I remember your poem about your ‘wild like sage’ classmate, that gorgeous girl with the legs of a tennis player. I liked the piece then, and I remember thinking how brave you were to write those lines and offer them to us. Perhaps it seems odd to point out this piece for its courage when you’ve certainly written others that are bolder or more controversial, others that cost you more to write. I consider it brave partly because it’s rare to offer things that are so tender, things we would say only because they are true and they are part of us. You gave us your humanity, even when that meant sharing the adolescent stirrings of a young and shy (and perhaps slightly infatuated?) John Blase.
John, I think this is one of the reasons why I am drawn to you, and one of the reasons why our friendship carries such depth for me. You are a solid man of this world. You love the things that you see and touch and smell. You don’t philosophize on love; instead, you write sonnets to Mer. You don’t wax eloquently on theories of prayer; you walk out on your back porch into the crisp night, look up at the stars and say ‘thank you.’ You may in some sense love the world and all its creatures; but you love Jack the Beagle first. I find myself falling more and more in love with the woman by my side, the boys who sleep down the hall from me, the hills I see past my front porch – and in you, I’ve found a comrade in this good life. And I’m so very thankful.
I should ‘fess up, though. I’m not feeling like I love my boys very well at this moment. I’ve been short-tempered as of late. I yelled at one of the boys last night, and though I could probably make the case for why he deserved it, I never feel good after I lose my cool. It was a tender moment, though, when 15 or 20 minutes later we found ourselves making our way to each other at the same time (me out of my office, him down the stairs). We apologized to one another. We held each other. Maybe this is the best we can do with the ones we love, given our track record for screw-ups: we keep returning to one another, we keeping saying ‘sorry,’ we keep holding each other tight. I pray this will prove to be enough.
So Ash Wednesday’s about to hit. I know you’ve had something of a contentious relationship with Lent in recent years. I find myself drawn to these 40 days yet again. My soul feels bare and yet somehow overwhelmed at the same time. Lent seems to me a time to lay things aside, an opportunity to have an added excuse to say “nah, not gonna do that” or “no thanks, I’ve met my max.” Thomas Keating calls Lent the church’s 40 Day Retreat. I like that. Gardeners tell me that this is the time of year to be pruning those trees, cutting them back. For me, fasting or giving something up is like that — retreating, cutting stuff back, giving my body and mind good excuses for going simple.
Of course, sometimes the way we do these things makes it all just feel like more work, and God knows we don’t need any more of that. Nor do we need more reasons to be grim and sour. I’m looking for more joy. And thankfully, there’s room for each of us to find joy in the way that fits for us. I should say, however, that I’m not typically good at keeping Lenten fasts the whole time. I have good intentions, and I’ll do my best. A fella does the best he can.
Anyway, I remember this story about a catholic fellow intending to eventually join the priesthood whose college roommate was Jewish. The Jewish friend asked what the deal was with Lent, and after hearing the explanation, he said, “And you get to choose for yourself what you give up? That doesn’t seem right. You should let me choose.” So he did, and he instructed his roommate to surrender orange soda because he was pounding multiple bottles every day. I heard this priest tell the story 30 years later, and to that day, his Jewish friend still called him every year, a few days before Ash Wednesday, to tell him what he was to give up that year. I thought that was a hoot.
Well, this morning, Miska’s been in the kitchen starting her Moroccan lentil soup, simmering onions and mixing in Coriander, Cumin and a stack of other exotic spices. Tonight, she’ll pour olive oil over the Naan bread, sprinkle pink sea salt across the top. I wish you and Mer could walk down the street and join us at the table. I really do.
You can read John’s letters here.