Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Time Away

There is something I have learned about daily life over the years. It has to do with the benefit of occasionally removing myself from its places and faces and routines.

This season of Advent I have regularly done something I first did in my twenties. A student in seminary, I used to set aside an hour a day for some form of private prayer or meditation. The habit of dedicating part of my daily life to a conscious stepping away from daily life has proven a valuable legacy from those long-ago years.

Sometimes now in an armchair in the little room at home that we call our library, sometimes on a couch in the living room near Marc, I sit with a book of psalms and readings in the evening. The mood quiets around me, and I start reading, start thinking, start easing my way into a space inside.

Sometimes it happens that a phrase or line starts running through my head. The words start to take on meaning, sometimes communicating a reassurance that I hadn’t known I needed. I have gotten into a habit in the past couple of weeks of writing down those words, those sayings, and inserting them on pieces of paper into the book of prayers.

I choose this kind of departure from the places and faces and routines of my daily life, but a few weeks back I found circumstances beyond my control removing me from them.

The onset of symptoms about which my cardiologist had recently cautioned me prompted a 911 phone call in the middle of a workday. Although I was in no painful discomfort, within five minutes medics were in my office, asking me questions, taking my blood pressure, giving me aspirin tablets to chew. I was cooperative and frankly grateful but also stunned to see this space that for years had been the setting of my daily routines suddenly become other people’s work space. Before I could think of protesting, I was directed onto a gurney and rolled down a hall past the open doorways of my workday world.

The familiar face of Marc accompanied me through most of the next two days in the hospital. I counted on that mainstay of my daily life to prevent the progression of tests and procedures from redefining me.

In the middle of my second and final night in the hospital, I did something that surprised me. I called my office line at work. I lay there in the dark listening to one voice mail after another from the past week, messages I hadn’t yet deleted. My intention was not to find out what may have happened in my absence; I just thought it would be soothing to hear Marc’s voice and the voices of colleagues and friends with their everyday news and everyday reminders and everyday questions. For a few minutes I was John again.

At the end of January I am planning on making another departure from the places and faces and routines of my daily life. The plan is to settle for a weekend into a peaceful retreat routine focused on the order of services in a monastic community north of Boston. In a way that may balance my two days in a hospital in November, I will spend two days away, learning to listen as the mood quiets around me, and I will consider reading, thinking, easing my way into a space inside.

The time away and the space may succeed in communicating a reassurance that I hadn’t known I needed.

Photo from keithv


Unknown said...

These are the words of the playwright Tony Kuskner:
"I have been blessed with remarkable comrades and collaborators. Together we organize the world for ourselves, or at least we organize our understanding of it. We reflect it, refract it, criticize it, grieve over its savagery and help one another to discern, amidst the gathering dark, paths of resistance, pockets of peace and places from whence hope may be plausibly expected."

Thank you, Donald, for being one of those "places from whence hope may be plausibly expected". I am glad that your health issues are being addressed and I wish you only great joy and deep healing in the new year. Be well, my friend.

John said...

Your care is a special gift of the season, friend. Thank you for your wisdom and your faithful concern. I count on the support of good people like you.

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...


Tennyson...to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield...

Isaiah... not turning his face from buffets but rather asking God to steel him to face the world head on...

These are the people that come to mind when I read this post of yours. You choose to face the light, my friend. Even if that means looking through the darkness to see it.

At least, that is what I read in your knit-work of syllables.

Blessings, courage, et confiance. Love, too.

dave said...

I am dreadfully late in reading about all this! Forgive my tardy response -- I would have liked to have been in contact when you most needed it. At least it seems that storm has been weathered and you are in good hands with Marc's solicitous care (perhaps dictatorial care where your diet is concerned??) May your retreat go well, enveloped by the Lord's strong and gentle arms.

John said...

I am grateful for the company of good friends and for the earnestness of your messages. Yes, 2008 will call for courage and confidence on the journey, a journey eased by watchful fellow travellers.

Thank you both, friends!