To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven . . .
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away . . .
Lately, it’s been best just sitting, as in, It’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone.
Last Saturday, for instance. A Fern Hill family is moving to Washington state and a bunch of us gathered for a farewell picnic at a local park.
I sat with three other men, our chairs a haphazard trapezoid, shooting the breeze in the late afternoon.
Shoot the breeze: to chat casually without purpose. A ‘breeze’ is a rumor, which is wafted from one person to another, as when one ‘gets wind of’ something. — Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
We weren’t gossiping. But neither did our talk have a purpose, other than to connect and take pleasure in one another’s company. It’s the best sort of talk—I got wind of several books to add to my reading list, for example. One with an intriguing title: Falling into Grace.
A week ago, the night after Fern Hill commencement, the Upper Elementary families had a get-together. Half the group are moving on to middle school. We’ll be returning in September for our last year at Fern Hill—don’t get me started.
I leaned back on a cushion and talked into the night with a friend. Again, no purpose. Ah, but the things I got wind of . . .
I suppose I’m going on about this because just sitting and talking without agenda is not something I do naturally. It’s an acquired skill. Perhaps it was natural once, but if so it was so long ago I can’t remember when.
What I can remember, for the longest time, is conversing to get something. Mostly what I wanted to get was answers. I asked questions about many things—how does one do this, or get that—but the questions had a sameness to them. I was really asking only one question: “What’s wrong with me?”
I asked this question whenever I got the chance—I asked it of friends, teachers, strangers. My agenda was to improve myself.
Once, I listened to Ram Dass give a talk. After it was over I went up to see him. It was a radiant talk and I was pretty high. But still I had questions. Before I could say anything he took a look at me and smacked me in the chest. Then he hugged me.
So much for those questions.
The first time I hung out with Bly for an extended time, I cornered him every chance I got and let my questions fly.
After a few days of this he said, “You know, you’re too much in the sun.”
He was quoting from Hamlet. It was a gentle way of saying, “I’m not your father.”
When my men’s group started, most of us were looking for fathers. I spent a lot of time complaining; we all did.
Gradually over time, the complaining diminished. Now the most precious time is when we just sit together in silence.
One evening, midway on the journey to silence, we found ourselves sitting in a dark wood. Our sharing had grown more grounded over the years, but I hadn’t yet stopped complaining.
“I wish I could go back,” I said.
“What do you mean,Wolf?” said one of the men.
“I mean I’ve made so many mistakes. There are so many things I wish I could take back. It would be so different now if I could just have that ground to go over again, knowing what I know now.”
“You mean go back and do it right?” said the man.
“Yeah. I want to go back and do it right.”
There was a silence.
Then another man said, “We’re doing it right now.”
Everything in its season.
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Of all books by Ram Dass, not most famous, but best: Grist for the Mill
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