failure to thrive

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Because our church was built in the early 1800s and is full of windows that open, we have had some kind of in person worship for about a year. We have limited the number attending, kept all the windows open (regardless of temperature), done contact tracing, made sure everyone was masked and distanced, and done without congregational singing, but we have met. Still, today felt different. We had in-person Sunday School for the kids on the picnic tables next to the Communal Garden and we were able to have a choir and some amazing cello music. The highlight of the service for me, however, was hearing from our church staff. Instead of one person preaching, Ginger asked each of them to take a few minutes to to talk about how they have thrived during the pandemic. The scripture verse they read before they spoke was Isaiah 43:19:

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

I smiled at myself when I realized that the scripture brought to mind was Stephen Bishop’s “Same Old Tears on a New Background.”

it’s the same old tears on a new background
seeing you as a fading photograph
st hurts too much to laugh these days
I’m all right, yes, I’m all right, all right

Actually, I’m not all right.

One of those who spoke this morning was Clara, our new intern from Yale Divinity School, and she quoted part of the David Whyte poem, “Everything Is Waiting for You.”

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

As she finished, I realized I am not thriving. I love that poem. I have shared that poem. I think David Whyte is telling the truth. And I don’t feel it.

I have two books that offer me hope in their pages and I haven’t been able to finish them for a month. I have a list of people that I love and that I know love me–and I made the list with the intention of sending a note or a text or something–and I haven’t reached out. I have spent a fair number of evenings sitting at this desk thinking about what to write and then choosing, instead, to watch a ball game or a movie. If I hadn’t had sermons to post, I would not have put anything on this site in a long time. I have able to change my dietary habits and choices so at least I am losing weight, which is good because this summer I set the world record for the amount of Milty on the planet, but I have left undone the things that feed me well.

I know what I need to do to thrive, but I am not doing it.

Twenty years ago, my depression, which has been a persistent, mostly unidentified visitor for most of my life, moved in like it owned the place, and Septembers are never easy anniversaries. My good knee has gone bad over the past couple of years and I have am a couple of weeks away from knee replacement surgery, which means no pain killers because they are blood thinners and they want everything out of my system. Because of personnel changes at work, my confidence in myself and the job I do has faded, which pokes at the sense of unworthiness that has dogged me since childhood. And I miss being able to really be with people. The surgery means my knee will get better, but the other stuff is here for a while.

The word thrive comes from a Scandinavian word that means “to grasp oneself”–to get a hold of myself. To have a true sense of who I am. And I don’t have that right now. I still feel somewhat recognizable to myself, but I don’t feel fully present. I don’t have a good grasp of me.

And I am not alone. Though the specifics of our lists may differ, many of us are failing to thrive.

That’s what made me write tonight: both to ask for help and to say we are not alone. We need to get a hold of ourselves. Together. I don’t know another way to thrive.

it’s the same old song with a new melody
but this old candle’s lingering flame is almost gone
to see you again is all that keeps me hangin’ on . . .

As much as I want to say I’m all right, I know I’m not. I’m telling you because that’s the best I can do.

Peace,
Milton

33 COMMENTS

  1. I’m so sorry to hear the depression is back, Milton. Your sharing about your bouts with it in the past has helped me with my own and I so wish I could do something to return the favor now. Know that I’m praying for you – that the weight of it will lift so you can thrive once again.

  2. Your thoughtful honesty rings true for me too Milton. I waiver between rage at the refusers causing the pandemic to surge, and resilience that keeps me connected to the people that I love and miss. It’s hard. Sending you love and hope and thanks for your message today. ☮️

  3. Milton,
    I hear you. Holding you in prayer.
    I’m not thriving either – your words ring true in my soul.
    Love & peace to you, Emily (friend of Eloise)

  4. Thank you for sharing, Milton. It is such strange times we are living all over the world. I came across Padraig O Tuama poem the other day on youtube How to be Alone,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgZT6UJocRs.

    “It all begins with knowing
    nothing lasts forever,
    so you might as well start packing now.
    In the meantime,
    practice being alive.”

    I think we are all trying to do this. Would love to give you a hug to let you know that I am thinking of you and hope your knee goes well. I do like reading your messages, with love, Helen

  5. Milton, so wise of you to share. This covid crap has done nothing for us who suffer. I believe in the power of prayer and good thoughts, so i’ll pray every day for you.

  6. Dear Milton, People who read your blog know the real you…we know who you are. Your words resonate with us. Last week we were a long way from home with some friends and we shared your piece on hearing loss and being a “hearing aid” with them. We have done this many times as the subject dictated. You allow us another way to share life. Thank you.

  7. Joe has also had deep bouts of depression all of his life. Having lived with his, I understand the depth of what you are feeling. The hunger for one moment of true joy, is broad and heavy. Know that there are sparks along the way. Catch them. Hold them tight. Let them lighten your path.

  8. Oh, Milton, clearly you’ve been reading my mind, or perhaps just my internal mail! Oh, dear God, do I ever identify with this. You put into words what I have been struggling to say/admit for a while. I am “sunny side up, suckin’ air and sober” – and I am grateful for all that – but I am surviving, but not thriving. You are definitely not alone, brother – and your words brought great comfort. Proof once again of CS Lewis’ gentle truth: “True friendship begins at the moment when one says to another, ‘You too? I thought I was the only one…” Zen hugs from these Ozark hills, brother.

  9. I had missed your last two entries. I read your last one and realized that I should have read the oldest entry first. Something was going on I intuited. Indeed, the “thorn in your side” is something that you have been very open about in your blog. I am so very grateful for you and your writings. I was introduced to you in your book called Keeping the Feast which I first read in a small group led by a retired pastor who operates a small diversified farm in Indiana. I appreciated your writing style and your love of food and music and life, really. I will forever be a follower of your work. I look forward to your writings —- the blog essays ring authentic and welcome me to join with you and others who seek to be awake and alive. I frequently check out your references as you like to give credit to others and their works and influences . I have discovered and re-discovered other writers and musicians through you. I join all your readers in expressing our gratitude to your willingness to connect with us whenever and however. In this moment, The prayer of Good Courage comes to mind—- nudges of the Holy Spirit I suppose. I understand this prayer is shared daily at Holden Village and ELCA Camp Ministry in Washington. I have made it a part of my divine sharing and listening.

    O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.
    Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go , but only that your hand is leading us and your love is supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

    May we each experience good courage and sense God’s love and presence as we make the path ahead by walking.

    Love to you. Always.

    Janet

    • Janet,
      Thank you so much. Some years after Keeping the Feast came out, I learned about the pastor in Indiana who used it on retreats at the farm. I have always hoped to meet them. Thank you for all that you said, and particularly for the prayer.

      Peace,
      Milton

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