lenten journal: just get here . . .


I earned how to read the funny papers from my Dad. That’s what he called the comics. One of the characters who lived in black and white in those days was Dagwood Bumstead, husband of Blondie, and lover of the biggest sandwich you ever saw—everything stacked high, one layer on top of the other.

I thought about that sandwich as Ginger and I were driving from Tarrytown, New York to Richmond, Virginia and I realized I was not going to be able to write my Ash Wednesday post to begin another year of my Lenten Journal, which has been my practice for who knows how many years. I thought of the sandwich because I was thinking of how life right now feels stacked, one thing on top of the other. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day and my regular day to go into New York for work and the day we needed to get to Richmond to prepare for those from our church in Guilford who are coming south for a Civil Rights history tour. I got up at four and packed, caught the five-thirty train to New York, worked, caught a late afternoon train to Tarrytown where Ginger picked up me up, ate a Valentine’s dinner at a cute restaurant on the Hudson River, and then drove as far as we could so we could get up this morning and get to Richmond and prepare for the others. A Dagwood of a day—and it feels like there have been a number of those in a row.

I missed getting to write last night because I find great meaning in my lenten discipline. Over the years it has helped me find focus, distill my thoughts and feelings, and connect with those who read it. And I started my discipline by not doing it. The car was quiet for the last hour or so last night. Ginger had gotten sleepy. The road was not crowded. As I thought about writing, the phrase that hit me is the title of this post: just get here.

The phrase hit play in my mental juke box and I could hear Oleta Adams singing,

you can reach me by railway
you can reach me by trail way
you can reach me on an airplane
you can reach me with your mind
you can reach me by caravan
cross the desert like an Arab man
I don’t care how you get here—just get here if you can

The lyrics landed like grace.

The layers of life are stacking up heavily on far more than me these days. It is hard not to feel sandwiched between pain and pain, over and over again. Our postcard town in Connecticut is still reeling from the accidental death of one of our teenagers. I drove last night as Ginger read news of the shooting in Florida. I could spend the rest of the night writing if all I tried to list even a fraction of all those who are hurting in our world.

In his poem, “The Layers,” Stanley Kunitz asks,

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?

A few lines later, he offers,

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Richmond, a town, like many, that is struggling to come to terms with its layers, getting ready to see what both the layers and the struggle has to say to me and about me and what the conversation might demand of me. Tonight, we got to eat dinner with an old friend and former roommate who lives here—a serendipitous trip back through some layers of my life for which I am deeply grateful. We could have spent the evening talking about the number of years between then and now that we were not in touch. Instead, we told some stories and then dove into the lives we live now, finding new connections and tightening the ties that bind. What mattered most was that we got here.

Lent has begun and I’m a day late—and, even a day late, pushing it to the last hour to get this posted. But I got here. And I will do my best to keep showing up to talk about how things are stacking up.


PS—Take some time to hear her sing . . .


  1. I appreciate your thoughts, especially now. Thank you for being real; so very honest with who you are and where you are. We draw strength together in this sharing.

  2. This wasn’t a big hit. It’s on my regular playlist. Chord changes are subtle & great. Then it came on in Walmart early this morning just now:

    I will follow you will you follow me
    All the days and nights that we know will be
    I will stay with you will you stay with me
    Just one single tear in each passing year

  3. I will sit with the layers of what you have shared. So much here to consider. Thank you for giving me food for thought and prayer about how I might live between the layers, navigate the litter, and possibly help to recycle so that something beautifully meaningful can take shape.

  4. Thank you, Milton. As always, you have filled my heart. If you don’t mind, I’m going to “steal” your Dagwood image for my sermon on Sunday. I’ll give you full credit, of course. But that layer upon layer of pain is what I’m feeling right now. And that is an ok place to start, but you give me some hope that all is not lost. Love and miss you!

  5. Several years ago Oleta’s song and Don Henley’s Heart of the Matter felt like buoys keeping me afloat for a few months. . Thanks for the reminder and the new season of Lenten Journal. Glad you got here.

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