I am going on retreat for the weekend. Hope to get in a lot of quiet time, and prayer, and hear some good stuff from the Jesuits. They have great food, too. It is held at the White House Retreat Center in what used to be rural St. Louis County. Old white stone buildings give it the name, built on a wooded bluff above the Mississippi River.
My fourth time there....Pray for me and I will return the favor.
Here I will leave something I wrote about 10 years ago.
Kinda wintery in tone.
The trees and roads and hills were liberally dusted with the first fresh fall of the season. Here and there, a squirrel moved its way tentatively toward somewhere it instinctively knew meant food. Sound was at a minimum, except for the faint low hum of the wind. As the day ran on, everything took on a steely gray hue.
The man viewed this scene from the second story bedroom window. His breath steamed the panes briefly, as brief was the best his breathing could do these days. Light from the desk lamp caused a reflection of someone he once knew. Or thought he knew, at least. Who are you anyway, he wondered as he gazed at the face in the window.
And what of this face? Cheeks a bit sunken, a fringe of a mustache, gray and white specks on the chin. A strong chin it was, with a deep vertical dent in the center. A genetically defining dent, one shared by most of his descendants. The eyes, pale blue, were surrounded by folds of skin and rutted lines extending from the outer corners into the cheeks. As for hair, or lack of such, the steady retreat begun in his forties was now virtually at an end, leaving only whitish tufts above the ears. It seemed some of the fallen follicles had taken root on the ridges above the eyes, and even on and around the ears. With a wry grin, the man recalled telling his youngest now a lovely woman in her own right, how “going bald was okay”, because the hair wasn’t really gone, it just fell on his back and shoulders and grew there. He was just keeping it there for now. And it made him smile to remember that this story was good enough for her then.
Funny, too, how the face looking back was so like his fathers, and even his fathers’ fathers’. How much, he mused, did this repeat? Did his great grandfather look the same? Would one of his sons? How far back, how much forward? It was a warm feeling of rootedness that these thoughts brought, even in the viewing of a life in decline.
So. There he was. The same, yet not the same. Still, in that reflection was the curly headed boy who played at sports with abandon, had some moderate success in prep and college, and came of age in a time of his countrys’ vast confusion over a foreign war, and a moral decline to match the Romans. This boy-to-man had the blessed fortune to encounter a woman four years his junior, who was to provide the love and meaning to his life for over half a century, who would bear their six children and with him see them grow and struggle and fight and rejoice their way through the plus and minus of their own lives.
She was “My North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest”, as the Irish poet W. H. Auden put it. “I thought love would last forever. I was wrong.”
Well, it turns out Auden was wrong....the love lasted, but the earthen vessel that bore her tremendous spirit failed all to soon. It was almost understood between them that he would be the first to go. Not that either of them had any pre-knowledge...it was just a feeling. But it was in a time very like today that she took her leave. Mercifully short and remarkably almost painless, her demise was handled much the same way she went through life.....with great love and humor, and more thought of others than herself. In testimonial to her deep faith, it was remarked that all who had seen her smile now had a special emissary in the hereafter, to help pave their way. And if her earthly will and love had the same heavenly force, then her blessings would continue to reach out until we all met up again.
A rush of melting snow falling past the window roused the man from his remembrance. He seemed to spend more and more of his time there, in the past. It was known, and it was for the most part pleasant, and she was there. So he easily drifted back to her, and the smile. It was the first thing he saw, the feature most attracting. Through the years, it always humbled him, to know she was with him, and that he probably got more of those smiles than anyone else. It was a gift of God, that smile, and one she gave away freely and generously. Others envied it, he knew, although they never said. And it was to his great joy that their children possessed that gift, each and everyone. It would always set them apart as beautiful.
The face in the reflection also had a smile now. Oh, it wasn’t like hers, but it showed promise,. For, down below into the street spilled loads of descendants, the real reason he continued to hold on since she left. They would come, and eat, and drink, and yell, and laugh..... and cry. They would linger, and then be gone.
But their stay would always give him more fuel for the fire, until his burned down for good, and the ash fluttered up, and they were together again.