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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Christmas Tree ~

In the evening we light the twenty or so candles on the Christmas tree and sit there in long periods of silence.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

At Midnight Mass ~

The priest stood there and read In Praise of Christmas Eve by Thomas a Kempis, composed in the year 1395. I was impressed. It was the joy that went out from the words. And perhaps the way the priest delivered them, obviously stirred. It was an overwhelming gladness that sprang from the realization of what happened at the stable in Bethlehem. You could literally feel the enthusiasm of Thomas a Kempis. He was so full of rejoicing that he could hold no more and had to pass it on to his listeners.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Deep Snow ~

The little Christmas tree I have set up on our terrace outside the dining room is covered and weighted down with snow. The tiny lights have to reflect from deep under the snow and the tree is leaning precariously. There are a few suet feeders on the tree like Christmas decorations that attract the goldfinches, titmice and now and then chickadees. How sparingly they feast.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Tom ~ Funeral

It was bitter cold this afternoon as we filed out to the gravesite. Sheets of snow flew at us in the brisk westwind as we stood waiting for the large crowd of mourners to congregate. The minister stood there bravely with snow in his face waiting to say the Our Father. Then, individually we approached the open grave. I stood and looked down at the coffin now lowered to its earthen resting place. I didn't take the little shovelful of earth or the holy water sprinkler, but just stood there and looked down for five seconds, then made way for the next mourner.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

As If He Were Still There ~

Made my way back to Tom's house this morning. Delivered a note of sympathy from my wife. Told Alice how much I admired her loving perseverence during the long ordeal. A short embrace. Then I went to the cemetery and stood looking at the pile of earth with flowers on it. Numb.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Tom ~ Passage

It was a cold winter afternoon but full of sunlight and reddish streaks of cloud. Tom passed away at noon. I had been there during the morning hours. Tom was breathing laborously and already seemed distant. His family of six was at his bedside. A candle. Death came on tiptoe and took him without a struggle. . . I walked home and sat quietly at the piano and played Bach's Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden while the evening darkness set in.

From Tamara Deuel ~

Dear Charles,
It is hard for me to express the feelings I have when reading your poem because it is very emotional for me. A deep and incredible poem. Thank you sending it to me. I think that you . . .
I am sending you two of my pictures. They are not the latest but I wanted you to see them.
You are blessed,

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Advent Music ~

Bach's Cantata for the third Sunday in Advent concerns the intense longing of an individual soul for the coming of Christ, quite in keeping with the Advent theme. That strong mystical German tradition: very personal emotions expressed in words we are not accustomed to hearing, but striking and captivating, especially when accompanied by the ingenious scores Bach has created. I am no longer "distracted" by the artistry but am moved by the strong religious impact. Every moment with J. S. Bach is a wonderous gift.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tom's Family ~

Tom's wife and family of six are there this weekend. His oldest daughter has a bad cold and must keep her distance. Poor Kathrin, his wife, is exhausted. Tom was doing so well this morning that I could tell him about Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. The red flag went up, as usual in our conversations in the past on that theme, and he had to grab for the oxygen mask. Then the smirk and wink.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tom - Critical Condition ~

Yesterday Tom almost passed away. Had a critical breathing attack. The doctor came but said he had now reached the end of his medical know-how. He gave Tom an injection, some medication, too. Told him the only thing would be to send him to the hospital for resuscitation. Tom rejected that. Wanted to be at home with his family.

Now today Tom was well. Had had a good night, breakfast, felt strong. Had that old smirk on his face when I told him about our awful choir performance.

Astonishing, how peaceful he is. Never complains. Taking everything in stride. No fear. No drama, little emotion. Well aware that death is near. It would seem as if abundant help coming from elsewhere.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas Tree ~

Bought a Christmas tree today. All the while thinking about living simply in a society that has everything. Almost any object that one can imagine is available and can be had. Living in such a society poses its own problems: the desire to have is one, dissatisfaction not to have is another. To be satisfied with owning little is an ideal to keep striving for because it frees me from so many things that clutter up my life.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Hubris ~ Knowing Oneself

When studying Greek tragedy I remember our professor telling us how the playwrights used hubris [arrogance, pride] in their plays to demonstate how a protagonist who displayed hubris could be led to his own downfall. The Gods would show their disfavor by allowing him to have even more success, then when he felt himself to have achieved everything he wanted they would let him fall and drive him headlong into on into his own undoing.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Tom - The Night

He was awakened at 2 a.m. gasping for breath. After that couldn't get back to sleep for fear it would return. Was drowsy during my visit and slept most of the time. Came away with the feeling we are losing contact.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Tom - Music

In his situation Tom said that he doesn't care to hear music, not even classical. The only music he can listen to is Gregorian chant. Tom is Protestant and his tradition is anything other than Gregorian. He said that the chant makes him peaceful and carries him off.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tom's Son ~

Today Tom told me a surprising story about his 15 year old son who, up until now, has had problems in school. His performance was always below average, he had no desire to learn, this parents had spent countless hours tutoring him but with hardly any success, dyslexia. Now suddenly in the last weeks there has been a complete turnaround. He has caught fire and is doing exceptionally well in school.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tom - Every Day Now

Been making the visits every day now. Fit it into my schedule. It is very important.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Tom - Up ~

Using morphine. Oxygen. Plus the blood transfusion. Two good nights in a row. Even food is tasting good now. Gaining some weight.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Why Auschwitz?

My Auschwitz poem that has lain fallow for a long time keeps coming back, especially now with Tom facing death. Was thinking about how to make the reader see the location from a new perspective, as a mountain. Tom always comes back to that topic. Talks of circling paths. A sacred mountain.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Tom - Mountain Climbing ~

Tom's day in the hospital was terrible. He's home now. He couldn't even tell me about it for fear he would get excited and lose his breath. We just sat there. On constant oxygen now. I held his hand. No talking. Towards the end I remembered mountain climbing. . . Tom loved the mountains and for years he had done a lot of perilous climbing in the Swiss Alps. I mentioned the word "rope party" and told him I was a late-comer but was now in it with him. We're climbing, setting one foot in front of the other. Slowly. At 4,000 meters the air is thin. One step, ten breaths. Snow. Alone on the rope with the rope party. Lose the path maybe, or no path, no vision. Just the burning desire to reach the summit.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Iraq Quagmire ~

Agonizing, like very many, over the debacle in Iraq. Too, too many of our boys killed-- and Iraqi civilians: over one hundred thousand, they say. And then this: it has cost over $223,000,000,000 and climbing at a rate of $1,000,000,000 a week.

Defending freedom? Iraq better off now than then?

Tom - Blood

They're taking Tom back to the hospital today for a blood transfusion. Tomorrow morning he will be at home again and asked me to be there when he gets back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Tom - Shun the Dying

Tom said that when people hear that he is dying they tend to keep their distance. Reiterated how much he appreciated my visits. Proof of real friendship. He told me about another friend who couldn't come to visit because his job has him traveling all the time. He said he told him that my visits also counted as his. Somehow, in Tom's present way of seeing things, this was a true statement and the friend was consoled.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Five More Ohio Marines ~

This morning they reported five more Marines killed in Iraq on a road patrol. It breaks my heart to hear that so many young boys, twenty-year-olds in the blossom of manhood, are being killed. Knowing about the background of our involvement, this is a sacrifice for having made a mistake. What a terrible blame our President has to carry.

On reading about these boys and feeling the pain that the parents and friends of these soldiers are experiencing I sat down and wrote a poem entitled:

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Evening Star ~

Stood at my window at half past five and looked out across the tops of the pines and saw the evening star, huge and brilliant, hanging there in the western sky.

Morning with Tom ~

Tom's wife asked me to sit with him while she was away. It was amazing how collected and at peace he was. In spite of the turbulant past everything had come into focus now and Tom was happy as I had never seen him before. He looked into my eyes and assured me.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Just an Orange ~

My wife has a bad cold. Is in bed. Yesterday I peeled an orange for her. In the course of the day she mentioned to me, three times, how moved she was by that gesture.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Two Kinds of Prayer ~

The submissive kind: accepting what comes as God's will. Willing to comply.
The insistent kind: begging to be heard, tenacious, falling at the Lord's feet and imploring...and not letting go until He hears.

Tom and I fall into these respective categories. Tom is struggling, begging. When I see how positive things are developing I think the Lord might just be hearing his prayer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tom ~

Walked over to visit Tom today. About a half hour's walk. Gives me time to mull things over. Always apprehensive about how I will find him. Saw his doctor this morning standing out in front of his office, cell phone in hand, then getting in his car. Thought he was off to Tom's bedside. No, Tom was in good shape this morning. Said he got up, walked downstairs and breakfasted before lying down. "I feel just great", he said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Piano Lesson ~

While playing the piano I am finding out that the fingers do a lot of things right, if I just let them. That means that I have to stop thinking about fingering the right notes. Focus more on the beauty of the sounds. Maybe this is one of the lessons [for living] I should have learned a long time ago. Learn to forget myself.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Memorial Day in Germany ~

Yesterday was Memorial Day here and those soldiers killed in W.W.I and W.W.II were commemorated. In church we remembered them with prayers. The priest told of families that had lost sons and up to this very day they are psychologically broken because of that. Of course, I prayed for those soldiers together with all the people in our village.

Would I have shot at them back then? Over the years I have learned what it meant for Germans to live in a totaltarian state, to be terrorized, and to conform or be shot. God spared me the awful situation and the decisions one had to make, living in Germany during Hitler's time. That diabolical charisma. I often ask myself how I would have reacted.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Tom - Consolation?

One feels so helpless. What can I say to Tom that has meaning? Give consolation, strengthen faith. I end up saying nothing of real value. I told him that. He was saddened and said I was all wrong. He appreciated every minute of my visits. It was just the presence and my quiet response to his condition and fate that made him so happy, he said. He wanted to make sure I understood that. We held hands for a long time.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tom ~

Tom was suprisingly well today. Was listening to the radio, had read some newspaper. Could eat. No bottle hanging over the bed. Refused to go back to the clinic [they wanted to start chemo today and radiation]. Said he was happy to be home and "in God's hands".

Thursday, November 10, 2005

God Seeker ~

"No one can seek the Lord who has not already found Him." 
                                           St. Bernard of Clairvaux

A remarkable statement. What is he driving at?
Is he pointing our a natural affinity that has already led us to God, perhaps in our untainted childhood?
Or does "our having found Him" refer to the time before Adam's fall? Or in a prior life? Does he see us as creatures of God, whose limited human nature can only search. Have we have already found Him in some prior state but forgotten or lost Him.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

That Autumnal Blaze ~

We feel we have You captured inside our churches. . . but, on afternoons like this, You have escaped our narrow limits and all Your glory is out there in the blazing beauty of our wooded Black Forest landscapes.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tom - Wanted to be at Home

Tom is at home now. His own decision to leave the clinic. The doctors said staying or leaving was up to him. He looks frail and pallid. Bundled up under blankets. On the bedstand a saucer with morcels of bread, that's all that he can eat. Nutrition from a bottle hanging over the bed. Happy to be home amidst his family of six.

Music ~

Heard a song about New England yesterday on the radio. Quite moving, about fisherman on Cape Cod. For a moment I felt a twitch of homesickness. Would I ever be able to walk in the New England woods and see those landscapes again? Homesickness? Is this perhaps a longing for that other Home?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Pleasing to God

Reading a book about Francis of Assisi by Nikos Kazantzakis. He is portrayed as a merciless ascetic. Hammering down the body until it was ruined, rejecting every human pleasure. Is that the way for us to become saints? Francis knew a loving God. He must certainly have known he would be saved by that love, not by all such efforts of his own.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Tom - Hospital Visit

Tom showed me the neck brace and the corset he will have to wear. He said he had a good night, got up this morning and and went to the bathroom alone, but when he got back to his bed he was completely exausted. The doctor told him the metastases had now spread to the neck. Nevertheless, he might be coming home this weekend.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Mosquito ~

Last night awakened by a mosquite buzzing around my ear. Helpless to stop it from doing that, so I said: you can stay, but be still and I will be likewise. Feeling the movement of the air above my face I started to think to myself what a wonderful creature that was. Those tiny wings in movement, those tiny muscles. The brain, the vascular system, the nerves, respiration. And all functioning perfectly. What a wonderous creature, a cosmos in itself. Would it be right to destroy such a creation? How can I be so blind as no to see that magnificence?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Tom - Hospital Visit ~

Visited my friend, Tom, in the hospital today. He said the cancer had spread and that now metastases had shown up in the in the vertebrae. Just last week he had said that the reports he received after the chemo therapy were all good and added: "We'll soon be going out for our monthly lunch together".

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Distractions ~

Been without TV now for the last 11 months. I don't miss it at all. It has given me an extra hour a day for other uses. And it is good not to have all those reminders about what I am lacking and what I absolutely need to be happy. My thoughts are not cluttered up by all the goings on. I can live in my own sphere without all the barrages from outside.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Recollection ~

During my morning walk [it is dark at 7 a.m.] I kept trying to push distractions out of my mind. After all these years why can't I keep fixed on God for those short 25 minutes?