i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

—e e cummings

My wife is singing this poem this weekend.

An offering

To you I give the ocean
To you I give the waves
And how their churning stills my mind
And my boy.

To you I give my daughter's fear of it
And its overcoming.
To you I give her leaping, yelling
"I am God, parting the sea."

You can also have my son's retort
"Actually,
that was Moses."
Enjoy.

My offering, pleasing to you:
The beer drinkers at Bruno's,
The sand on the floor,
The panicked slantwise retreat of the crabs.

Also that second line in the Quarter
(I know it was a rich white people second line, but still),
The sweat wrung down my back,
My three showers in a day.

My friends afar are yours, as is their meeting
The footsqueak of the beach
The worrying of jellyfish
And Jupiter, insisting over the sea.

I offer to you
My absurd toenail polish
The despair of seven months of tinnitus
That tick bite from camping.

I make a burnt offering of my fear
And my frailty
My impatience, my need
And evenings in a hammock.

To you I give my names
To you I give my faces and my hands
To you I give the story I call me
That I still pretend is real.

Please take it all.
Leave me empty
Leave me open
And leave the light on when you go.

First of the Year

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Daddy-daughter campout. First of the dear-god-when-is-it-fall. Our hammocks are the belle of the ball. Of course.

I Made It with a Frickin’ Laser

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My first foray into laser cutting fabrics. Found some upholstery fabric in a closet, cut the shapes, card slots, and stitch holes, then impregnated the fabric with beeswax and sewed it up last night.

Card slots are too loose, but otherwise it’s a near-unmitigated success. I may be the only man in Arkansas with a wallet that looks like I stole it from Mary Poppins.

The Gap Between Good and Evil

Jack looked around the dark, tight space. He looked up and loose dirt sprinkled into his eyes. He was utterly, utterly alone. “Oh no,“ Jack said. “This won’t do at all.“

And, without even trying to, Jack made the world.

—Kelly Barnhill, The Mostly True Story of Jack

To You

You say, “When I do zazen, I get disturbing thoughts!” Foolish! The fact is that it’s only in zazen that you’re aware of your disturbing thoughts at all. When you dance around with your disturbing thoughts, you don’t notice them at all. When a mosquito bites you during zazen, you notice it right away. But when you’re dancing and a flea bites your balls, you don’t notice it at all.

Don’t whine. Don’t stare into space. Just sit!

— “Homeless” Kodo Sawaki Roshi

This is wonderful. I’m going to need someone to verify the thing about dancing with fleas on your balls.

He also said “You can’t trade even a single fart with the next guy.”

...she threw away every assumption she had learned and began at zero.

First off, she cut her hair. That was one thing she didn't have to think about anymore. Then she tackled the problem of trying to decide how she wanted to live and what was valuable to her. When am I happy and when am I sad and what is the difference? What do I need to know to stay alive? What is true in the world? Her mind traveled crooked streets and aimless goat paths, arriving sometimes at profundity, other times at the revelations of a three-year-old. Throughout this fresh, if common, pursuit of knowledge, one conviction crowned her efforts: since death held no terrors for her (she spoke often to the dead), she knew there was nothing to fear. That plus her alien's compassion for troubled people ripened her and—the consequence of the knowledge she had made up or acquired—kept her just barely within the boundaries of the elaborately socialized world of black people.

—Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

One more sangha

This is a little bit of follow-up after the big post from earlier this month.

First off, I've been floored by the response to it. I've been happiest of all that very little of the reaction has been to how it was written, much as I like having my ego stroked. The focus instead has mostly been on what I was writing about, and that's where I'd hoped it would be. Some of you have shared that it even sparked some reevaluation, and I'm humbled and grateful to be a part of that. I've even been encouraged to submit it to a Buddhist publication, so I've done just that. Fingers crossed.

On a side note, one or two of you asked how to follow this blog, since I've bailed on Twitter and Facebook. It sounds quaint to hear it in the era of social media silos (if only AOL had hung in there a little longer!) but I'm a proud and stubborn advocate of using RSS news readers to follow the sites I like. NewsBlur is my current favorite reader.

But if you don't use a feed reader and don't want to start, there are services out there that will allow you to subscribe to sites' feeds and get simple email alerts when they update. They're pretty simple. You add my site, I make a post, you get an email. BlogTrottr, which is freemium, appears to be big, and internet Swiss army knife IFTTT has an RSS-to-email script too.

One other thing I want to share:

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We did belt testing at Unity Martial Arts last Saturday. Cuong Nhu's Grand Master came to town personally to oversee the testing. I got my first stripe, and my wife got her second. We busted our asses to show what we'd learned, and then we went back later that night for a party.

One of the things that drew me to the dojo and to this discipline is that it it's not just blocks and punches. They aim for development of the whole person, not just the body. You're asked to learn philosophical and moral principles and discuss them at every test. When you test up to the next full belt color, you are required to give a short speech to the dojo.

Jo gave her speech on Saturday. Jo is a fellow laser nerd and a delightful woman who is leaving us soon to study and teach in Japan. She talked a lot about the impact of our community on her life, and she shared her story with an honesty and vulnerability that I almost never see outside of a recovery meeting. Hers is a story of being abused and cast out, of losing trust in other people and faith in herself. Then she found Unity Martial Arts, and there she found another way. She worked with her mind and body. She built herself up. Now she's going to Japan.

Most of us were in tears by the end of her speech. We cheered. I hugged her and told her how grateful I was to have gotten there just in time to know her.

At the party, Sensei Tanner, who runs the dojo, asked her and the departing seniors to share what they'd learned from their experiences there. I heard young men and women less than half my age share wisdom that it took me four decades and addiction recovery to learn. They spoke of wanting to be better, not just for themselves but for the rest of us. They figured that if they could be better for us, that would help us be better too.

They weren't merely parroting things that they'd been told. Hundreds of recovery meetings have finely attuned my ears to the difference between sharing and reciting. These kids were sharing from their bones. How did they know this stuff?

I thought back to what I previously wrote about Unity: I know that I have at least three Sanghas now: My family, my recovery family, and my church. I wonder if the dojo is a fourth.

I don't wonder anymore.

I'm still in my own way there. It'll take time for me, as it always does. But it's a home. I saw it reflected in the floodwaters of a dozen pairs of eyes that night. And when I saw that, I knew I had to tell Gaylan.

Sensei Gaylan mostly teaches the kids. He's amazing at it. Before I left, I told him. I thanked him for being so good with my children. I told him of how they love him, how he's changed them. I told him that it mattered. "This is a good place," I said, my own eyes threatening to well up yet again, and I walked away before I made either of us feel too awkward. Then I herded my kids toward the van and bedtime.

We have a lot of slogans and cliches in recovery, but probably the most prominent among them is Keep Coming Back. You drank or used again? Keep Coming Back. You got arrested? Keep Coming Back. Blew up your career or family? Wrecked your car? Subscribe to politics that I find odious and destructive? Keep Coming Back.

It's an invitation to join us, to be part of us and partake of how we stay sober. It's often said lightly, but there is a bottomless depth of love to it, love tinged with a desperate recognition of its primal capacity to bestow and sustain life. We could just as easily be saying Please Don't Die. But we don't. We say Keep Coming Back.

That phrase rang in my ears as I drove away. I couldn't wait to come back.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

—Mary Oliver, "Wild Geese"

So I'm a cornball, so sue me

We just passed the 50th anniversary of humanity setting foot on the surface of the moon. Quite possibly the most awe-inspiring accomplishment in our history.

Often unnoticed are the engineers and programmers who got us there and back again. Well, someone aimed to correct that, and highlight a remarkable woman in a field whose history is jam-packed with remarkable women:

We just got back from seeing the touring production of "Hamilton" last weekend. Coming off of that experience and seeing this tribute inspired me to take one of my favorite NASA photos ever, Margaret with her source code:

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And do this:

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Toward a Unified Theory of Community

[Warning that unpleasant depictions of human and animal deaths follow.]

It is last weekend and my wife is asking me to kill a snake. A decent-sized garter snake has gotten bound up in netting we'd thrown over a volunteer blackberry vine she found in the backyard. It is cruelly contorted and mostly dead. Flies are gathering.

I take it into the side yard and fetch a shovel and a five-pound sledge. I lay it where it can feel the sun one last time. I pick up the shovel and recite the Five Remembrances of Buddhism:

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I place the shovel tip directly behind its head. It isn’t moving much, just the occasional shake of the last two inches of its tail, the sum total of its body that is still free.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health.

I stomp down on the shovel as hard as I can. Its body convulses once and stops.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

I worry that the job isn’t completed, so I use the sledge to drive the shovel deep into the ground to be sure.

All that I hold dear and everyone I love is of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

I toss my tools aside and squat over the snake to be sure the job is done. It looks to be free of its pain.

My actions are my only true possessions. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

I tell the snake goodbye and apologize for such an ugly end.


It is the night before I will kill the snake. I am reading a 20th anniversary edition of Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. Thây says this:

There is a deep malaise in society. We can send email and faxes anywhere in the world, we have pagers and cellular telephones, and yet in our families and neighborhoods we do not speak to each other. There is a kind of vacuum inside us, and we attempt to fill it by eating, reading, talking, smoking, drinking, watching TV, going to movies, and even overworking. We absorb so much violence and insecurity every day that we are like time bombs ready to explode. We need to find a cure for our illness.

For less than a year now, I have been studying and practicing Buddhism. It is a path I did not consciously choose. I appear to have tripped and fallen into the arms of its inevitability.

Like so:


It is barely 2014 and I am tired. I am tired of feeling wrung out. I am in a United Methodist Church I do not wish to belong to but continue to attend out of a sense of family duty.

I have been reading essays by writers like Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction and Russell Brand and Roger Ebert. I have watched an opening monologue that Craig Ferguson gave after Britney Spears' public breakdown. These people are sharing their addiction recovery stories. I am paying attention.

Ebert knew a woman in his home group whose higher power was the radiator in her apartment. Brand writes of the experience of walking around every day with a voice in your head that wants you to die. I have been collecting their stories, turning them over and over in my hand like river rocks.

I am burned up and burned up and burned up and longing for it to end. But I am starting to feel less alone.

And it is here, in this church I don't want to be in, on this day. This is the final notice. Today the pastor shares her story. She tells the tale of how her father went from being a pillar of the community to eating out of garbage cans.

I am in the soundbooth at the back of the sanctuary, looking down at her from on high, and from my vantage I can see my path to those same garbage cans with clarity. I can see every step toward ruin, every tear. I am finally able to admit that I am an alcoholic. It will be a number of days before I will introduce myself to a roomful of strangers as such, but I now know that it will happen. And I am relieved and terrified.


It is February of 2014 and I have dragged myself through the door of my first recovery meeting. I am shaking and my eyeballs are dogpaddling. I sit next to Alfred. Alfred is wearing cufflinks, which I didn’t expect to see, but the cufflinks are less of a surprise than the laughter. I hear the laughter and I realize that I don’t know what is going on, but I want more.

Brent is the first person to give me his number. He will become my sponsor and lay a lot of the foundation for what is to come.


It is 2017. I have been sober for over three years and Patrick and his wife have invited us to dinner. Patrick is a fellow alcoholic and asks me if I'd like to tag along to eat dinner on Wednesday nights with his friends before going to the evening men's meeting. This question will come to touch every millimeter of my existence.


It is last spring and I am walking the dog with my wife. I tell her that I need exercise, but I want to do something I can incorporate into my spiritual practice. Something to help me practice mindfulness of body. She invites me to join her and the kids at Unity Martial Arts, a dojo that teaches Cuong Nhu, a Vietnamese martial art. Vietnam is the country that gave birth to Thich Nhat Hanh and nearly killed my father.

I start taking classes immediately and am sideswiped by a loving community of practice I had not had eyes to see during the years I had been driving my son there. My ritual had been to walk him in, sit at a table, and wait out his class while reading a book and listening to white noise through my earbuds.

Now I am standing in the dojo, wearing a gi that needs hemming and self-esteem that needs letting out. I learn one block, one hold, one correction at a time that this is a community largely built on touch. There is an intimacy to this place that has been lost to much of the modern world.


It is 1963 and the Bodhisattva Thich Quang Duc assumes the lotus position in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon. Other monks pour gasoline over his body. He lights a match.

This is not an act of suicide. It is not even an act of protest. He is trying to turn the heart of Diem, South Vietnam's Catholic president, who has been persecuting the majority Buddhist population. If Thich Quang Duc cannot achieve this, he hopes to start a conversation about love and compassion and human rights.

He burns without moving or making a sound. He is dead within minutes. People prostrate themselves before his charred corpse, which has toppled backward into the street.


It is 1966. Thich Nhat Hanh has been exiled for trying to bring peace to Vietnam without taking sides. He will not be allowed to visit his home for 39 years.


It is 1967. My father has been drafted and will be sent to Vietnam. He marries my mother in a hurry.

He will later return home to a country that worships the gun and speak to me often of the heroes he served with who would not fire one. He will not often speak of the death he waded through.


It is 2018. I am sitting in the small room next door to where I normally attend recovery meetings. It is a dingy, badly lit room with a reminder on the whiteboard not to leave food out, because there is a rat problem. I have described this room to my wife as the sort of place where a person can get the DTs without worrying about bringing down the general aesthetic.

Patrick is there, and so is Lance. I have loved them for a year now. We are doing a step study, and we are recording our talks. There is urgency to our task, because Lance is leaving for Texas in the fall.

Lance is talking about his ego, his carefully constructed identity. I have a flash of insight that the idea that we call Lance, the ideas that we call Patrick and Matt, do not exist. They are mere concepts.

Later that night, I walk my dog and have an experience of emptiness of self. This experience is not hollow. It is not the emptiness of the void. It is a glimpse of who I am when I set aside the story of Matt. It is the emptiness of a room cleared in anticipation of a gathering, a party. It is an emptiness of warmth and light, an emptiness that is full. I do not know it, but it is the moment I become a Buddhist.

I have full awareness in this moment that this is only a glimpse, one given by grace. It exists to point the way. It fills me with the most curious mixture of longing and peace. Like a good addict, I will chase this feeling like yet another fix for quite a while before I realize that I've missed the point.


It is 2016 and I am discussing my spirituality with my wife. I am not yet a Buddhist, but I tell her that I haven't really been a western-style monotheist for a long time, that middle age has found me largely pantheist, maybe, or I don’t know what.

"Yeah, me too," she says.

"Wait, then why exactly do we go to church?" I ask.

"Can you name me one other community organization where people of different backgrounds and beliefs come together to discuss things that are really important, and to help each other out and hold each other up and learn from each other?"

"Yeah, sure," I say. "AA does that."

"Well, I'm not an alcoholic," she says. "What am I supposed to do?"


It is 1995, the year Living Buddha, Living Christ is published. The Dalai Lama has publicly identified the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second-highest position in Tibetan Buddhism. He declares the new Panchen Lama to be a six-year-old Chinese boy named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

In three days, the Chinese government will arrest the boy and his parents. They will never be seen or heard from again.


It is I don't know what year, sometime before 2014, during the blur and blackout of it all. She is standing before me as I sit in my chair with my whiskey and my laptop. She is all but pleading for me to let her in. I am wishing that she would go to bed and leave me in peace.


It is 2017. 150 Tibetan Buddhists have self-immolated like the Bodhisattva Thich Quang Duc in the past 8 years. 86 monks and nuns have burned in 2012 alone.

The Chinese are not satisfied with taking Tibet’s land. They know that Tibet is a boundless community, so they have been striking at its heart. 150 people have burned themselves to death to try to stop it.


It is a Sunday and I am in a mostly empty sanctuary. Our church, which was already in decline, has been poleaxed by a scandal that wiped out a decent chunk of the ministerial staff and half the congregation.

This scandal, and the destruction left in its wake, have left me fully dedicated to a church for the first time in my life. My theology is not theirs, but I cast that aside as I later would that shovel and hammer. I know a community of the damaged when I see one. These are my people.

The UMC has assigned us a new minister. He is yet another older white man, and I have my doubts.

Two days before, I was reading a book by Sri Ramana Maharshi that Lance recommended. Sri Ramana told me that the language that the great Self speaks is silence.

Pastor Roy steps up to the pulpit for his first sermon. "The language of God is silence," he begins.


It is late 2014. I am nearly a year sober and finally understand how fully I had left my wife and children in the cold. I realize that I had everything I needed right in front of me, the whole time. More importantly, I realize how much they needed me.

My wife's heart is vast. Her back is strong, and so are her arms. And I couldn't see them.

I am gutted with shame. But it is not the shame of before. I don't whip myself with this shame. I make it into a vow. For her. For my children.

From now on, I am for them. I am them.

The shame will be my guide on this path. My sentence is to carry it, to learn how to transform it. For them. I begin looking for a way.

I am so sorry.


It is a few months ago and we are driving home from Unity Martial Arts. I tell my wife that I am thinking of dropping Sensei Paula's power class. She is surprised. I explain to her that I am the only man in the class, and I worry that the mere fact of my presence changes the dynamic. I worry that the women are less at ease with me there. She says this:

"You are a grown-ass heterosexual white man with a job and a family, and every Saturday people see you come to a class taught by a woman and a fourteen-year-old girl. They see you call that woman and that girl 'Sensei'. And that matters."


It is September and Lance is leaving for good. It is my wife's birthday. Patrick and his wife invite us all over for dinner.

I am mourning, and I am worried for him. Moving sometimes kills alcoholics. We've all heard stories or seen it ourselves.

We talk as I have learned to talk, as Lance and Patrick have taught me to talk. We talk about fears and resentments and love and compassion. We talk of surrounding ourselves with others. They have been teaching me how to transform my pain into love.

But the waves of this pain are big, and my anchors are my family and my recovery. My wife encourages me to keep putting myself out there. Patrick jokes that if I move away, he will stop making new friends.

Three months later, he tells me that he is moving to New Orleans.

It has taken me 15 years to make friends with whom I can speak like this. It is hard for me to get out of my own way. So I am not just mourning their loss. I am wondering if I will ever make a local connection like this again.


It is 2019 and Dean is taking me under his wing.

It is 2019 and I meet David, who is the only other Buddhist I know in this town, and the only Buddhist alcoholic I know on the planet other than Lance.

It is 2019 and I’m finally connecting with Marc, who is trying not to die of cancer.

It is 2019 and I am realizing that these people and countless more were already here.


It is four weeks ago and I am at Unity Martial Arts, and Sensei Paula is concerned at a lack of new white belts coming in. New people are not just important for business; they are also important for the life of the community. She is asking us for ideas.

I realize that I have an instinct for joining communities that are struggling to grow.

I am paired off with Terri. We have been told to do pushups face-to-face while complimenting each other.

"I love that you come to class with painted toes," she says.

"You have helped me feel at home here," I say.


It is one day after I began writing this essay. It is a Sunday. The sermon topic is "Our Oneness". The offertory hymn is "In Christ There Is No East or West."

I am beginning to have a deeper appreciation for the openness and subtlety of Pastor Roy.


It is the fourth of July, and I am at another early morning recovery meeting. I am looking at old text files on my phone.

I find a suicide note that I don't remember writing. A suicide note composed in a blackout.

The pain is sudden and vast.

But when I regain my breath, I am grateful. Because I know what to do with it.

I am going to tell people about it.


It is last Saturday, and my father is helping me load Patrick's U-Haul truck so that his family can make their final journey south and leave Arkansas behind forever. Experience has given me faith that I will not lose touch with them, and so I am at peace. I am able to focus on what is best for them, rather than what is best for me.

Two members of my Wednesday night recovery group show up to help, Tim and James. James is my sponsee. He has nearly four times as much sobriety as I do, but he asked me to be his sponsor. This request has floored me.

I am glad that Dad gets to meet James and Tim. I love it when my family meets my family. We hug and laugh and share our stories of the week. Before we leave, Patrick holds me tight and asks me if I know that I am his brother. I tell him that I know, that I love him, that he will carry me with him to Louisiana.

Afterward, when we are back at my house, sweating and tired, Dad asks me if any non-alcoholics have ever joined the group.

"You mean like faking alcoholism to join?" I ask.

"Yes," he says.

"I've never witnessed it personally, but it does happen. Kurt Vonnegut had an uncle, I think, who faked alcoholism most of his adult life so he could be in the program."

My heart leaps at learning that my father has entertained such an idea. I would not wish my disease on him for anything, but I long for him to know this kind of fellowship almost as much as he does. He's hungry for it. Most men are. I start trying to figure out ways to make that happen.


It is now. I am reading Thich Nhat Hanh. I have been wondering what life as a monk would be like. I have already made vows, vows to my wife and children that I would never want to break, but I wonder if, in a different life, I would be making refuge vows.

On initiation into a monastery, a Buddhist monk or nun vows to take refuge in the Buddha, to take refuge in the Dharma, which is the teaching of the Buddha, and to take refuge in the Sangha, which is the monastery and the community of other Buddhists.

Thây says that practicing mindfulness in everything is nearly impossible outside of a traditional Sangha. The pull of the world and its practiced distraction is too much. He says that at home they have a saying, that when the tiger comes down from the mountain, the villagers will kill it. I think of the snake, twisted into a geometry of agony by a net whose only intention was to keep the birds off the blackberries.

But Thây also tells me that I am not to leave my existing community of faith. He tells me that this is my Sangha, my roots, and that I must never abandon my roots without cause. I have already come to this conclusion, but it is good to hear it from my teacher.

I know that I have at least three Sanghas now: My family, my recovery family, and my church. I wonder if the dojo is a fourth. Every step down the path of the bodhisattva, the path that chose me, has been one more blow of the sledge, driving me deeper into their soil. I know almost no other Buddhists in any of these places, but these are the places where I am needed. Lives are quite literally at stake.

I cannot become a refugee elsewhere. I have to build the refuge where I am.

I have no idea how. It is likely that I will fail.

I think that I am going to try.


I am disposing of the snake's body. Like a good alcoholic, I am second-guessing every choice I made. I am trying not to wonder how long it choked in that net.

I walk upstairs, forgetting Thây's instruction to practice mindfulness with every step up.

My son is in the dining room. He looks relieved. "Thank you for doing that,” he says. “I bet it wasn’t fun."

During my time in recovery, I have had a few moments of speaking without being conscious of what I was saying until it was done. This is to be the first time I experience one of those moments with my family. I think I say this:

"Actually, I'm grateful I got to be the one to do that. That snake could have been caught in a lot of people's yards. Most of them wouldn't have cared, or would have been disgusted. Some of them might even have been amused. But it got caught in our yard, and so I got to be the one to end its pain and wish it well. I think that that is a sacred duty, to let the living live and to help the dying die. Killing that snake was painful. But it filled my heart."

I am not surprised to be saying these words, but I do not recognize them as coming from the same man who wanted to be left alone all those years ago. I think of everyone who put those words into me, starting with Alfred and his cufflinks, and Brent and his business card.

My son is not yet twelve. I think he hears me.


It is two Sundays ago, and I am feeling very serene and fulfilled. I am grateful for the people in my life, for the places my path has taken me, for the communities that have taken me in. I am driving to Kroger to do the weekly shopping.

I pass a woman slumped on a bus stop bench, bags around her feet, soaking her t-shirt in the 90-degree heat. Her face is slack with exhaustion and dread. She is alone.

Thích Nhat Hanh has come home

Another senator in the group, the New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall, said he participated in a workshop with Mr. Nhat Hanh in 2003 as a member of the House of Representatives, and that he had been meditating daily ever since.

One teaching he embraced is what Mr. Nhat Hanh calls walking meditation. “Ever since I met you, when I walk to the Senate floor to give my vote, I remember I am kissing the earth with my feet,” Senator Udall told the monk in Hue.

Thích Nhat Hanh has finally been allowed home to his monastery in Vietnam.

This happened a month ago, but what a Father’s Day gift to read it now. He has helped me and changed me more than I know how to say. I only wish I could tell him.

I have no doubt that, if asked, he would say that he has always been home. But to return to the country and the monastery that reared him is quite a thing.

Welcome home, Thay.

May I Continue, Likewise, to Remain

May I be a guard for those who need protection,
a guide for those on the path,
a boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
May I be a lamp in the darkness,
a resting place for the weary,
a healing medicine for all who are sick,
a vase of plenty, a tree of miracles.
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings,
may I bring sustenance and awakening,
enduring like the earth and sky. until all beings are freed from sorrow
and all are awakened.

—Shantideva

The Case of Amos Avery Blodget

The doctor lowered his hand. "Oh, Mr. Blodget, you know very well what happens. What happens when God becomes man, through Christ, is that He is crucified. He is crucified on Golgotha. And He is crucified here as we speak—in you, in me, in Matthew, and in this tree."

"But I'm afraid I don't see that, doctor."

Dr. Uyterhoeven nodded. "Well, I'll grant it may not be as obvious a notion, or as popular, but I promise you, if you look directly, you will see—" He leaned forward on his elbow and held up his hand between them, as if to display it. "In order that we may live, that we may have this experience, the Infinite has clearly taken a very finite, very limited form, a form which places such a tight yoke on its infinitude that it apparently must expend its captive energy by scrolling it out, so to speak, through time." The doctor closed his hand. "Or we may choose to look at it the other way: that Eternity has entered the moment—it has done this for our sake—but that the moment places such constraint upon Eternity that it likewise must expend its captive energy by spilling off this vast expanse of space."

The doctor smiled. "Either way, the same obtains for everything you'll ever know of this life, Mr. Blodget, everything you can touch and taste and smell—everything you can confirm—casts an otherwise infinite and eternal being, God, into a very limited, very fleeting and fatal existence. But such is man, alas. Such is our lot. Such is your lot, Mr. Blodget, that you should only ever seem to be where these vast planes of time and space intersect, here and now. That intersection would seem to comprise your existence, I know. It would seem to sustain you and distinguish you, but it also literally crucifies what is divine in you. Understand that much: man crucifies his Lord. He cannot help it. It is his nature, for man is his Lord crucified, as is this day, as is the whole of this domain—an infinite and eternal being, wrested into a finite, momentary world and pinned there, to live and die, over and over again.

—Brooks Hansen, The Chess Garden

Happy Birthday, Eyeball Kid

Last week I got this limited edition pressing of Tom Waits’s The Mule Variations on Discogs:

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Just today I found out from my good friend Dan that this week is the album’s 20th anniversary.

This is a pretty damn good track-by-track retrospective of what may have been his finest album ever. Tom Waits fans tend to divide themselves into periods. I have friends who like the oldest stuff best, friends who prefer the Small Change period or the era of Rain Dogs and Frank’s Wild Years. Me, I love all of it. Even a couple of tracks from those early years, when he showed more promise than payoff.

The Mule Variations straddles all of those boundaries. It’s a primer on his whole career and an executive summary of the cuddly junkyard clang of his sensibilities. He croons, he screams, he digs up roots and pounds them to pulp on a hotel dresser. He creeps and growls and even thunders up a gospel song you could almost screw to.

“Pony” is my tired and lonely song. “Filipino Box Spring Hog” is my summer cicada stomp. I want to buy a banjo and a rooster so I can learn to play “Chocolate Jesus”. And “Picture in a Frame”? That song is me with shaking hands and a tattoo bandage, watching my wife come down the aisle.

Tom’s music was part of what sold me on her, incidentally. She made me a mixtape when we started dating, on an actual cassette. I was on board by the end of “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” and in love by the end of “Train Song”. I spent two weeks memorizing “Step Right Up” and can still do the whole sales pitch. Hoped it might impress her. She stuck around.

I’ve sung his songs to babies and howled them blind drunk. I’ve torn my throat up on the loud ones and whispered the quiet ones like prayers. He’s laid down fully half of the soundtrack of my entire adult life. And The Mule Variations binds all of those songs together, the horse bone glue of a nearly half-decade-long body of work that I can’t imagine not having right at hand.

I suppose it should make me feel old, contemplating the 20th birthday of an album that fell out of the sky at almost exactly the same moment that my wife did too. But all I can feel is grateful that I was there when they both landed.