Archives for category: Overview

One day you realize that this is the year you enter your ninth decade. It is a blessing to be so fortunate. It also brings its burdens…if we let it.

Since our 50th reunion twelve years ago, a group of high school classmates and spouses has been meeting virtually each month and in person annually. It is not surprising that dynamics of aging command our attention, especially since we adopted a theme from Ram Dasswalking each other home.

In addition to companionship, we share books, articles and videos. I just began one of them, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister. The main theme is that whatever our age, life is about becoming more than we are as we enter it and being all that we can be throughout.

In brief but pithy reflections the book focuses on forty themes at the conclusion of which the author offers both the burdens and the blessings of the theme.

Take Regret for example. The twinges of regret are a step-over point in life. They invite us to revisit the ideals, motives and choices we made in the past that have brought us to where we are now.

The burden of regret is that, unless we come to understand the value of the choices we made in the past, we may fail to see the gifts they have brought us.

The blessing of regret is clear – it brings us, if we are willing to face it head on, to the point of being present to this new time of life in an entirely new way.  It urges us on to continue becoming.

Here is a question, reader, whatever your age. What are your current “step-over” points in life, and what are their burdens and blessings?

How often do you ask yourself, “am I enough?” Am I able to meet the moment?  Can I adequately nourish the relationships I value most? Are my resources sufficient?  

When you ask these and related questions, how often do your answers take you down the bunny trail of scarcity?  I’m not enough of: – good / attractive / smart / capable / worthy / wealthy… you name it. 

In her book, The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist challenges our scarcity answers. Drawing on decades of fund raising for the Hunger Project and a variety of global efforts to alleviate poverty, advance the rights of women and indigenous people and mitigate climate change, she makes a compelling case for cultivating sufficiency as an antidote to scarcity.  

By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It…isn’t an amount at all.  It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration…

Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness…an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances…

Sufficiency is an act of generating, distinguishing, making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources and our inner resources…

When we let go of the chase for more, and consciously examine and experience the resources we already have, we discover our resources are deeper than we knew or imagined.  In the nourishment of our attention, our assets expand and grow. (Pages 74-77)

Rather than blaming ourselves for what we think we lack, paying greater attention to the inner landscape of our soul may lead us to discover our sufficiency that we had not seen or honored. What do you think?

Since attending a couple of retreats he led over twenty years ago, I have been a fan of Parker Palmer. He recently published a post from one of his books that summons us to shine our inner light on the shade of each day. 

A lot of us find ourselves on the dark side of the moon these days. We are laid low by nonstop “breaking news” that ranges from bad to worse, then even worse… 

When will we ever learn? Do we have time to learn? Those are questions for which I have no self-assured answer. But here are three things I know with a certainty:

(1) Turning our backs on all of this deepens the depression that will hasten our demise.

(2) Talking with people we trust about this darkness allows us to grieve together in ways that will, in the long run, keep us engaged with life.

(3) How we live our lives still matters. If each of us lived with even deeper reverence and respect for the natural and human worlds—and joined hands with others as we do—we would increase the flow of humility, healing, and new life.

Memo to Self: As you muddle thru your own version of this darkness, remember that there is an inner Light that you and you alone control. Every day look for some way to show up in your personal, vocational, and/or public life with whatever Light you have.  We are at the end of an era of destructive delusions. Let us be midwives of the best possible new reality by holding this time of transition in the Light… 

When we feel certain that the human soul is no longer at work in the world, it’s time to make sure that ours is visible to someone somewhere. 

    • I have not posted since May, questioning if any words could hold a truth sufficiently poignant to penetrate our cultural and political battle lines, even for a moment’s insight.  In addition, what words of solace would be sufficient for so much sacrifice and loss attending the arrival of the virus?
      Gratefully, with the new year turning, a muse for the morning appeared, pushing my fear aside, at least for the moment.  In a compilation of selections from her many works, [1] Toni Morrison’s reflections on writing itself remind me why I continue to try.
      All water has a perfect memory
      and is forever trying to get back
      to where it was.  Writers are like that:
      remembering where we were,
      what valley we ran through,
      what the banks were like,
      the light that was there and the route back
      to our original place

      And then, she captures the aspiration of those of us intrigued by words and the quest of combining them in ways that reveal new awareness.
      There, in the process of writing,
      was the illusion, the deception of control,
      of nestling up ever closer to meaning

      Perhaps the most moving reminder to each of us during this season of continuing loss is a pro-active response within our power to undertake.
      It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody
      long before they leave you

      Separated by distances, masks and quarantines, whom do we miss?  What gestures of outreach and connection might it take to “miss them” long before we leave each other?

      [1] The Measure of Our Lives: A Gathering of Wisdom (Alfred K. Knopf, 2019), pp. 29, 26 and 28.


Reflections on what lies ahead are natural for any stage of life. What possibilities will the future bring? What will my life be like? Will I be fully engaged or merely a visitor? What decisions can and will I make to affect the outcome?

These musings are especially true for those of us in our senior years. How do we continue to show up? How and where do we offer our gifts, knowing that diminishing capacities may have dulled their shine?

In 1992 Mary Oliver opined on the subject, inspiring us all with the map of her chosen route.  It was a path filled with curiosity, wonder and amazement.

…when death comes/ like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything / as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common / as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth / tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something / precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


Over dinner this past week the joyous birthday celebration of a friend turned somber for a few moments to process the pain that a local tragedy recently inflicted on all those involved. Our conversation covered a range of feelings and judgments, as no doubt occurs in many social gatherings these days, whether the conundrums being discussed are local, national or global.

The next day, while reflecting on the previous night’s exchange, I was led to a recent column by David Brooks in which he linked each of us to these larger challenges.

We all create a shared moral ecology through the daily decisions of our lives. When we stereotype, abuse, impugn motives and lie about each other, we’ve ripped the social fabric and encouraged more ugliness. When we love across boundaries, listen patiently, see deeply and make someone feel known, we’ve woven it and reinforced generosity.

In addition to writing, Brooks is working with the Aspen Institute to promote Weave: The Social Fabric Project, an initiative that encourages each of us to do our part locally.

Social fragmentation is the core challenge of our day. We long to be together, but we are apart. We are isolated by distrust, polarization, trauma and incivility. We live in a hyper-individualistic culture that pays lip service to community but which actually values success above relationship, ego above care, the market above society and tribal divisions over common humanity.

The question for each of us is: What can I do today and tomorrow to replace loneliness, division and distrust with relationship, community and purpose?

How do we answer that question? What threads can each of us weave into the moral ecology of our day? “Listen patiently?”  “Make someone feel known?” “Love across boundaries?” What other gifts of presence or purpose come to mind?


As the events linked to Charlottesville continue to unfold, three references come to mind.

The first is a mural in one of the library reading rooms of the college I attended. It is titled An Epic of American Civilization. Painted between 1932-34 by Jose Clemente Orozco, the mural depicts the influence of indigenous people and European colonists on North America and the impact of wars and rapid industrialization on the human spirit. It is a dark picture, indeed, and reminds me of the deeply embedded roots of our human dispositions. Those of you with interest can learn more from a critical article written by Erin Harding in 1999.

The second source is Colin Woodard’s book American Nations in which he describes the motivations and distinctive values of the waves of those who came to populate this country. One of his conclusions is that the dominant values each group brought with them persist today and account for many of our regional differences.

The third source comes from the oft-referenced and aspirational words of Lincoln’s first inaugural (March 4, 1861) at the outbreak of the civil war.

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

As with many today, I wonder whether the better angels of our nature will prevail and how each of us can find the courage to bring forth the best in ourselves to meet the tasks at hand.


The temperature reached 60 yesterday cutting short the maple sugaring season. The snow retreats before the ascending sun. The earth reappears. It’s early yet – no doubt there will be more “weather” this month – but the days pronounce spring’s imminent arrival.

The return of spring renews the promise that below the surface of an apparently frozen landscape life’s energy continues to create its abundance. There is the assurance that we will surface from our winters of disappointment or arrested expectation. We are meant to be where we are – on track to resume our growth into the fullness of who we are becoming.

For me spring’s arrival is accompanied by the music of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring and the Shaker hymn on which it is based. Stretching from Maine to Georgia the Appalachians have provided the backbone for my life’s journey. On its shoulders Peggy and I have worked and played and launched our family. Its hills have schooled us in the lessons of self-sufficiency, community and interdependence. Now in our later years we return home to its gentle slopes and their essential truths.

For your meditation today I suggest you listen to Copeland’s composition reflecting on the return of spring in your own life and the message of the Shaker hymn.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free.

‘Tis the gift to come round where we ought to be.

And when we find ourselves in the place just right

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.

To turn, turn, will be our delight

Till by turning, turning, we come round right.



For many of us being busy is a badge of honor. We spend much of our lives doing. We define ourselves by the roles that we perform.

For many decades I have done the same, identifying myself by the function I played – student, athlete, spouse, priest, parent, CEO, coach, grandpa. Life was a to-do list of activities, many of which were linked to what I was taught men were expected to do; as Sam Keen described in his book Fire in the Belly – protect, provide and procreate.

Sometimes I “did” well; at other times, not so well. The defining by “doing” in and of itself is done, whatever impact it may have had for good or ill.

Today, I am shifting my focus from defining myself by living to do, to doing in order to be. No doubt, it is in part a reality check as the days remaining in this life grow fewer. I am choosing more activities that cultivate awareness of the simple beauties and complex dynamics of our journey. Meditating, being physically active, working and walking outdoors, writing and playing music are ways for me to develop awareness and attend more to the energy of the moment.

How do you define yourself? Is it the sum total of your activity and the roles you play? Is it the impact your activity generates on those around you? Is it the container you hold for yourself or others to receive the grace of each moment? Perhaps it is all of the above, a harmony of doing and being. We can be grateful and accountable for the fact that it is ours to choose.

Thanksgiving setting and place cards by our granddaughter

Thanksgiving table with setting and place cards by our granddaughter

Long before we found it I imagine it was a grand table with leaves that held many meals and absorbed countless conversations. By the time we found it, only the round ends remained. A craftsman had coupled them into a circle and attached a central post with legs salvaged from another once proud piece of furniture. We discovered it in the dim light on the upper floor of a used furnishings store in New Haven, our first purchase as a married couple 48+ years ago.

For several decades the round table was at the hub of our family. In high chairs and captain’s chairs we sat around it eating our meals and playing our games. It always seemed spacious enough to accommodate visitors while sufficiently intimate for discourse and sharing. The polished wood stood firm as our numbers and bodies grew, holding our talk, bouncing our laughter back at us and reverberating with our music.

Retired a few yeas ago for a table with leaves, it was dismantled and relegated once again to storage in a dark upper room.

Last week we resurrected it. Our older son transported it to his sister’s home near New Haven. Our younger son helped in reassembling it. Once again it became our family centerpiece, as all but one of us gathered round it for Thanksgiving. Added to the circle, our granddaughter set the table and created name cards from the holly bush outside. Unable to be with us in person, our younger daughter sent place settings of china she had claimed from my parents’ home after they passed; she too and they were with us.

The round table returns to serve the next generation. One hoop closes and the next opens to begin the arc that someday no doubt will come around again.