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a digressive amplitude

4

In my newsletter yesterday, I leaned into a quote from Kieran Setiya. The last sentence reads,

Don’t let the lure of the dramatic arc distract you from the digressive amplitude of being alive.

I have been dealing with the article for a couple of days, but I didn’t notice the phrase “digressive amplitude” until I say down to write tonight. I had to look up definitions of both words to get what he was saying.

digressive: tending to depart from the subject
amplitude: breadth, range, or magnitude
digressive amplitude: the magnitude that tends to depart from the subject.

Hold that thought.

When I woke this morning, the day appeared to offer the promise of sunshine, so I set off for my periodic Costco run in hopes that the afternoon would be as bright as the temperature was unseasonably warm. By the time I crossed the Connecticut River, the fog had rolled back in. The return trip home was a journey into a deepening gray horizon. Something about the day made me question myself, an existential exercise I can fall into too easily. I could feel the pull to escape the weight of the day by sleeping through it.

I was determined not to give in. I took the Schnauzers for a walk around the Green, but was still fading when we got back. Finally, I told Ginger I was going to see who needed rides instead of giving into the Nap Monster awaiting me on the couch. At least, I thought to myself, I can be useful and help someone get where they’re going. Lyft encouraged me with some bonus offers if I drove during certain hours, so off I went to New Haven.

I have learned that Union Station is a good place to start. I was about three minutes away when I received a request to pick someone up there and take them to East Haven–about a ten minute drive. He had ridden the train from Virginia, where he had spent two weeks with family. He looked like he had hiked for two weeks–and loved it. In the course of our conversation, I found out his dad has a friend in Guilford who makes wine in his basement.

The next passenger was a young woman with a small baby who went from one house to another without saying much, other than wishing me well. Then I picked up a young woman and took her to a strip center in Woodbridge and dropped her off at a store called Clay Time. She stayed silent for most of the trip. After she got out of the car, I pulled into a parking place to answer a few text messages. I got a request for a ride about two minutes later and it was the same person going back to where I had picked her up.

She smiled when I pulled up. Turns out she was just picking up a project she had completed. Something about our brief familiarity created space for conversation. I asked if she was a potter and she said she was learning. As we talked, I made some comment about putting the batter on the wheel (meaning the clay) and said something about my days in the kitchen making me think in cooking terms. She asked if I was a chef and that took things a whole different direction. I then asked what kind of work she did only to find out she was in high school and worked part time at a daycare center. She talked about how much she liked the people she worked with and then she said, “It seems like whatever you do is okay if you like the people you work with.” I agreed.

The address for the next pickup was a 7-Eleven. When I pulled in, two young men in Orthodox Jewish attire got in the car. They were talkative from the moment we left the parking lot. I learned there is a Jewish boarding school in New Haven. One of the guys had come from Tampa and the other from just outside Worcester, Massachusetts. At one point, the younger one called somebody to tell them he had gotten posters for something. The person on the other end must have been surprised at how quickly it had happened because the guy in the car said, “How did I do it so quickly? Because I have a great Lyft driver, that’s how.”

I was about ready to call it an evening when one more alert came up. Someone needed a ride from the CVS next to the New Haven Green to the Lulu Lemon store about a mile away. The woman who got in the car had left her headband that covered her ears on the train and Lulu Lemon had the replacement. By this time it had started to rain a bit. I asked if she was going to need a ride home after her shopping and she said she would. I told her I would wait, so she added the stop to her ride, bought her head band, and we kept going, as did our conversation. By the time I dropped her off at her apartment, we had found connections in Puerto Rico, teaching high school English, Yale Divinity School, and the love of Schnauzers.

Now back to the quote. Here is a larger piece of it:

Whatever story you tell about yourself, however simple and straightforward, there is endlessly more to your actual life. As Joe Moran insists: “To call any life a failure, or a success, is to miss the infinite granularity, the inexhaustible miscellany of all lives … A life can’t really succeed or fail at all; it can only be lived.” . . . The more you appreciate the sheer abundance of incident, the more you’ll see any life as an assortment of small successes and small failures, and the less prone you will be to say, despairingly, “I’m a loser”—or with misplaced bravado, “I’m a winner!” Don’t let the lure of the dramatic arc distract you from the digressive amplitude of being alive.

This time around, I can also see “infinite granularity” and “inexhaustible miscellany.” In my personal exhaustion, I drove around in the inexhaustible miscellany of the lives I helped get from station to home, store to store, all of it happening within a five mile radius of downtown New Haven. The digressive amplitude–the magnitude of miscellany,–pulled me out of my sad story and into “the sheer abundance of incident,” as Setiya calls it, that makes life, well, life.

And, when I got home, Ginger and I had spaghetti for dinner. It is, after all, National Spaghetti Day.

Peace,
Milton

you say you want a resolution

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All this week (wait–it’s only Tuesday!) I have been reading different takes on resolutions for the year ahead. A couple of them stood out to me. One was this picture of Woody Guthrie’s “New Year’s Rulin’s” from 1943. My favorites were 17-20:

17. don’t get lonesome
18. stay glad
19. keep hoping machine alive
20. dream good

Another is a list of resolutions by Jacob Zweig from 2018, but it showed up in no less than five places for me. A couple that stood out:

Never try to get other people to change their minds without first trying to understand why they think the way they do. Never do that without being open to the possibility that the mind that might need to change the most could be your own.

Work harder at making the familiar strange. Walk or drive a different route than your daily routine; work away from your desk; read something flamboyantly irrelevant; call someone you don’t need to call; look up at the sky instead of the concrete. When you turn back to your routine, it will feel freshened.

Befriend someone at least 20 years younger than you, and someone at least 20 years older than you. Each of you will make the other smarter and better.

The deepest roots of the word resolution go back to the fourteenth century: “a breaking or reducing into parts; process of reducing things into simpler forms.” The word resolve breaks down into re (again) and solve (to loosen, untie, release, explain). The roots are interesting to me because when people talk about making New Year’s resolutions I can feel my body stiffen. They feel like extra pressure, extra complications, extra obligations–not breaking things into simpler forms.

My point here is not to trash resolutions as a practice. We all need moments to reset and re-solve our lives, figure out again who we are and who we hope to be in the world. If the beginning of a new year is a mark that works for you, then work it. What I am listening to is the invitation to to reduce things into simpler forms. I am an excellent complicator. I want to lose weight, get in shape, play my guitar more, write everyday, learn how to bake bread, and play pickle ball all at once.

All of those things need my attention. What is the simpler form? How can I live in a way that sets me free rather than binds me up?

Woody had a pretty good sense of it, I think. Look back at his list. It revolves around daily tasks, personal and professional habits, and, of course, fighting fascism. The prophet Micah pared it down to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, though I don’t know that he had any sense of what New Year’s Day was about. I like Micah’s big brush alongside of Woody’s sense of the impact of little things and small measures. They make quite a team.

One draft of this post ended with a list of simple things for the year ahead, but I deleted it (from the post, not from my thoughts) because my reason for writing was not to post my intentions for the days to come. I’m still sorting out what life is going to look like for more reasons than the change of year, and, as I said, resolutions are not usually part of my practice.

Instead, I want to sit with the idea of making life simpler, breaking it down to its essence: How do I stay true to what matters most to me? That feels so simple that it will take a year to answer.

Peace,
Milton

puzzling

1

puzzling

the last time I saw a puzzle
spread out across the table
was at my mother’s apartment
some time after my dad died
we sat across from each other

she and I like we did when I was
in high school each of us choosing
a section the picture to complete
but we never kept to ourselves
it was easier to find her piece

than it was to see mine it seemed
or perhaps it was the way she said
my name in fake disgust when I
said “I think this fits right in there”
last night I started a puzzle that

Ginger gave me seven years to the
day that Mom went into hospice
and I flew to Texas to sit
with her as she played her last piece
confident that everything fit

the image I am trying to
put together is a VW bus
(she knows I’ve always wanted one)
set in a winter scene of trees
lights wild life and wooden fences

some pieces shout their connection
while others are more shy and wait
to fit in until I give them
the opportunity leaving
scattered shapes left lost and alone

but I will find where they belong
the pieces will fall into place
you know life is not that easy
but maybe that is the good news
life is nothing like a puzzle

Peace,
Milton

I write a free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors that comes out every Tuesday. I would love for you to subscribe. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member or buy me a cup of coffee. Thanks.

meal as metaphor

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meal as metaphor

this penultimate night of the
year was the night to make
something out of everything
to use up–no–to make the best
out of a few things whose
refrigerator visas had run out
a pork tenderloin baby potatoes
and green beans all had promise
the supporting cast included
olive oil cornstarch buttermilk
panko bread crumbs lemon
juice dijon mustard butter
always a little butter
I cut the pork in pieces big
enough to pound into cutlets
breaded and fried them
steamed the green beans
with some lemon juice
boiled the potatoes to halfway
done and then smashed and
pan fried them then I made a
quick sauce with the butter
mustard lemon juice and a little
limoncello that made it all taste
like I’d planned it no like I meant it
meals are not always metaphors
but tonight felt like this year
full of perishable ingredients and
things that didn’t go as planned
another one without a recipe
would that it tasted as good to
say I meant it about the year
as it did to sit down to dinner

Peace,
Milton

the story of tonight

5

I planned for a couple of hours of driving late this afternoon. I had not had much reason to get out of the house today and driving a few people around New Haven felt like a good idea. Around 2:30 I drove into town, thinking I would start at Union Station. Sure enough, I was about four blocks away when the Lyft app pinged to see if I was available. I hit the purple “Accept” button and made my way to the station.

The man who got in was not going far. He lived about three miles from the station, straight down State Street. I dropped him off and wound my way back to the edge of the New Haven Green when I heard the ping once more. In a short time, they have trained me well to respond. The person requesting a ride was back at Union Station. I pulled in right at 3 o’clock and a man walked toward the car, accompanied by a woman and a little girl. I slid the bar in the app that lets it know I had picked up my charges and then I noticed when we were expected to arrive at their destination: 5:25.

I had signed on to drive to Linden, New Jersey, one hundred miles away; that should be a two hour trip. I looked at the map and saw a succession of red lines along the route, indicating traffic problems. I pulled out of the station and into the traffic.

We worked our way down I-95 to I-287 and then cut down the Hutchinson Parkway to the Sawmill Parkway to the Henry Hudson Parkway to the George Washington Bridge that took us across the Hudson River. They talked among themselves for the most part, other than to ask me if there was a way to charge their phones. As we moved from parkway to parkway, the arrival time kept moving as well. We crossed the GW at sunset, which was around five, and that was the one time I wished the traffic had stopped. The sky was completely clear and the last rays of sunlight–that amazing shade of peach and red and orange all layered into one another–colored the air that hung behind the skyline of New York and the Hudson.

It was awe-inspiring, even in heavy traffic and even when the app changed to say we wouldn’t get to Linden until 6:25.

Once we cleared the bridge and the logjam on the other side, the instructions on the map told me to exit to the Alexander Hamilton Rest Area. I asked the man if he had scheduled the stop and he said no, but asked if I needed to. It was then I figured out that the app knew I had been driving for almost two and a half hours and was designed to make sure I got a break. The family was also ready to get out of the car for a bit, even though we were only about forty minutes from their house, so we stopped. He asked if I wanted a coffee and I declined. I went to the restroom and came back to the car to call Ginger and catch her up on my adventure.

When the family returned, the man knocked on my window before he got in the back and handed me a cup of coffee.

“I thought you would like it,” he said.

I thanked him and we got back on the road. Something in the stop started a conversation. He kept talking.

“In India, if you are traveling with a driver, when you stop the driver is treated like family. He eats what the family eats and joins them.”

“I love that,” I said and thanked them again for the coffee. I asked what part of India they were from (“The north,” he said.) and how long they had been in the US. She and the little girl had come about eighteen months ago; he had only been here a year. He went on to say they had lived in Japan for eight years before coming here, so it had been a long time since they had lived in India.

“I speak Japanese,” the little girl said and giggled.

I asked if they came to New Haven often. What I learned is that she and the girl live there. He is in New Jersey for his work. They travel back and forth frequently. I let the rest of my questions go unasked because I didn’t want them to feel interrogated. He had questions of his own. He asked where I lived.

I told him and he followed up wondering why I had been willing to drive so far. I told him part of it was I was still learning how to use the app and didn’t realize what I had agreed to do, and part of it was I had time to do it.

“We feel like three hours has been a long time, but you have to do it twice. Thank you. I hope you can find someone to drive back that will make the drive home worth it.”

Suffice it to say Linden, New Jersey is not the reason they call it the Garden State. The traffic was heavy, even the shops looked industrial. We turned a couple of blocks off of the main artery we had taken from the freeway and into the parking lot of a weary apartment building. They got out and we said our goodbyes. I watched them go in the building and then I pulled back into the traffic to work my way home.

Because of the rest area, Hamilton was in my head, so I asked Siri to play it as I drove back across the Hudson. At first, I was playing around with the opening number because my name has the same number of syllables–

Milton Brasher-Cunningham
My name is Milton Brasher-Cunningham
and there’s so many things I haven’t done
but just you wait

I played around with the verses for a few miles, amusing myself, and then kept listening to the soundtrack. A few songs later, as Hamilton and his pals sang together in the tavern, I heard their words in a new way because of my unexpected journey:

and when our children tell our story…
they’ll tell the story of tonight . . .

Whether any children tell it or not, it was fun telling you.

Peace,
Milton

who’s with me?

3

One of the people I got to meet, or at least talk to, while I was working as an editor is Debie Thomas, who is minister of lifelong formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, California, and author of Into the Mess and Other Jesus Stories. About this time last year, I contacted her with a book idea about prayer because of something she had written in The Christian Century and we had a great conversation, but she had publishing allegiances elsewhere and the idea fell by the wayside as I finished my time at the publishing house.

This week she has another great article called “The Feeling I No Longer Pray For.” I love the subtitle as well: “One of the reasons I left my childhood faith tradition is that I didn’t feel what I was supposed to feel.” Her writing is compelling for several reasons, but I came back to it tonight after an afternoon of being a Lyft driver (can I say Lyfting?) because one section was illuminated by my afternoon. She wrote:

Most of us have an easy time perceiving God in our gratitude, our awe, our reverence, our delight. But what if God is just as present in our boredom, our irritation, our hunger, and our fury? What if God dwells as richly in the laundry room, the cafeteria, the schoolyard, and the boardroom as God does in the pews, the sermon, the chalice, and the baptismal font?

My first alert was to pick up D’Andre at Union Station in New Haven and drive him to an address in Wethersfield, about thirty miles north, not too far from Hartford. When I pulled up in front of the station, he got in with a weekend bag, a big coat, and a large paper bag full of what looked to be Christmas gifts. He was returning from his family home in Pennsylvania and had been on a train most of the day. It took about forty minutes to get to his house. I dropped him off in a town I had never visited and waited to see who would call next.

Someone named Jane needed me to pick them up in Glastonbury, the town across the Connecticut River. I took her from her job at a nursing home to her apartment in East Hartford. She had had a long day at work and was ready for a nap, she said. From there I met Juanita when I picked her up at the Walgreens nearby where she had picked up a prescription after having a tooth pulled and took her back to Wethersfield–to a Buffalo Wild Wings. I assumed she was going to work. My last ride of the day was Michael who was getting off work at a small grocery store and going home to his apartment in Rocky Hill, the town just south of Wethersfield, which pointed me back towards Guilford. Michael got in the car and said, “I saw from the frame on your license plate that you’re a Red Sox fan. Me, too. Can I ask you a question: what the hell are they doing?”

And we talked baseball all the way to his house.

Once again, I was chauffeur to the ordinary. No one who got in my car was in crisis, or on their way to some life-changing encounter. They were leaving work, running errands, going home. I was following the little arrow on the screen in my dashboard, taking them from here to there and then driving off. We did not create any memories, cause any trouble, or bring about any sort of significant societal upheaval. What if God is just as present not only in our boredom, our irritation, our hunger, and our fury, but also in our routines, our baseball dreams, our toothaches, our jobs, and our rides home as we imagine God to be in the more definable moments of life?

I think that last sentence works better as a statement than it does as a question: God is just as present in our boredom, our irritation, our hunger, our fury, our routines, our baseball dreams, our toothaches, our jobs, and our rides home as we imagine God to be in the more definable moments of life.

The journey to Bethlehem has more to do with God’s presence in the ordinariness of life than it does in making Jesus into a Boy King. That a young, poor Palestinian girl had a baby was not news, it was just life. That she had it in a barn in a town far from home because of the oppressive rule of the Romans was not news, it was just life. The kid’s name proves the point: Emmanuel, God With Us.

This time last year, what I did for a job was deal with important ideas. I often described my work as an editor as being an encourager for a living, and I was encouraging people writing about gardening as spiritual practice, how churches could engage reparations, and what it was like to become friends with a man on death row, among others. I felt like a midwife for words that needed to be born into the world, for things that mattered.

This year, I am a chauffeur to the ordinary, among other things, as I try to figure out my own employment situation. At times, I want to ask myself the same question Michael asked of the Red Sox: what the hell am I doing?

I am doing what I can.

When Joseph first heard what the child was to be called–God With Us–I wonder how he felt? Emmanuel is a powerful name, but just naming the boy didn’t change any of the surrounding circumstances. Still, God was with them. Both he and Mary had to trust that those were more than words. How they lived that out doesn’t really get discussed in the gospels beyond the birth narratives.

We aren’t always real good at discussing it among ourselves either. It’s one thing to trust and another to try and put it into words. To say God was with me today is not saying I channelled the Blues Brothers and felt like I was on a mission from God. It is saying it was easier to see God in the manuscripts than it is following an arrow on a map on my way to Buffalo Wild Wings.

I’ll leave it at that, for now.

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. My book, The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon until December 31. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member or buy me a cup of coffee.

living words

9

Seventeen years ago tonight I wrote my first post for don’t eat alone. It was titled “working with what I have.” The first paragraph I wrote said:

I’ve been staring at the “posting” screen for several days now trying to figure out how to join the world of food bloggers. Since I’m writing from a Mac and I don’t know much about HTML, I’m still not sure about adding links and so forth. I wanted the blog to look less plain, but I decided to work with what I have rather than wait for everything to be perfect.

I went on to talk about what I made for Christmas dinner when I realized I didn’t have all the ingredients for what I had hoped to make. Even before Chopped, my life was a Chopped episode.

According to WordPress, I have written 2,254 posts (including tonight), which means I have averaged a post about every three days, though in actuality the writing has come in bunches followed by word droughts rather than an even offering over the years. I’m tempted to say it represents a body of work, but that body would be more akin to the guy Dr. Frankenstein sewed together from random body parts, if I were to follow the metaphor.

I have not had an overarching vision for this site, nor have I ever done much to market it other than crosspost on social media. I think there is a consistent theme and that is because the basic thing I say (and that I try to find new ways to say) is that everybody belongs: we are all in this together and we need to take care of each other. When I had to create a description for the site seventeen years ago, I wrote, “thoughts on food, faith, family, and friends.” That still holds up.

The title of the blog comes from the quote in the sidebar:

“There is no joy in eating alone.”–The Buddha, 536 BCE

But that’s only part of it. In January 1973 CE, I started to school at Westbury High School. It was the middle of my junior year. My parents had resigned from the Mission Board rather suddenly and we moved to Houston where my father was interviewing with a church. It looked like he was going to be called to the church, but things weren’t official, so my brother and I started to school but we couldn’t tell anyone why we were in town and we didn’t know any of the kids from the church youth group. And we were in different schools since he was still in junior high.

Starting in an American high school at midterm of eleventh grade was brutal. Not knowing anyone made it worse. Lunch was excruciating because I had to eat alone. In my memory, that went on for a couple of weeks. I didn’t keep count of the days except they seemed to go on forever–until one day I was sitting at a table by myself when I heard a voice behind me say, “There’s the guy I’m looking for.”

I froze. Somehow I knew he was talking to me and I didn’t know why. The boy stepped up to the table and introduced himself. His name was Gordon, his parents were missionaries in Zimbabwe and had been appointed with my parents, and he and I had known each other as little kids. He had a big smile. He picked up my tray and said, “Come with me.” Then he walked me to the table where the kids from the youth group at his church were sitting, set my tray down as they made a place for me, and changed my world.

When I found the Buddha quote in a cookbook our friend Cherry gave me for Christmas, I was back at that table at Westbury High School and I knew what I wanted to call this blog because I hoped the words here would be living words that would do for others what Gordon did for me: make a place at the table so we all could eat together.

Through these posts I have made friends, been able to write books, shared a bunch of recipes, and learned to trust myself when I say I am a writer. I am grateful to you for reading, for commenting, and for connecting. On that first night, I couldn’t imagine that seventeen years later I would still be posting. I wasn’t sure I would last seventeen weeks.

But I am still writing, which I think has also kept me living–and available to meet for lunch.

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member or buy me a cup of coffee.

advent journal: maybe, baby

0

I’m writing tonight between our two Christmas Eve services. The early one at five is described as the family service so that folks know it may be a little louder than the ten o’clock service, which is candle light and Communion. For the first time in three Christmases, the room felt full. We sang the same carols you probably sang at your place and, as we sang “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” I was caught once again by the line

risen with healing in his wings.

Carols often leave me thinking English was built for Christmas. Just look at the rhymes in this song: king, bring, sing, wing. The whole thing comes gliding in on rather confident rhymes. The angels were making a joyful noise, after all, and Charles Wesley, the hymn writer, penned a victorious image.

After the carol, we read the opening verses of the second chapter of Luke that juxtapose the political machinations of emperors and governors with the birth of Jesus in a cattle stall, far away, at that point, from palaces or power or even angel choirs.

Sitting here at my computer, I turned to rhymezone.com–a site I have often found helpful–and typed “baby” into the search bar. The results were

babie, cabey, day be, gayby, haby, layby, mabey, maybe, may be, may bee, nabi, rabey, raby, sabey, slaby, smaby, taibei, taibi, they be, way be (emphasis theirs).

The best rhyme for baby is maybe, as far as rhymes go; they also share some harmony in meaning because both words speak of possibilities, or what might happen. The possibility born with the baby was that he would grow up, that he would become someone.

That possibility–that hope–is what is sustaining me this season. This year. I can’t find much sustenance in the certainty of kings, no matter how well they rhyme, but maybe, baby, in the throes of all we don’t understand and all the grief that we carry, we have something to sing about.

That’s enough for now. Merry Christmas.

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: without you

2

without you

if I quote the words you can
probably say them with me
“you’ve been given a great gift
George: a chance to see what the
world would be like without you”

but the gift of without that
most of us get comes wrapped
as grief the chance to learn
what the world is like without
someone we are used to seeing

yet the presence of their absence
is still not enough to persuade
us that the fingerprints we leave
are more than evidence of our
failures faults and near misses

the real gift was not that George
saw a world without him but that
Mary was out looking for him
his dream of absence was a reality
she was not willing to abide

we all have that to offer one
other to say life without you
is hard you have been on my
mind down all these years
I am not me without you

we are a collage of compassion
shaped by incidental contact
the daily gestures that grant
us access to each other’s lives
that make us friends and family

Peace,
Milton

Thanks for reading. For the month of December, my book, The e-book version of The Color of Together is 99 cents at Amazon. Please check it out. Also, You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter, mixing metaphors. It comes out every Tuesday. Both my newsletter and blog are free and ad-free. If you would like to support my writing, you can become a sustaining member.

advent journal: screen shot

3

It turns out that the shortest day of the year is also the birthday of a number of people who matter to me, and two of them live Guilford. Ginger and I went to celebrate them and then stopped on the way home to celebrate some time together. It was only after we got home did I find out that CBS had aired “Homeward Bound: A Grammy Salute to the Songs of Paul Simon.” Tonight, as I sat down to write, I searched for it and found the entire concert at CBS.com and put off writing for awhile.

Paul Simon has been writing and performing songs my entire life. Literally. He and Art Garfunkel started singing together in 1956, when Simon was fifteen. By the time I was fifteen, they had released Bridge Over Troubled Water, their last album together, and I was trying to learn how to play his songs on the guitar I got that Christmas. I learned quickly that even though he sang the truth, he used way more than three songs.

As I listened to a wide variety of artists perform Simon’s songs tonight, I thought a lot about my father, which caught me by surprise a bit. The more I thought about it, however, it made sense because Simon and Garfunkel were the soundtrack of my growing up. I loved the harmonies to begin with and grew into the lyrics. And Dad liked a number of the songs as well. Because of the years we spent together as a family in Zambia and Kenya, he loved Graceland.

Maybe I also thought about my father because he had already showed up a couple of times today. The cover photo on my phone is a picture of the two of us talking as we sat on a stone step at a park of some sort near Princeton, New Jersey where the family had gathered for my nephew’s graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary in May, 2012. Neither of us knew that Ginger took the picture. When Dad died the following summer, I made it the cover photo on my iPhone and it has stayed there ever since. Quite regularly, I manage to take a screen shot as I put my phone in the tech pocket of my jeans. My photos have random copies of the picture with specific times and dates.

I did it twice today, making it look as though my father and I were together 11:46 and again at 1:15. When I scrolled back through my pictures I found four or five more, and then almost that many in the “recently deleted” file. Nine and a half years later, Dad keeps showing up.

I’m grateful.

Just recently I made the comment that I feel closer to my father now than I did when he was living. What I mean by that is, though he is physically dead, our relationship is still alive in my life. That a periodic photo of him shows up in my camera roll is an apt metaphor. The power of our memories are in how we remember them. He and I had a number of tough years and I wish he had found room in his theology to be more inclusive than he was. I don’t mean I am glossing over that. What I am trying to say is I keep going back to those moments where we found each other, or the places where I can feel his influence on my life, and I dig in there, mining the memories for new insight and sustenance.

The opening and closing tracks to Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends album were versions of the same song, also called “Bookends.” It was a simple, rather haunting guitar line and these words:

time it was
and what a time it was
it was
a time of innocence
a time of confidences
long ago it must be
I have a photograph
preserve your memories
they’re all that’s left you

Simon was probably twenty-five or so when he wrote them, along with a line from another song on the record called “Old Friends.”

can you imagine us years from today
sharing a park bench quietly
how terribly strange to be seventy

I suppose it’s terribly strange to be most any age, and often difficult to put ourselves where we have yet to be, or perhaps where we were long ago. We live from one screen shot to the next, stitching them together into a life, tethered to our memories.

When I was twelve listening to Bookends, I couldn’t imagine my father and I as men sitting side by side on a stone step next to the Delaware River, yet we somehow managed to get there, together.

I am grateful he keeps showing up.

Peace,
Milton

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