HALF FAST LIVING: Must This Winter Be Another Season of Discontent?

LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL, as the snows of another pandemic winter cover Mother Earth. Henry David Thoreau was right when he wrote, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”


BOONE, N.C. (Jan. 26, 2022) – Some 35 years ago when I worked at The Brunswick Beacon in Shallotte, N.C., Wednesday mornings were my favorite time of the work week. That week’s edition of the newspaper had been put to bed the night before, and the newsroom was quiet for a change, at least for a few hours. It was then that I would compose my new column that would appear a week later when the next Beacon hit the newsstands. I didn’t mind having to think a week ahead.

Now, as a 62-year-old retiree whose working life has seen four distinct seasons—as a hardware clerk, newsman, teacher and coach, and writer—I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I was wrong all those years ago, whether I should have simply flown by the seat of my pants, as some folks say, instead of worrying so much about staying on top of things, getting ahead, being proactive—whatever that character trait is called. Or is it a fault? Maybe so, depending on the situation.

Several things this past year and specifically this winter have convinced me to take another look at how I approach day-to-day living. The ongoing pandemic, of course, and the resulting deaths of people close to me have had the greatest impact. A year ago today my mother died about a month after testing positive for COVID-19 and then developing pneumonia. An elderly aunt had suffered the same fate a couple of months earlier. At least three classmates—three that I know of, anyway—have died of the coronavirus, while other family members and friends have survived bouts with the disease but still feel its effects.

MY MOTHER’S HANDS play “The Lost Sheep,” a song she composed in the late 1960s in memory of her late father and for a homecoming service at Brookwood Baptist Church in Morganton. This image comes from my last video of Mom playing the piano, in 2014.

Other recent passages have affected me—not the deaths of media celebrities, who can live and be celebrated forever in their images, sounds and accomplishments left behind, but the shuffling off this mortal coil of friends and close acquaintances whose memories are about all we have left to remember them by. Unlike some COVID-19 victims who stubbornly place their so-called faith in false prophets and cults of personality, three of my friends—all three cancer warriors—fought hard to live and trusted knowledgeable doctors and evolving science to ensure their best chances of survival.

These three believers did more than just pray, and so should we all. Not only are we instructed to ask for what we desire, we are commanded to seek it.

Along with the anniversary of my mother’s death today, two other events have put me in this melancholy mood: first, the release earlier this month of the third and final season of Ricky Gervais’s dark comedy After Life and, second, this past weekend’s passing of Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. All three seasons and every episode—but particularly the last one—of After Life are compelling in the “I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me” kind of way. And without going into the details of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life, Thay, or Teacher, as he was called, was all about mindfulness or awareness of one’s breath, the inspiration and expiration of one’s very existence in the moment.

Heading into the third year of a global pandemic when so many believers in some sort of god are struggling just to breathe and then dying needlessly, maybe we all should recognize that God/religion and Nature/science are one and the same. As Franciscan priest, writer and speaker Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M., observes: “The tragic sense of life, the absurd sense of everything, that’s the Gospel.” In a recent talk about Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, Fr. Rohr also noted that “God is just another word for everything.” True? Then so, too, is the converse of that supposition.

As I’ve said before, God is good, all the time—but God is also bad and everything in the middle, all at the same time. What may be heaven-sent for me can be hellish or something in-between for someone else—or for everyone else, even. What is wholly good? What is wholly bad? Nothing—and everything. It all depends on one’s focus, either on oneself, or on humanity and the universe of which humanity is just one part. Even then, we struggle to keep good things good, don’t we?

Sure, I came close to swearing off planning ahead in this meditation, this New Year’s resolution four weeks late. But there are three things I want to do in the year ahead—three trips, in memory of the three angels that Timberley and I lost in 2021. First, I want to go someplace again where live music is played, to honor one sweet friend who lived for it and danced to it, whether with her husband or by herself to his music. Second, I want to revisit Brunswick County, where so many of our friends live, as did the second friend we lost. Third, I want to finish our recent pilgrimage to Frankfort, Ky., that we aborted in transit before we could attend our third fallen friend’s funeral.

Eventually, I’d also like to organize a gospel singing in memory of my mother, a church pianist much of her life and a published composer of hymns. Even before she died last January, I had a good idea of where to stage the event and whom to invite, but I will continue to hold off with those plans until we can safely gather together to memorialize Mom with her own hymns and with other gospel songs she loved to play and sing. I’d like to be left with something positive to remember my mother by.

Those are some of my hopes and dreams for the year ahead—and, yes, my plans, too. I just can’t help myself, as I live and breathe.

2 thoughts on “HALF FAST LIVING: Must This Winter Be Another Season of Discontent?”

Comments are closed.