Wednesday, March 8 “I was nine that summer . . . “
A mid-week break during our campus’ Spring Break: some house-keeping time: a big load of laundry, Nordictrack in the basement work out room, tending personal emails, and most of all, at about 2:45 I’ll drive up I-94 to the Blue Water Bridge into Canada to spend the evening with Bill Clarke, sj in Guelph. I first met Bill in Omaha the summer of 1980 when he directed my silent 30 day retreat, something Jesuits do two times in a life time. St. Ignatius called the 30 days “a school of the affections,” a long time inside which you re-learn the patterns of your feelings: what dis-affections distract you, what affections open you to a wider, deeper world of the heart, a school of your affections. A wise Jesuit once told me, as I was getting ready for my second thirty days at age 40, “The thirty days are not to teach you how to pray; you already pray or you wouldn’t be here. The thirty days are to teach you how you already pray, so you can trust that in yourself, good days and hard days both.” That summer Bill mentored me, to trust the graces of my life.
Every few months, this four hour drive gives me time with him; it’s worth every mile. Oh yes, and as I drive over the Blue Water Bridge, I sing “O Canada.”
“Octogenarian” appeared on this list twice before, most recently February 3, 2016 – – my niece Terri Breeden’s recollection of learning new words while playing cards with her grandmother on her front porch, learning of gratitude and mortality. Best to read out loud, with pauses.
Breathe a little even if it’s a work day. Back Thursday late morning.
Today’s Post “Octogenarian”
I was nine that summer
when you taught me satiated.
It came after precocious
and pernicious, but was obviously
and immediately the best word yet.
We refill the drinks with extra ice, cool ourselves
with condensation, that slick of sweat dripping down
our glasses. You proffer crackers; I decline,
satiated and smug about it. You shuffle and deal, while the sun
slowly loses its glower in the Menomonee River.
I place each card carefully, fingers splayed,
intent. I hunch a bit, slanting my anticipation
toward the deck in those gnarled fingers, toward
the sheen of sun on water, the road and the bridge,
the cities on the far side, toward you.
It doesn’t matter what we play: 66, gin rummy,
cribbage, even two hands of solitaire, laid out
like opposing armies or fields fresh planted, seven shirts
spaced out on each side of the clothesline, falling straight,
quiet in the fading heat.
You hold your cards loosely, competent,
a word from last summer, but you don’t
always win. I learn to bridge the cards without
spraying any into the porch screen,
dragonflies darting toward the river.
I learn about matrimony from the thin band
embedded in the swollen skin of your ring finger, about eternity
from the way you refer to Grandpa as though
he were still here. And I learn about gratitude
without noticing, even how to spell it.
Some things though I didn’t learn, like when you taught me
octogenarian and I thought it meant
a person eight decades old, thought
it meant you at your next birthday, never comprehending
that it really meant
you would leave me someday.