The Sacred

I stood today and watched under a warm sun with cool breezes as a curtain of fog and cloud rolled in from the Pacific. It’s the first time we’ve seen fog like that in quite a few months and with Halloween’s sudden but brief rain storm, it was a welcome nudge out of the heat of this Indian summer and these California-hot temperatures. Cool air, mountainous and billowing thick cotton fog wafting along until the sounds of the birds muffled and airplanes coming to the airport could be heard, though softly, but not seen. Suddenly, a sweatshirt didn’t seem superfluous. I basked in it and loved every second.

Each day brings a walk with my dog, Simon and I’ve been doing that for many years. Simon’s predecessor, Scoop the wonderdog and I logged literally thousands of miles across Ventura and Camarillo before he died in 2010. We spread his ashes at Paramount ranch in Agoura, a place he loved to run and roam and smell the wildlife tracks. Having a dog who walks with you is a gift that you one day realize you cannot repay. It comes from somewhere, perhaps God gives him to you and then you know friendship and unconditional love.

We have friends in Austria. Conni was our foreign exchange student and while she’s been gone for a year and almost a half, we feel her presence nearly daily. We had the good fortune to go to her home this past summer and while we had met her father as he’d come west previously, we spent two weeks with the rest of the family. It was the trip of a lifetime and we sacrificed heavily for it–but it doesn’t feel like sacrifice. Instead, it opened a door to a larger understanding of what it means to live a life unencumbered by the trappings of middle-class American success. New cars? Flat screen televisions? No-an airline ticket and a destination warm with friendship, food and wine-experiences worth more than any amount could buy and kindness, love and hospitality–all of which are priceless. We move forward from that trip with a new paradigm about what we need—and what we need.

I’ve watched now as for the past three months, a former student of mine has taken over my classroom. A college graduate now obtaining her teaching credential, she sought me out and volunteered to be my student teacher. I was hesitant at first, but now-like most things I don’t understand but benefit from, she has become the kind of teacher for whom I have infinite respect. She has already taken several apathetic, even hostile students, and turned them around. She works with the ones who “don’t get it,” and she dismisses the ones who refuse to do so. When I comment on this to her, she looks at me with a smile and says, “Where do you think I learned that?” I honestly don’t know the answer–but she says she learned some of it from me. And then I realize why I teach.

I stood with the gentleman in the upper Ojai Valley as the sun mounted to the east across the sky. It was a fall day, though still blood-warm and his three-acres of vineyard looked like they were brand new to the world. The leaves rocked slowly in a morning breeze and he told me how he and his partner found this land and knew they wanted to plant wine grapes. I smelled the air and listened to the stories of coyotes and rabbits, the occasional bear, and the belief that farming sustainably, organically, was the only way to grow wine. They allowed me a bottle from their vineyards and it was elegant, graceful, full of red-berries and vanilla and smoke. I sat with it and a loaf of bread, some cheese and meat and I was reminded that simplicity is its own gift.

I see my daughter move through her paces and slowly awake to her own choices. I see the face growing with the world and learning about the heartache there is, the foulness and the cruelty. I also see a compassionate and good heart, a child who cares for others and who believes in truth and honesty. When I got a speeding ticket, she said, “how’s that new car workin’ for ya, dad?” When my cell phone was in my hand and I in the driver’s seat she said, “you wouldn’t dare…” And I realized that I may have failed in many places in my life, but my greatest success is that I married her mother and had a daughter of whom I am constantly proud and who never ceases to provide me with a kind of joy I didn’t know was possible.

I have worked for several Sundays in a row and have missed church. I actually love listening to the sermons our Pastor gives and nothing gets me as close to my passion for literature, reading, writing, speaking than sitting through those. But I have been absent and I have felt guilty and I have prayed for forgiveness and at times, I have sincerely felt it. That still small voice is inside me and around me and I have found that the more I pay attention to it, the more at peace I am, the more I can find myself in the midst of the chaos. Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison.

My wife has been struggling, suffering through various health issues. After our Shannon was born, Sue developed asthma, allergies and an auto-immune compromise that baffles most of her doctors. She has more appointments this week, but has found a doctor who is interested and is asking the right questions, looking for answers and unafraid to help Sue face more than just masking symptoms, but calculate curative processes. It’s a long path we’re on together and it’s hardly fair, but at times, in moments of clarity, I am reminded of how central she is in my life and how the world we’ve created together is the one in which we both thrive. God moves through it with us and we open ourselves to Him through it. It is our own sacred, our own holy. And we stand in awe of it.