Christmas–The end of the year

It’s Christmas time.  The end of the year:  We huddle together for warmth and wait for the return of the light. It’s a time of darkness and cold, but also a time of feasting and gift giving. We look forward to longer, warmer days and shorter nights.

It seems  all of  the world’s religious holidays and rituals are driven by the seasons as they unfold.  And at Christmas we’re just starting a new year–another cycle in the eternal round.  The days grow longer.  The Japanese plum trees on 21st Avenue, always confused about what date it is, are already blooming. Pretty soon, at least here in Portland, we can expect to see those first crocuses and daffodils.

But, for just a minute, let’s stay with Christmas and forget the coming of Spring–it’ll be here soon enough.  In spite of the fact that Winter is cold, wet and dark, there’s a deep joy about this time.

Winter is a thin, angular season. It doesn’t have the voluptuous beauty of Spring, the heedless pleasure of Summer or the reflective joys of Fall.  We’re not distracted by the beauties that grace the other seasons. The equation is a simple one: it’s cold and wet. We want shelter and warmth.

The sharp sparseness of Winter clears our vision. It’s easier to be thankful for the things that, in other times of the year,  we take for granted or don’t even notice. In the spare days of Winter, with fewer distractions, we’re called to see more clearly the arc of our existence and the blessings contained in that arc. It’s easier to notice the plight of those who don’t have the blessings that comfort us and to be grateful for what we do have.

Winter is like the two sides of a coin.  Plants have stopped growing. The harvest is over for another year, but we have enough to last us until the next harvest. And we can imagine the emptiness of those who can’t count on being fed every day.

We enjoy food and good times with our families and friends.  Gifts are exchanged, meals are shared, and we take joy in being with the people we love. But we can imagine the loneliness of those who have no family or friends to warm them.

Not to be a sour kill-joy, you understand. Acknowledging the difficulties in the lives of others doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take joy in the blessings we have.  We don’t need to apologize for our blessings.  But it doesn’t hurt to remember that all of this–everything about our lives–is contingent. We don’t own our happiness and comfort. Nothing is guaranteed.  We don’t have a right to our good fortune, even if we’ve worked hard; it isn’t our right–in large part, it’s our luck.

Just so we don’t end on too serious a note, here’s a gift to you for the Season. I can’t send you money, but I’ll give you a great ten dollar word to chew on while you’re driving around the mall parking lot, trying, for 5th time to find a parking place:  DISAMBIGUATION……literally, if you break it down into its Latin parts,  the state of moving away from ambiguity or darkness and into clarity and the light.

It’s a pretentious word to use in a conversation.  But it’s a great image to meditate on as we emerge from the darkness of the Winter Solstice and begin our trek into Summer.


It’s hard to get in the habit of saying “thanks”.  The days go by and my frustrations and struggles can sometimes overshadow the realization I’ve got a pretty good life.  This Thanksgiving holiday is a reminder of my need to be thankful.

And yet….if you think about it, all the holidays are about giving thanks for something.  There’s Mother’s Day and Father’s day.  There are all the religious holidays on which we give thanks for our relationship with our Creator and for all the good things that have come to us in our lives. There are all the civic holidays on which we give thanks for the founding of our country, and for the men and women who worked, fought and died for it.

The idea of a single day of thanksgiving misses the point. What about the other 364 days?  Weren’t there things to be thankful for on each one of them? Maybe the idea of Thanksgiving needs to be more than just a one-day event on our calendar–maybe it  needs to be a permanent state of mind.

Sitting here on the shank end of a Monday (and it has been a truly repulsive Monday) I was chewing on some frustrations and disappointments that sprang up today like weeds in the garden of my Thanksgiving week.   To get out of this mood, I decided to reflect on the things I’m thankful, and started a list.  About 14 items later, it was clear I needed to shut up and stop complaining.

Here are the top  things on my list.  Each one of them is something  I can imagine my life without, but it would be a much different life. And I kind of  like the one I’ve got.  It isn’t perfect, but its mine.  Make your own list and, if you feel like it, share it with me.

  • My children
  • My grandchildren
  • My brothers and sisters
  • Deep friendships with very special friends
  • Good health
  • Interesting work
  • Great clients
  • Mentors who have helped me along the way
  • Poetry, and my new book
  • Living in Portland
  • The Columbia Gorge
  • All the books that have become my close friends
  • Reaching my 70’s relatively undamaged
  • The surprising generosity of everyday life

Thanks!  I’m grateful for you, too, because you are part of my world, and you read what I write.  And that’s a real gift to me.  So, here’s a Thanksgiving haiku for you.

For what we’re given
And from what we have been spared
Daily gratitude

Thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving!



Autumn; a season of transition.  Leaves turning. Leaves falling. Dense rain. Light rain. October sunshine and October winds.

Nothing quite says “transition” like the month of October. We start out with brisk sunny days and end up with 100-mile an hour winds and sideways rain. Somewhere along the way we watch football games and political debates,  rake leaves, cook some cozy dinners and get ready for shorter days and colder nights.

Autumn isn’t just a season. It’s a recurring part of our year. And its easy to see the correspondence between the seasons of our lives and the life of the seasons.

Autumn is definitely a time for reflection. we’re in the last quarter of our year, and as things wind down we can see the year’s past months from a longer perspective.

I was thinking about all this on a hike to Falls Creek a not long ago. I’ve lost a few friends this year, and several more are doubtful for spring training. It’s all part of what we signed on for when we came into the world but, still, each loss of a friend is a permanent hole in one’s life. Somewhere along the trail I got the idea for this poem.

Autumn on the River

Within each life, the little deaths
The slow tearing from ourselves
of a world in which delight lies somewhere
between boredom and confusion

Deaths of parents, family, pets
and others loved and unloved.
Strength and senses dim
Only habits grow fiercely stronger

Classmates depart. The old house
is destroyed for a new apartment
We struggle to keep what capacity we still hold
to love that which is other than ourselves

Seasons hurry off the stage
Stepping on each other’s heels
In their unseemly haste
to be on their way
To the next best thing

Ahead, the river grumbles
Falls away in soundless mist
Voices from shore are faint
Those inside grow stronger

The pace of leaving quickens
as we round the last bend
No reason to hold back

With so much taken
There’s so little left to lose