I don't recall if I ever told you how the sunrise reminds me of you as it breaks through the clouds signaling a new start signaling a new day just as you are the start of something wonderful the dawning of a new day as it warms the brisk morning air waking the songbirds who sing to their lovers just as I am awakened by beauty and seduction, and grace as it shines into the darkness illuminating hidden corners returning color to the world just as we illuminate each other one coloring the other but in this very moment as I write these words I realize that all along I have had it wrong for it is not that the sunrise reminds me of you but rather that you are my sunrise
Growing up in a relatively strict, but by no means dogmatic, religious household, I was raised to follow and respect various rituals. We attended church on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, as well as Wednesday night. There were youth groups and youth retreats and summer jobs at youth camps.
In addition, there was the ritual of school – lessons and tests and homework and after-school activities, five or six days a week.
When I joined the Air Force, almost a year out of high school, the rituals shifted but became more prevalent. Inspections and marching and even more classroom time, followed by active duty assignments that required pre- and post-activites, as well as active participation during.
As I entered my 30’s, I begun to shun anything that smacked of ‘ritual.’ I became, almost overnight, a student of the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants school of living life. I was still punctual for appointments, still a dutiful employee that would show up early and leave late, still a doting husband and father (to varying degrees, depending on which ex-wife or child you ask). But making plans was something I had no taste for, no interest in.
I became very much a go-with-the-flow partner and friend, always happy to be along for the ride, but rarely engaged in making plans myself.
Don’t get me wrong; nobody would consider me a “free spirit” or anything like that. I like to have a plan in place, and follow it as closely as possible. I just dreaded the work of having to come up with a plan myself. I much preferred having others do that dirty work for me.
However, now that I am well into my 50’s, I am learning to appreciate, and even love, more structure. Over the last couple of years, the importance of (secular) rituals has begun to resonate with me again.
It’s been said that in order for a ritual to truly take hold, you have to repeat it for anywhere from three weeks to two months, depending on which scientific study you’re reading. The best illustration I’ve seen of this is from the author Sarah Bakewell, who compares the process of learning a new habit to digging ditches in your brain that allows the thoughts and habits to flow freely and without effort, as rain water drains from a field into a river.
Some have been easier than others. At the insistence of both my son and my girlfriend, I have quit drinking coffee and switched to black tea in the mornings. I’ve noticed no ill effects from the switch, and my stomach seems to appreciate the loss of the acidic quality of the dark French roast that I so loved.
More complicated is my relationship with the meditation practice I began nearly a year ago. That continues to grow in fits and spurts; I’ll go a week or two with my daily practice, then slack off for a few days until I realize that I’ve become tense again and need to realign my perspective.
As the weather has begun to warm, my current favorite (begun at the end of last week, and by no means a ritual yet) is to spend an hour on the back porch first thing in the morning, listening to the birds, completing my daily Duolingo lessons, and reading. I find it to be very calming for me personally, and both the language learning and book reading feed my intellectual needs quite nicely.
Rituals, it turns out, are not such a bad thing after all. They are just another tool to help me navigate the daily grind.
I breathe in and know that I am breathing in I think and know that I am thinking I hear and know that I am hearing I breathe out and know that I am breathing out I taste and know that I am tasting I listen and know that I am listening I feel and know that I am feeling I breathe in and know that I am breathing in I eat and know that I am eating I touch and know that I am touching I drink and know that I am drinking I breathe out and know that I am breathing out I breathe in and know that I am breathing in I am distracted and know that I am distracted I breathe out and know that I am breathing out I begin again and know that I am beginning again
I’ve been thinking a lot about languages lately.
Looking back over the last few years, I can divide my interests and efforts into generalized, annualized categories:
2017 – my Finding My Roots phase
2018 – my Making Music phase
2019 – my Writing A Book phase
2020 – my Writing A Book Of Poetry phase
2021 – my Math And Philosophy phase
This year – actually, it started at the end of 2021 – I began delving into languages. My obsession with French philosophy in the second half of 2021 lead me to want to be able to read certainly philosophy books by Camus and Sartre and de Beauvoir in the original French. I dusted off my Duolingo account from early 2018 (where I’d been learning Spanish as a result of my ancestral search) and started the French language track.
Then, when a close friend of mine told me she might have a chance to visit Italy at the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023, I convinced her to start learning Italian on Duolingo, and promised I’d support her in her efforts. So, now the two of us are imparando a parlare italiano even as I continue to aprendere à lire le français in my spare time.
As I’ve worked a bit ahead of her in Italian, and this isn’t my first language-learning rodeo, I have been trying to give her tips to help her internalize some of the lessons we’re learning in Duo. And as I’ve been engaged in this process, a thought struck me.
For French, it’s important (to me) to really grasp the written language fully, in order to be able to read the literary works I’ve set my sights on. So while vocabulary is very important, being able to accurately conjugate verbs, use the correct pronouns, and agree the possessive pronouns with the object of the sentence are all necessary in order to fully grasp the language.
To be certain, I won’t be there by the end of this year, or even the end of next year. This is a language project that will extend well beyond Duolingo and the YouTube videos I watch every day. I can see a point in my near future where I’ll require the assistance of a tutor of some sort in order to reach the level of French fluency I believe I’ll need.
For Italian, though, it seems to me that our goal should be more about being able to communicate – the technicalities of the written language aren’t as important as being able to express thoughts, needs, desires, etc. So, agreement is not so important, especially when native speakers (of both languages) tend to slur words together – and not just due to the French liason!
As long as we know the basics – Voglio… (I want…), vorrei… (I would like…, much more polite and respectful), hai… (do you have…?), dov’è… (where is…?), and a wide assortment of vocabulary words for different foods, beverages, and places, she should be more than prepared to spend a few days in the beautiful north of Italy.
So, I’ve modified my approach for each language. En français, I am primarily focused on getting the grammar down and mastering sentence structure and various literary devices. In italiano, my focus is on vocabulary and being able to form structurally sound sentences that would make some sort of sense when spoken to a native speaker.
So, here’s to 2022 – my Foreign Languages phase.
tu as beaucoup souffert, comme nous tous, et je prends ce que tu as à donner, gracieusement et avec gratitude. pleinement conscient que je ne suis pas le seul, mais plutôt celui en ce moment. j'ai été à ta place, où tu en es dans la vie, alors, j'accepte pleinement mon rôle dans votre vie comme votre rebond. c'est comme ça.
je suis à nouveau sur quelque chose de nouveau et je me dépêche de le faire fonctionner quand je devrais prendre mon temps Rome n'a pas été construite en un jour mais me voilà avec mon marteau et une poignée de clous j'essaie de construire le Colisée quand je devrais m'arrêter pour sentir les roses mais je m'arrête pour penser à ce que tu viens de dire et prends-le à cœur je pas confondre vitesse et précipitation la construction continue à son rythme en son temps et je m'arrêterai pour sentir les roses
En aglais (In English):
I'm onto something new again and I hurry to make it work when I should take my time Rome wasn't built in a day but here I am with my hammer and a handful of nails I try to build the Colosseum when I should stop to smell the roses but I stop to think about what you just said and take it to heart I do not confuse speed and haste construction continues at its own pace and I'll stop to smell the roses
try as I might it floods, unabated not enough fingers too many holes if consumes and subsumes my every waking thought how can I stop it? why would I want that? and I've no-one to blame it is my fault alone I've constructed this dam in the lowest of plains I am a foolish architect for building such a structure using the best of materials in the worst of locations leaving it unguarded against the vandals and thieves who would breach its walls destroy what they could and those untrustworthy souls to whom I gave the key only to tear the place down I guess those are on me I'd gladly accept my fate, my part of the blame if only I could find respite if only I could find peace try as I might, though I cannot give up I'm the idiot moth to your bright, burning flame and while I have few regrets I have earned every scar each lesson I cherish but this one, above all: I should not have bothered with building this structure, this dam to encompass my damn heart.
a beautiful jet-lagged day with a snowy forecast on the horizon that will not dampen these feelings of joy it's been far too long we've been too far apart my soul craves yours as yours does mine winter comes too quickly temporary displacement of my everyday life is what my soul craves as does yours the days ending ubruptly the smiles and giggles the conversations in whispers of subjects so unbecoming those of our maturity but I value this above all I see my future self in you do you see your younger self in me? are we each other, out of place, out of time? can we dream of what the other has? is this how it is now? will we always be reaching, me into your future, you into my past? is that even an issue? for I have other minutia to attend to other itches to scratch for me, for now, this is enough.
this silence is deafening your presence in your absence the heaviness in the clouds the whispering in the trees your name written across the sky this silence is awakening your absence in the present sunlight just over the hill illuminates the cold morning bringing warmth to a new day this silence is transformative this daybreak in the evening like a thousand voices singing like a thousand bodies dancing like a thousand words unspoken this silence is transfixed time frozen in this moment anticipation of movement where no movement exists only stillness, only turmoil this silence is burgeoning demon unleashed in this barren forest no hope of rescue no hope of escape no hope of salvation this silence is beginning and ending and beginning again
to say that I couldn't live without you is certainly an overstatement is definitely crossing a line is 100% true even as I close my eyes to sleep I know I will wake up to you I will feel you and taste you and that makes me smile do I dream of you? who's to say? it is no one's concern it is nobody's business but mine, yours, ours to say that you are my only reason for living sounds odd, in a way but like you and all you are it is strangely satisfying your scent awakens me in the morning the aroma of you beckoning the longing to taste you on my lips hands warmed by your very being and while I am still half asleep and groggy you are already downstairs getting ready for the day and you call to me feeling my way in the morning half-light into the kitchen following your siren song to where I want to be I can't help but smile once again you are sitting on the counter ready to be taken and so I do reaching out for your warmth your beautiful scent hitting my nostrils my eyes widen my mouth waters your warmth a deception for you are burning hot and so I very carefully tenderly and gingerly pour you into my cup and we sit together on the back porch watching the dogs play listening to the morning birds you in my hands, against my chest and touching you to my lips gently blowing wanting you in me but, as with everything not wanting to get burned.
Great minds speak of ideas average minds, of events small minds, of people and things But me? I speak of the idea of us two people and what we did and what we had Blatantly ignoring the signs I assumed it was me and I was wrong But on the drive home that February afternoon you asked for forgiveness that wasn't mine to give I gave it anyway Trending always away from what I thought we meant of what it meant to be us But I was confused there was no us how could there be? there was only me there was only you We played at 'us' as best we could never breaking character always saving face But when it was time to leave there was always someone else waiting for you waiting on me And looking back now on it it shouldn't surprise me although it always does But if I had it to do all over I know in my soul that my heart would be yours to break again forever and ever You will always come first you will always be the one yes, that surprises me, too But the past does not lie nor does it tell the truth it just is and continues to be never changing Trending always towards what I thought we meant which was nothing But I am confused and to tell the truth you never chose me it was always someone else it was always somewhere else So I should pour another drink cheers to us and what we never were But the bottle is empty and it's far too late for me to brave the cold of this Autumn night for another drink.
A good friend of mine, Debbie Vandenberg, shared with me this beautiful poem she wrote this morning as she was enjoying the sunrise from her porch, and has given me her permission to share it with you...
Another Day Sunset gently waking me Kissing away the night before Wiping sadness out of my eyes Then teasing me To play some more I take a sip hot strong creamy I can taste the opportunity In the warmth Cup to my mouth Toying with me As I hold it in my hands To make the best of this day That is all it knows And this, too, I understand
My clothes hit the floor I need to be ready in an hour So the shower takes me in Washed away Every ounce of sorrow Then like a mad man I let the water go cold As the shower Boldly reminds me It is up to me to decide Hold on, or let go My chair wants to be one with me It is the softest Space I have So I bring my legs up from the floor And relax every muscle that I have My breath I begin to watch Breathing in, then I release A sweet sense of joy surrounds me My chair shows me how to find peace It is time now for the mirror Without the above I could not face In there I see lines of wisdom And eyes that have seen What it is to find grace Now I am walking out the door The world is mine to Explore I thank the sun shower chair mirror For waking me, Cleaning me, Holding me, And letting me see the truth Now I have the power To face another day. -Debbie Vandenberg, October 2021
©2021 Debbie Vandenberg