Today may be St. Patrick’s Day, but yesterday was the meeting of the Greater Marshfield Clergy Spousal Support Group and Book Club (with subcommittees on Fine Ales and Spicy Foods), which meets with some regularity at Namaste, a wonderful Indian restaurant in Plymouth. The group is made up of my friend Doug, whose wife is in seminary right now, and me. We also make up the subcommittees.
Doug is a great guy with a big heart, a strong sense of justice, a great sense of humor, and a desire to grow and learn. He is a surveyor by trade, but that doesn’t even come close to telling the story. He is a master of the backyard grill, a lover of Buddy Miller and other great American music, a painter, and a drummer.
Our two-hour lunches take us all around the world, starting with the Indian food we both love. Yesterday it was Lamb Samosas, Aloo Tikki (spicy potato patties), Rogan Josh (a spicy lamb dish), Malai Kofta (vegetable balls in a spicy sauce), Poori, and Nan (two types of Indian bread).
Our book discussion centered on Parker Palmer’s The Active Life, which Doug read a little while back. Doug talked about being moved by Palmer’s idea of doing what you were most passionate about, which for him is painting. He went on to talk about the creative tension in finding such joy in working with oil and canvas and wondering if it was bordering on being too self-absorbed.
He reminded me of a story I heard on All Things Considered about Joey Cheek, an American speed skater, who won a gold medal at the Olympics and donated his $25,000 award to a foundation that provided play equipment for refugee children in Darfur. Cheek talked about becoming aware of the plight of the children while he was in Athens because, he said, people outside of the United States hear about this everyday. Thanks to the self-absorption of the American media, he knew little of the genocide that is the story of the Sudan. He decided he had to do something and his medal award gave him something to do.
The story connected to what Doug was saying in two ways. One, the kind of focus it takes to become a human NASCAR vehicle on a flat ice track must border on self-absorption and, two, he gave the money to buy play equipment, not food. In the interview, Cheek responded to the second thing by saying play was an essential part of childhood development, even where people are starving and homeless.
“If you don’t help people develop normally as possible then they stand little chance of ever knowing a normal life,” he said.
One of Palmer’s emphases that speaks deeply to me is his focus on creative tension. he talks about comtemplation-and-action, not as polar opposites, but as two things inextricably connected and full of creative energy. I think of it this way: if the poles are the Arctic and Antarctica, wouldn’t it be more interesting to live at the Equator than to pick one ice floe over the other? A speed skater who pays attention to more than his skating form is now helping kids who may have never seen ice; what kind of connections can we make if we pay attention?
Somewhere in our conversations over curry, Doug and I always end up talking about music. As I said, he’s a drummer. I play guitar and sing and I never got to be in a garage band when I was a kid. I still need to get that out of my system. One of these days, we’re going to finish lunch and head back to his house to set up the drum kit and jam. And one of these days, I’m going to sing in a band just for the hell of it.
As I was driving home after lunch, I thought about the band again, even though we didn’t get to talk about it yesterday. I even have a name: Love Dogs, which comes from a Rumi poem.
One night a man was crying,
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
you express is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
I had a dream last night that Ginger and I were standing on the side of a golf course watching two teenage boys play. They were both on the same hole, but not together, or even aware of each other. One worked hard on his form and went about each shot methodically, as if her were reading from a manual. He was dressed like he had just stepped off of the PGA tour. It was obvious he was taking lessons and was working hard to make sure his form was exactly as he had been told it should be. He swung and the ball bounced up on to the green, but he didn’t seem to find any joy in his accomplishment. His brow furrowed as he began to contemplate his next shot, even though he was still a long way from where the ball had landed.
The second kid was in jeans and a t-shirt. He was carrying his clubs. He also had good form, but it came from a different place, from a place deep inside him. His movements were organic and even joyful. He swung with ease and the ball rolled up next to the one belonging to the first boy. He smiled, picked up his bag, and looked up into the trees as he walked toward the green, thinking about nothing other than how great it felt to be outside on a beautiful day.
“They’re both good,” Ginger said in the dream, “but only one of them is enjoying it. He’ll do this the rest of his life.”
I woke up and thought, “Be a Love Dog.”
PS — Apropos of nothing except today’s date, here’s an Irish soup recipe that I’m making today at the restaurant.