lenten journal: once again, with feeling

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First Annual. There’s no such thing. You can have a “first” something—an inaugural event—but it isn’t “annual” until there is at least a second one. You may intend for it to happen every year from the very first time you do it, but it’s only annual when it has happened before.

On Friday, March 3, 1989, I had no idea I was beginning an annual tradition, or that I was even a part of an annual event. What I did know was I was dating an amazing woman and I wanted her to know how amazing I thought she was. So I showed up at her apartment with flowers, a CD, and a theology book, and a card that said, “I’ve never been able to give flowers, music, and a theology book to someone I dated before.” I don’t know how I remembered March 3 the next year, other than it is the day after my parents’ wedding anniversary, but I did remember and it became known as The Day of Gifts for No Reason.

A couple of months ago, Lila, our middle Schnauzer, got out of the yard. I was walking up and down the street calling her name when a woman shouted for the end of the block, “Are you looking for a little black dog?”

“Yes,” I said.

“She’s on the Green.” I ran up to the end of the block, because that’s where the Town Green begins, to see Lila walking the sidewalks in the exact same pattern we follow when we walk her in the evenings. She loves to walk more than anything. She didn’t run away, she just took the chance to do what mattered most. When I called her name, she came running to me, happy as she could be.

One this March 3, I followed the path I have come to know well. I brought Ginger peach roses and purple irises, Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution, a book of essays written by women incarcerated here in Connecticut and Magdelene: Poems by Marie Howe, and tonight we are going to see Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin in a rare acoustic show up in New London, which counts as the music part of the ritual this year.

In my book, Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal, I said that ritual was “meaningful repetition.” We do things again and again because it matters that we do them because they remind us of bigger things. The Twenty-Ninth Annual Day of Gifts for No Reason is far more than than flowers and music and books. It has become, for me, an offering of gratitude. How amazing that I have gotten to do this for twenty-nine years.

Not long after we married, I wrote a song called “Well-Worn Love,” imagining a couple who had spent their lives together. I had no idea what I was talking about, other than imagining that love adds layers of meaning as it grows in years and as the rituals are repeated.

he pours her coffee like every morning
she kisses his nose as she passes
his hair is much thinner than back when they started
and she did not always wear glasses

she smiles with her eyes as he butters his bread
they talk about what’s in the news
he heads for the garden she gathers the laundry
and life feels familiar and true

and this is the story of two common hearts
who started out young and grew old
they have practiced a lifetime the waltz of a well-worn love

he takes her hand coming out of the movie
they stop at a sidewalk café
he finds her a chair that is next to the window
‘cause he knows she likes it that way

she smiles with her eyes at the things he remembers
she touches the side of his face
the moments they share in the balance of time
are the heart of redemption and grace

and this is the story of two common hearts
who started out young and grew old
they have practiced a lifetime the waltz of a well-worn love

she wears the ring that he put on her hand
some forty five years ago
and time is defined by the lines of the love they know

winter comes early with how shadows and snowfall
who knows how long it will stay
so he pours her coffee like every morning
‘cause he knows she likes it that way

and this is the story of two common hearts
who started out young and grew old
they have practiced a lifetime the waltz of a well-worn love

Twenty-Ninth Annual. Thank God.

Peace,
Milton

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Your posts about Ginger always bring to mind David Whyte’s poem, The Poet as Husband, with its lovely final lines: “Remember, I was here and you were here and together we made a world.” It’s an odd internet phenomenon, coming to “know” and care about people that we’re not likely to ever meet in real life. But I wanted to take a minute to thank you for sharing that world that the two of you have made. It makes me happy to know that you’re out there.

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  2. 60 years and 2 months here. A waltz of well known love. In the midst of giving post knee replacement care, I’m really tired. This reminder of the waltz brings tears of gratitude. Thank you, Milton.

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  3. How wonderful to read and know the two of you cherish what you share. The secret of the waltz is to keep it once again with love and feeling. I have been blessed too.

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  4. O Milton, thank you for the poem, which I read through tears. A few weeks ago I took my wife to hospital on our 47th wedding anniversary. Sad to say, only her ashes made it back to our house. “Well Worn Love” captures for me much of what a blessing the commonplaces of marred life can be.

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