Changing seasons

Leaving the office just before 6:30 last night, I was startled to find it nearly dark outside.

Although the weather remains nice, and the leaves of the trees are largely green, the season is changing. Deep within, I sense my childhood melancholy that came with the arrival of fall.

Turning the calendar to October, I can’t deny the course. Yet there are still vestiges of summer to appreciate and enjoy.

The front flowers are holding on into fall

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September 11

Lori and Grant are at the high school this morning, setting up for a music booster sponsored, multi-family yard sale. The funds raised will go toward the cost of next spring’s band and choir trip to Williamsburg, Virginia.

Andrea has finished her first week of classes at college and seems to be making the transition well.

In a couple hours, we start the new church year with our ingathering service. As most of us take the summer off, today will be a reunion with those we haven’t seen in a few months. Grant has a job making coffee for the after-service social hour. I have a meeting with the new teaching team for the coming-of-age class I co-taught two years ago.

This afternoon we may drive into Boston to see Andrea, if she hasn’t booked another engagement and if Grant doesn’t have too much homework due tomorrow.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

Robert Frost’s words do describe the ten years since 9/11. Yet the shadows of that infamous day linger, in so many memories and reverberations — especially in the tragic losses of so many lives and those who knew and loved them.

Today, amidst life’s normal routines, I need to recall and sanctify these losses and the many, many lives that have been forever altered. For those whose normalcy of 9/10 will never return, may you find peace.

Among the many poignant stories of the lives forever changed, this one captures the challenge of going on.

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A special time

I’m just back from several days of vacation with my son Grant. We started at Lake Tahoe, nourishing my love of the mountains, and then spent a couple days in Reno, nourishing his love of cars. Hot August Nights, a nationally-known car show, was chalking up its 25th year, with probably thousands of cars touring the city.

The greatest joy of the trip was being able to spend time with Grant, both of us largely unplugged from our normal routines and distractions. At 15, nearing 16, he’s contemplating what to do with his life. Paraphrasing Rilke, Grant is living in the questions more than finding answers, and it was a privilege to be able to hear him articulate a few of those questions and possible answers.

With my daughter off to college in a few short weeks, I’m reminded of how fleeting life is. Often we don’t recognize this until we encounter a sudden, unexpected transition. Too soon, Grant will also be off. Fortunately, in the coming years, I’ll have the memories from this week to recall.


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Independence Day

Half-mast flags at the Washington Monument

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

From the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

It’s hard to imagine the culture and mindset of the colonies in 1776.  Or the discussions and debate that preceded the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The “self-evident” seems obvious now—although we’re still striving as a nation to fully understand and live up to these truths.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful to have been born in the United States and to enjoy the rights that have emanated from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and 234 years of history.

Today I pause for a few minutes to give thanks to all those who have made this life of freedom possible, from the statesmen who fashioned those early documents to the women and men who serve us with the goal of preserving—in some cases establishing—a just society.

May we, as a nation, not take this hard-won gift for granted.

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Another driveway moment

Lilacs blooming

The first hint I had that the lilacs were blooming was the fragrance that greeted me when I pulled into the driveway and stepped out of the car. And I knew right where to go to see the blooms, the sight reminding me of a line by Rainer Maria Rilke that I recently discovered:

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.

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Chasing the sun

Sitting in 39K at 38,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic, chasing the sun across the globe, gradually losing this race hour by hour, ultimately losing the light off Newfoundland.

No sight of the ocean, rather a sea of clouds below, gray in the dips, the upper reaches still illuminated by the sun. Out of London, I witness the contrails being formed by the jet engine, a sight I’ve seen from the ground so many times but never from the vantage point of a window seat behind the engine.

Inside the cabin, the passengers are viewing movies, listening to music, reading. Outside is a world where we should not be, where we would not survive unprotected, -50° F, moving at 550 miles-per-hour over the earth.

Two disparate environments separated by a few inches of metal. Contemplating the contrast between inside and outside, I sense transcendence. That’s why I love to fly.

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Spring blossoms

Last night I arrived home past dark, returning from a four-day business trip to Dallas. So it was only this morning, backing out of the driveway, that I noticed the azalea blooming. By the side of the driveway, this bush has consistently been the first in our yard to bloom.

After what seemed like an interminable winter, here’s welcome proof that spring has arrived, more definitive than the calendar or the teasing hints of warmer weather. I’m not sure why this particular winter seemed so long; I don’t recall the sense of an endless season since arriving in New Hampshire 13 years ago.

Thanks to the blooms on that azalea, I have a deep sense of renewal.

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Perigee moon

Tonight’s full moon coincides with the perigee of the moon’s orbit around the earth. It’s all very straightforward, scientifically.

From Wikipedia, Orbit of the Moon

The moon’s orbit is elliptical (not circular), meaning its distance from the earth varies, slightly more than 42-Km from apogee to perigee, or about ±5.5% of its average distance from the earth. The ellipse of the orbit isn’t fixed; it gradually rotates (precesses), completing a rotation in just under 9 years. Add the geometric dynamics among the earth, moon, and sun that cause the phases of the moon — and you have a complex geometric problem.

Watching the moonrise, though, transcends all this geometry and physics. Shivering in the chilly evening, I see an orange orb slowly emerge from the clouds. With elevation, the orange becomes the familiar pale while circle that we glance at from time to time, taking it all for granted.

But tonight I wonder over how many billions of years has this scene played out, and for how many eons have human eyes watched this same spectacle and, without the knowledge of celestial mechanics, contemplated the causes. From such musings religions must have been born.

We, who are so bent on the notion that science can explain everything, need a dose of place and humility from time to time. For me, at least, tonight’s perigee moon provides that impulse for reflection.

“Goodnight moon.
Goodnight stars.
Goodnight air.
Goodnight noises everywhere.

Further reading and references:

  • Wikipedia article, Orbit of the Moon
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • 50 photos of the full moon from around the world (added March 23)
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    Saturday morning, the house slowly stirring, I’m enjoying a few quiet moments for musing and puttering despite my long list of to dos. I’m grateful that life in our house is normal.

    Across the Pacific, an earthquake and tsunami have wreaked horrible destruction in Japan. The photos and videos, even though incredibly moving, cannot convey the extent of the suffering and sadness inflicted upon so many. It’s hard to imagine the thousands of individual experiences and stories, ranging from inconvenience to death.

    A Japanese colleague sent me this e-mail:

    Our Tokyo office also shaken quite a bit. It was very scary, and all the train stopped. I have walked 10 miles for 3 hours to home. Now I go to bed.

    We never know when the fabric of life will be ripped, when normal will turn to chaos. The reminder for me is to savor each today, to appreciate the normal.

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    This morning the sun peered through the trees, seemingly directly east of us, as it began the day’s ascent. The snow is melting, enough for me to see over most of the banks in the parking lots; swaths of grass are visible in the front yard. I sense spring is coming.

    This day is comfortably routine. Not traveling, I was up to see the kids off to school, burned 450 calories on the elliptical, ate oatmeal with blueberries and brown sugar, stopped at Starbucks for coffee on the way to the office. Small, yet important, markers that provide equilibrium and are often overlooked sources of gratitude.

    58 years ago today, 2,900 miles from here, I was born. While I don’t get sentimental about birthdays, I am conscious that this milestone should not be considered routine. I’ve lived long enough to have some sense of history, of life, and of death. And I have a visceral sense that my own horizon is out there, not yet within view — but it never is, is it?

    Grateful for my years and the expansive life they’ve brought, I ponder the niggling questions that have been visiting me during the quiet moments: am I fulfilling my purpose, doing what inspires me, leaving the world a bit better? Will I, when that horizon arrives, look back with few regrets, knowing I have done all I could reasonably have hoped to do?

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