Thursday, June 07, 2012

My Medicine for Melancholy

Ray Bradbury - August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012
I apologize Mr. Bradbury...

I'm sorry... Ray...

I just know you would have let me call you that. I borrowed your title "A Medicine for Melancholy" to title this post.  I believe you'd be OK with that. I just know that you'd be amazing, and encouraging, and joyful, and generous. Because everybody who met and knew you says you were. But I know it's true too, because that is how your stories are.






You were born the same year as my father, my adoptive father. Your stories walked alongside me like the shadow of a wonderful uncle, a bit mysterious, but trustworthy because family - real family - always is.

My name was written over and over and over again in the library cards of your few books that resided in the collection of Jasper Jr.-Sr. High School. It was just you and me it seemed. I tried to tell others, but no one else signed out your books. Maybe because I always had them. Sorry Ray.

I made up for my jealous hoarding years later when I would go to my kid's elementary school during parent reading week and read "Uncle Einar" to them. I still remember their faces - looking as I must have looked the first time I read "Golden Apples of the Sun" and "Dandelion Wine". Awe. Wonder. Glee.

Your inspiration resulted in my writing a script for a play that got produced in my high school and getting a poem published in the same school's yearbook in 1978 - the year I would have graduated. The dropout made it into the yearbook because he wrote something. I cherished that idea because it made me think of you and your unconventional educational path. Uncle Ray's shadow on my shoulder.

I dreamed of writing to you and asking your permission to adapt "A Medicine for Melancholy" into a one act, three-scene play. You had already done all the hard work. The story is 80% dialogue anyway, and your prose is all character development and subtle stage direction. It would - still could - be wonderful.

You made me want to write. I admit I don't have your diligence, your commitment, your fire. That's why you're published everywhere and I'm alone in the school yearbook and the cold corners of the internets. But I did end up writing - every week - for 8 years. And speaking those words. And you were - no you still are - right!  It's the best work in the world!

I can't meet you now. An entry gets crossed off my "bucket list". But I did meet you. In Green Town, Illinois. In the red dust of Mars. In the swirling autumn leaves of Anytown, Anywhere when the Dark Carnival came rolling in. I met you wearing a Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. I believed you when you said, "Have I Got a Chocolate Bar For You!". I knew if I asked you, you would send me spores so I could Grow Giant Mushrooms in My Basement. I stood by you in the African Velt. I saw your stories moving on the skin of The Illustrated Man. I was singed by the heat - Fahrenheit 451 to be specific - of your prose and poetry. I heard you call in The Distant Sound of Thunder. Together we lifted our voices to Sing the Body Electric.

Thank you Ray. I'll miss the idea of you being alive. I'll mourn the thought of your pen, typewriter, word processor being silenced. I'll grieve that you will never offer me a new window into your soul in eight to fifteen pages. I'll miss reading that new story and how it would create a reflection that shows me a new part of my soul. But I thank God you were a writer who wrote. I thank God you loved your art, your talent, your gift, your craft. I thank God people who loved you made sure you were published. Because of that, I won't miss you. I won't be able to. You'll always be a good cup of coffee and a turned page away. Your loving shadow on my shoulder always.

I believe in God, Ray. You know that now. I trust that He will let you keep writing. It was what He made you to do.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Prayer Retreat

Once a month it will be my practice to take a day for prayer and reflection.  On June 1 I traveled to the Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park in Saskatchewan, near Maple Creek.  The following is my journal reflection from that journey and time.

(written after arriving in Cypress Hills)

I could hear birds, crickets, gophers(?) even as I drove with the windows down and the wind rushing through the car.  No phone, no radio, no music – except in my head (Blessed Be Your Name; How Great Thou Art; I Love You Lord… maybe a couple of others).

The passage from Ecclesiastes (9:1-17 – Death Comes to All) stood in my mind in stark contrast to the burgeoning springtime landscape flowing by all around me.  I set the cruise control for a leisurely 110KPH – much more sedate a pace than I normally travel at I must confess.

Life is happening all about me even though death does loom.  Cows mow the grass on hills to my left and right.  Crows pick the fresh gopher carcasses on the road.  Hawks ride the young thermals of the morning in anticipation of them growing in the days’ building heat.  They hunt for the living below, alive in their predatory splendour.

Between choruses in my head I ask God for nothing except mercy and forgiveness.  I lapse into reciting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who Was, and Is and Is To Come” or “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.  All other thoughts melt away.  I don’t even have to push.  Only one stray though encroaches – a memory of Perry Cherneski who passed away three years ago this July.  We sang “Blessed Be Your Name” at his funeral.  I mourn once more and find God is faithful to His promise for I am comforted.  I feel the Lord is very near.

I leave the highway and begin the climb into the hills adjusting my pace even slower.  The cattle I pass now are lying in their fields, content to chew the cud of their morning foraging.  I am content too.  The journey has washed my daily cares away.

I sit alone by the north end of the lake.  The rushing wind of travel has been replaced by the gentler rush of water flowing out of the lake and down the draw across the road behind me.  The air is still, a gentle breeze at best dances around the trees and across the lake.

A fish jumps to my right, near the reeds by the shore.  The splash sends ripples outward.  At one point they seem to stop progressing and simply become part of the surface texture of this portion of the lake.  We miss so many details when we do not take time to watch, to observe, to see.  The fish will jump three more times in the hour to come, setting a base rhythm to the events that unfold.

I think about the blind man in the passage in John 9.  I re-read the whole event, from miracle to Christ rebuking the Pharisees.  I try to imagine seeing for the first time ever.  I try to imagine being continuously blind spiritually like the Pharisees.

“Where am I blind?” I ask God.  It is the first question I have asked Him since I started.  I notice three families of Canada geese swimming slowly up the lake toward me.  One parent leads each group of goslings.  One parent follows close behind.  “You hem me in before and behind and on every side.”

Every few yards the families take to the shore for a while.  At first I think they have returned to their nests, but when they return to the water and continue on I am intrigued.  Eventually they come ashore only a few yards from me.  They are foraging for food.  They begin eating in earnest next to the other benches beside me, not forty feet away.  I eat my fruit and drink my water.  We are at peace in each other’s company.  Three cars drive by and mercifully do not stop to interrupt our lunches.

I see that everywhere around me, at every level, God is providing, sovereignly orchestrating life.  I have been missing this simplicity.  Have I chosen a kind of blindness like the Pharisees?  I know God is in control.  I experience it in a visceral, present way.

An older couple arrives to clean the benches.  The geese retreat to the water.  I speak only a few words to the lady – content to keep my silent fast.  I move on to Lookout Point.

From the intimate microcosm of the lake I follow the winding road into the hills.  It serves to separate me even more from the familiar and the ordinary.  Winter fallen trees droop to touch the road.  The park attendants have yet to venture this far to do their annual maintenance.  The lake area, as peaceful as it was, seems busy and almost urban by comparison.  I arrive and park behind a couple enjoying the view fron inside their car.  Instead of intruding into their view I wait and write much of these notes.

They leave.  I take my Bible and walk to the bench overlooking the plain and take in the expansive panorama.  I re-read Psalm 97, Psalm 115 (twice), Ecclesiastes 9, John 9.  I listen to God speaking in His word.

The bees gather pollen and nectar from the dandelions.  The flies pester me.  The breeze is soft.  The sky is clear and open.

I am alive by the grace of God and all I have comes from His Hand.  All idols are useless, and I am still discarding some of my own.  My idol of self-reliance.  My idol of personal pain and hurts.  My idol of competency.  My idol of anger.  My idol of fear.

I ask Jesus to heal my blindness.  Only He can help me see.  I must look to Him.  He is not far.

I ask only for new clarity and sight.  May God be so gracious as to grant my prayer, be it in His will.

I am filled.  I will make the journey home soon, reminded of Who is Sovereign in my life; Who alone I can and must trust; Who alone I must worship and obey.

I know life is struggle and death is my destination – but not my final destination.  And God is providing all I need for now and for ever.

I recall the goslings by the lake, lying in the grass, warming in the sunshine, feeding on the bounty all around them.  I am in the same place, God is loving and teaching me.


Shalom is mine in this moment.

I travel home in silence.  I notice my mind trying to return to my cares and concerns.  This time I have to fight to hold onto the peace and contentment.  I struggle, I sing in my mind.  I keep the silence, resist the temptation to check my phone, turn on the radio.


A few days after my retreat I find I am still able to enter the silence more easily.  I am content to just be with Susie.  To pray in silence.  To just be before my God.  I hope this lasts.