faze me. I’m both a morning and an evening person as need calls; and pull 24- and 36-hour shifts when need arises. I’m used to attending the needs of seven and twelve patients at a time, laid up sick and hurting and all having needs to be prioritized and met. Do you think one wife laid up will be a trial?

I am considered by many to be unwavering and unbending on many issues of import; but beneath that, beyond the standards laid down by God Himself, I believe most people who truly know me would say I am pleasant and easy-going. I don’t get hung up on the trappings and bickering of too many insignificant things like I’ve seen so many colleagues or friends do.

So when I make my vows to you, to serve and honor and cherish, it’s because I will mean it. When I discharge the duty laid upon me by the Lord Jesus through the Apostle Paul to love you as Christ loved His bride, it’s with the intent of loving you up to and including my own death. You will be my wife. You will be part of me. As woman was taken from man, so man takes woman back to himself; I will fold you into my own existence and protect you as my very own — bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. There will be times when reason rejects and inclination opposes; you won’t want to love me, nor I you, and for perfectly valid reasons that either of us is, in the moment, acting incredibly unlovable and stupid. There will be highs and lows of our voyage together. But when the storms come, at least you and I will have each other to stand beside at the helm.

Until then, my dear, I salute from afar the memories we have yet to make, and the appointments we have yet to keep. I’ll turn my attention back to the waves and sails, and navigate them as best I can until you come to claim your place at my side.

Affectionately yours,
Beren

July 16, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Too Tired To Tell

Tired
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

My heart and soul are all to tired to tell;
So weary, Lord,
Of this long, ceaseless work of doing well,
Without reward.

Oh, I have been thy servant now for years,
Nor made complaint,
Though my life cup has been abrim with tears,
But now I faint.

And I have worked for thee, with all my strength,
In pain and woe.
My Master, canst thou chide me, if at length
I ask to go?

Oh, if the soul is purified by fire,
Then I am blest.
The laborer is worthy of his hire —
Lord, give me rest.

July 12, 2014 Posted by | Loneliness, Poems | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gentle Whispers and Great Expectations

Dear Darling,

It’s cooler than any July evening I can recall as I arrive home tonight. I’m just off another marathon week at work. I do it to myself; I always think I can make it, and always push myself to the breaking point. Then I look up, dripping sweat and expect someone to take pity on me for the exile I decreed. To sleep would be best, but this soul is far too swollen with thought to put to rest.

At least the furrows are back; the questions and cares from seventy-something hours’ labor heavily alight again, furrowing the forehead. As armor droops with fatigue, memory and languor pierce the chinks. Memory, of this time last year; languor, the conflicting desire to pursue my own happiness, knowing that for those trained to work emergencies, few things suitably get the blood racing any more.

The other night, a conversation turned to standards, and when the question was asked, what’s wrong with high standards, another responded “you’re disappointed more often.” I think perhaps that’s wiser than she intended. Once upon a time, a woman saw that as her primary obligation, just as I see tending your needs and providing for you and our family as mine. I know I have great expectations for you my dear. I want them to remain realistic. But recall, if you will, that in my world of sickness and healing, great measures of compassion are transacted daily. In short, it takes a great compassion indeed to impress a nurse. Yet as I’ve thought about it, for all the lonely women I see out there, and for the ones who took a shine to me, I can’t recall any of them showing me they were capable of taking care of me in the way a woman tends her man. I can’t recall her showing me how she could help someone be a better man, to see that his needs are met and that he’s looked-after. To reign him in when he gets out of hand trying to work. To make sure he’s not got off to work without his lunch, that he doesn’t need his aching feet massaged, that he doesn’t need a sympathetic kiss of understanding and gratitude.

Emma Darwin once wrote to her (in)famous husband Charles:

 I cannot tell you the compassion I have felt for all your sufferings for these weeks past that you have had so many drawbacks. Nor the gratitude I have felt for the cheerful & affectionate looks you have given me when I know you have been miserably uncomfortable.

My heart has often been too full to speak or take any notice I am sure you know I love you well enough to believe that I mind your sufferings nearly as much as I should my own & I find the only relief to my own mind is to take it as from God’s hand, & to try to believe that all suffering & illness is meant to help us to exalt our minds & to look forward with hope to a future state. When I see your patience, deep compassion for others self command & above all gratitude for the smallest thing done to help you I cannot help longing that these precious feelings should be offered to Heaven for the sake of your daily happiness. But I find it difficult enough in my own case. I often think of the words “Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.” It is feeling & not reasoning that drives one to prayer. I feel presumptuous in writing thus to you.

I feel in my inmost heart your admirable qualities & feelings & all I would hope is that you might direct them upwards, as well as to one who values them above every thing in the world. I shall keep this by me till I feel cheerful & comfortable again about you but it has passed through my mind often lately so I thought I would write it partly to relieve my own mind.

Could your words, like these, soothe and subdue the sorrow and wretchedness latent to the bands of mortality? Are you prepared, for the sake of your husband, to try?

I ran into an acquaintance last evening, quite by accident. Her countenance is fair, but her faith questionable and while she brims with energy, all too often it seems inappropriately and inordinately flirtatious. She is the kind that will show attention to anyone, and although any man likes a little attention shown, I sat with her and her cousin for the better part of an hour primarily out of courtesy. She regaled with stories of skinny-dipping and strip-poker, the bars she’s visited and her wild days of drinking, sex and partying. She wanted a picture with me, and sat far too close to get one. She exclaimed how she was looking for a nice guy, and only half-jokingly holding out for Tim Tebow. I asked if he wasn’t looking for the type of girl that’s been waiting for him, which clearly gave her pause. It’s perplexing that a woman should live her wild years and then entertain the hopes that the nice guys she’s sidelined for years in deference to her own pleasure will now be waiting for her.

I beg of her pardon, but for such women my inner voice is given to frequent retorts something along the lines of “get out of my sight.” I found her company vexing and wearying, simply because one hopes for fair soul to match fair face; to see boldness and find ambition to match.

Through it all, I long for the simple pleasure of your companionship. It isn’t as though your arrival fixes or guarantees anything. But your arrival is all I have left to ask of this world. The poets, lovers and romantics all speak of their continuing need and reliance upon their spouse, a love which, by merit of its very presence, bestows a healing touch on the troubles of man. The touch we each must live without.

Alegfast gone to the lake, and will be gone for an even longer span next week. The more I spend time with him and Gladbrui, the less sensible they seem, and as I’ve written previously, it’s hard to take seriously their complaints about a hard life. “There are few people whom I really love,” said Austen. “And still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.”

I don’t know what to do with myself in the light of such a society. I want to run. But I don’t want to run. I don’t want to go, but I don’t want to stay. I fit no molds. I don’t like thinking in a box. I seem to burn with an empathy to surpass that of a nurse, an initiative to catch the eye of a doctor and the skill to negotiate with a mad man. (We get them at work often enough.) I suppose I’ll always have a foot in different worlds. Those at work don’t understand that I write or am involved in politics. Those who are in politics don’t understand that I work in a hospital for a living. Those who are my friends don’t understand the clouds of darkness that sometimes seep from my soul, nor the burden of being a servant by commission, and being neglected by those whom you serve. I’m not a chicken soup for the soul guy, and I disdain meaningless tropes warmed over in vain attempts to inspire. I don’t go along with party lines. I stay informed about my country, and while we celebrate independence today, our world is far less free than it was. I persuade people of my beliefs through quiet persistence, reasoning and logic. I’ve done that for years, sometimes to people’s own amazement. I’m no prophet, but sometimes it seems I’m not truly happy unless persuading someone of the truth.

Do I say all of this to brag? A thousand times no. These are talents I’ve been gifted from above, abilities which I’ve sharpened, but which are burdensome to carry. With wisdom comes sorrow, and with knowledge comes grief.

How peculiar that we celebrate independence today, when true freedom comes only in confinement to the grace of God and reliance upon His provision. And, by His grace, each other.

I’m sure much of these thoughts are the delirious fruit of a fatigued mind, one that only wants sustenance and reprieve. When Elijah raised his complaint, the Lord sent only an angel with food and then let Elijah sleep it off. Funny thing about that old prophet. He won a tremendous victory before all of Israel, then panicked in the face of a wicked queen. He runs fleeing into the wilderness. “What are you doing here?” God inquires of him. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty,” Elijah exclaims. “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

No one’s trying to kill me, but the dismay at the rejection of God in my world, while I try to remain zealous for the Lord certainly strikes the same chord. And just as He did with Job’s challenging philosophies, the first thing God does is display His awesome power before him: “There was a great wind…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake…but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire — but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

True power isn’t swaggered.

But, God doesn’t promise to save you from fatigue, especially self-imposed. Nor does he promise to pay the bills. But beyond mortal troubles, there are times I walk and feel that I should pray, but that I haven’t time to pray for the people and places that need want it.

As I look back over the years, and even over these letters, it’s surprising to see how much we’ve grown. I think we all look back on our younger years with some embarrassment, don’t you? And yet at the same time, I think we all spend our lives in the shadow of our youth. That is, deciphering, interpreting, filtering and comparing most of our lives against the first 18 to 25 years of it.

Well now, Darling. If you love me, you may have to do some looking too. If you want me, come find me. I’ve tried, and will keep trying, but maybe this story is supposed to begin differently than either of us intend.

In fact, I have no doubt.

Love always,
Beren

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Holidays, Loneliness, Nights Like These | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment