These haiku/tanka-formatted poems have come out of long meetings with difficult conversations around the church community. I write poetry to express feelings and thoughts that might disrupt or aggravate during meetings. I share them later, without context, for they continue to inspire me to consider what words I use, what notions I carry, and that I, too, might have blind spots.
Problematic words: dividing with our notions and cutting our ties
"We" "Ours" "I" "My" "Mine" There is a space between us that is shown in words
The apple and tree:
growing in their own spaces
but sharing some roots.
Hubris, pride, self-righteousness:
can't you see the path ahead?
Christmas has come and gone. I received one text saying merry Christmas and the 28 second phone call where am I child told me all she could do was say Merry Christmas and hang up. There were relatives standing by, I could hear them. They were the same ones who stood by and congratulated me at my wedding. The same ones who said they cared. Not a single message explaining: just the silence of complicity.
There’s a possibility I’ll see them this weekend, but I doubt it. There’s no visitation arranged for January or anytime soon. there is a motion to dismiss my case, because nothing has gone wrong since July. I was guaranteed visits, between six and twelve of them. I saw my two kids once or twice, but haven’t seen my oldest since July.
So I walk in the cold and write poetry, wondering if next year will be any different. I doubt it. In the meantime, the cold reminds me I’m still alive and the pain is lifted like a prayer. At least I have no more bruises than the ones I have on my heart
Twenty eight seconds and one "Merry Christmas" text: What did you expect? Contact was all you wanted so that's what she took away.
Will the court help me? Does the sun rise twice a day? That seems more likely than for a judge to enforce when the victim is father
Innkeeper, street vendor, wool weaver: all sleeping. Traveler, road watcher, bread baker: all dreaming. Carpenter, brick layer, clay potter: all dozing. Cold shepherd, star gazer, wise midwife: wide awake.
Young soldier, wise rabbi, landowner: all abed. Census staff, messengers, young children: all snoring. Important, powerful, the “normal”: they miss it. The outcast, the restless, the strange ones: they hear first.
Heartbroken, discarded, pushed away: still awake. Broken souls, groaning ones, frightened folk: open eyes. Mourning lives, empty chairs, lonely ones: let them see Christmas comes first for those who need the hope’s light most.
No tinsel, no label, no price tag: love comes down. For the lost, for the sad, for the hurt: love comes down. Through the tears, through the dark, through the grief: love comes down. Emmanuel, Prince of peace, Savior: Love and Light, Meet us here where we wait, wide awake and in need.
Rev. Robert Dean, Composed December 15, 2022; First Shared at Trumansburg UMC’s Blue Christmas Service December 21, 2022;
One of the strangest things about the holidays is dealing with the expectations of other people. I say that it is a strange thing, because it can be quite surreal and odd at times. People have expectations about what it means to celebrate holidays that are often reinforced by the culture at large. Holidays are meant to be “happy.” There are expectations that people will be spending time with loved ones and friends.
Everyone has an image of what the holidays are meant to be, but on occasion they come across someone like me: a person-shaped stumbling block between them and their ideal vision of the world. People are meant to be with people they love at the holidays, but that person over there has no great plans. People are supposed to see their loved ones and families, but my only close family in state is traveling to see the rest of my family while I remain behind to work. People are going out of the way to see kids and grandkids while I am waiting for a court order to take effect that hasn’t even been filed at this point. If everything works out, I just may see some of my kids for the New Year weekend, but I’m not even bothering to assume that will happen at this point.
Some people try to fix the problem by inviting me to come and join their holidays, which is lovely, but I want to see my family for the holidays. Some people try to fix the problem by suggesting a new legal strategy or by urging me to somehow force other people to do things they are not willing to do. Some people get quite frenetic about fixing things.
They can’t fix things though. To use recovery language, there are things I can change and things I cannot change. For the people trying to help, there are things they can change and things they cannot change. I would love it if they had a solution based on the things that they can do, but the reality is that there is no solution that falls under the category of “feasible.”
As my attorney put it, there is a system of order in our country, not a system of justice. The system is biased and unfortunately it would take a truly criminal act on behalf of my former partner for me to even be heard. It doesn’t matter if my former partner is, in the words of my attorney, the least cooperative and least Christian person he has seen while working in the family court system. The system does not care and that’s not going to change today. As one person put it quite clearly: “Family courts don’t separate children from their mothers. Period. Hard stop.”
In truth, without going into the religious aspects of things, there’s only one person who could truly change any of this: my former partner. If she had some kind of Christmas Carol experience things might change, but dreams of vengeance seem to be the only dreams she has carried for most of a decade. I’m no stumbling block on the path to her happy holiday, for I am the refuse tossed by the side of the road to be discarded and forgotten by her, her children, and everyone she knows.
So, yeah, there’s no amount of turkey and stuffing that will make this a happy holiday. There’s no party or gift that will suddenly make things better. There isn’t even the possibility of cupid coming on the scene with hope for the future, for even the idea of trusting someone in those ways is beyond my grasp. Every time that idea even comes to the surface it is shot down with extreme prejudice. I simply am a stumbling block between others and their ideal vision of the world.
My holidays are different and they’re not suddenly going to get better regardless of what you do. In a few weeks I’ll get another year older, another year wiser, and thanks to circumstances, I will probably be a little more of a miser who needs to pinch every penny so he can pay for his kids to have another happy year without him as he remains out of sight and out of mind. These holidays are going to be hard and there’s no getting around that reality.
I wish you could fix my holiday too, friend. Unfortunately, the only thing I want for Christmas is something nobody can provide.
I took a long walk today, which isn’t that unusual. I followed the same route I took on the hottest day of the year. I almost passed out on that July day, but today things were fine. The wind was brisk, the air refreshing, and there wasn’t a thermometer reading three digits anywhere in sight.
I pondered my life choices as I walked. I have been waiting for several days for my attorney to draft the Court Order that will allow me to see my kids over the holidays. I haven’t seen all of my kids since July and only saw them once in the last three months despite the guaranteed joint-custody/visitation rights in the initial court order. I have been waiting and trying to be patient.
When I wait, I tend to work out more. There’s a reason I’m down nearly one hundred pounds this Christmas as I have been nervous. The thing is that sometimes my nerves make sense. It is hard to wait and it is hard to miss my kids. I often feel afraid to visit my kids as I remember things my partner has said and done over the years. Some of it wasn’t meant to be threatening, but it was frightening.
Let me give an example which has been bothering me. My former partner once told me that she highly admired the leadership style of Adolf Hitler. She actually put it in her ministerial psych exam paperwork and bragged that she wasn’t even questioned about it. Even now, it is uncomfortable sharing that idea even though I’m not the one who stated it. She claimed that it was because he was a highly motivational and effective leader, which he seemingly was given the way he reorganized his nation. The trouble is that I now wonder what effective leadership style movements someone like Hitler would use if his former partner came into town. Would it have been easier if their former partner just disappeared? It is something I think about whenever my kids have a school event. Would I come back alive this time if I went?
What’s even worse is that even as I feel frightened of the implications of adoration of someone like Hitler in a former partner, I also feel like everyone will judge me for overlooking what was, in hindsight, and enormously blaring red flag. Why didn’t I walk away that day? Why did I believe someone was loving who admired such a domineering and demented person? Why didn’t I think of that adoration of such a charismatic lunatic when everything I did was held up the ideal of what she thought was right and good?
Then the real question comes out. Could anyone love someone like me who put up with that kind of stuff? Who could love someone who not only loved such brutal efficiency but has been using it for a year and a half without any repercussions? What kind of person would love someone who put up with that kind of nonsense? What if they would only want to do so because they see an opportunity to take advantage of me? What if I escape the frying pan just to land in the fire?
All of this begs the question of “why bother?” According to Fitbit I walked over 15 miles today. I lift weights regularly and am slimming down. I put another three holes in my belt because the belt I bought that barely fit a year ago now needs to wrap around through several loops to the point where the end is approaching the small of my back. I put in the work in my long term recovery every single day, attend a fatherhood support group, and am incredibly active in my faith community. I have a lot going for me, but I wonder if I’m just putting a really nice exterior on a life that is scarred, wounded, and full of experiences that make me feel crazier than a bag full of feral cats.
What if I put in all this work and just end up dying alone? What if that’s the best option instead of inflicting myself on someone else again? I know it is the week before Christmas and I should be working on getting ready or mourning the fact my kids aren’t here, but I have to be honest and say that I’m not even sure they care about my anymore. Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe I’ll just spend the rest of my life walking here to there, lifting heavy objects, and doing my best to be of service to other people who can have the nice things like relationships that I may never have again. Maybe that should be what happens to the person who was too blinded by love to recognize the red flags in the first place.
Today I found myself driving down the road towards my home when a song started playing from deep within “My Likes” in YouTube Music. Years ago I was obsessed for a time with the movie Brave. I watched it with my kids, listened to the music as I drove around with them, and acted generally as a fanboy for team Merida. Even when Anna and Elsa came on the scene, I looked down my nose at them. I had found my favorite Disney Princess and she was a raucously independent archer who had all of the confidence and self-assurance that I wished for my children.
So today, the song “Touch the Sky” began to play and I listened to the lyrics.
When the cold wind is a-calling And the sky is clear and bright Misty mountains sing and beckon Lead me out into the light
I will ride, I will fly Chase the wind and touch the sky I will fly Chase the wind and touch the sky
Where dark woods hide secret And mountains are fierce and bold Deep waters hold reflections Of times lost long ago I will hear their every story Take hold of my own dream Be as strong as the seas are stormy And proud as an eagle’s scream
The last few days I have been feeling very strange. This week I will learn if the court is going to help me see my kids before the year ends. I haven’t had the visitation the court set in place since July and I don’t have a ton of hope that suddenly the court will start to care, so I have been down in the dumps. Tack on the amount I have been working and the reality behind why I don’t feel safe conversing with my former partner even over kid issues (see any of the posts about Domestic Violence from October and they’ll paint a picture in broad strokes even if they never describe things in detail (on purpose)) and I have been really really reallydown in the dumps.
I have been trying desperately to get a hold of my feelings and my emotions to get them in check before any further bad news pushes me down further. I have been trying to understand what’s happening within as something kept feeling off.
I found myself crying as I drove in the car today because I had a moment and finally understood what was happening. Why haven’t I been hitting the punching bag as aggressively and why have I been taking more pictures of nature? Why did I choose to take my camera on my long walk today and why did I spend most of it texting another father in my fatherhood support group? Why?
As I had been walking earlier an angry song came on my phone and I reached within to connect with what has felt like an endless pit of anger for over a year. When everything else was lost, I could dip into that pit to find fuel to walk another mile, punch the bag for one more set, or even to just stew while driving. It has been so constant and a companion for many miles as I have walked. That deep sense of grief, anger, and sadness has been there for the 1,915 miles that I have walked this year (according to Fitbit). The anger has been as constant as hunger, thirst, and soreness as I have walked on and on.
I had reached in and nothing was there. The bucket hit the bottom and I had been worried that I was broken. What does it mean when you reach in to find the angry part of yourself and find nothing is there? Does it mean that you’re doomed to be unfeeling and lost?
I started crying as the words to the song to Brave came on because I recognized something in them: “When the cold wind is a-calling and the sky is clear and bright, misty mountains sing and beckon: lead me out into the light.” Do you know that there’s a growth on a tree on the Catharine Valley Trail that looks like a snail?
There’s also a ton of damage to the ash trees, likely from a combination of ash borers and woodpeckers. The sight is truly tragic, but also beautiful when you are walking around the woods and suddenly bleach white branches pop out of the woods that are so brown!
Do you know that there are green things that are neither evergreen nor willing to turn brown? Do you know that there are these weird bamboo looking things popping out of the ground in the middle of December? Do you know that the moon is almost full and it can look like fingers of bare branches are reaching into the sky to caress the moon as it rises? Do you know how amazing things are out there in the woods today on the edge of winter? Even as the sun continues to fade for a few more days, do you know how beautiful things are our there?
I cried because I reached down within me to find anger and only found the bottom of a well that hasn’t been empty for a while. I cried because I realized that I understood the lyrics to that song at last. In the midst of the cold wind, I heard the beckoning call to open my eyes and see what God had created. Legs that have walked miles have grown strong enough, skin that has known sun and darkness is thick enough, and even my own sense of fortitude has grown elastic enough that I can take time, even in grief, and see beautifully amazing things.
The song has a second verse that goes ” Where dark woods hide secret and mountains are fierce and bold, deep waters hold reflections of times lost long ago. I will hear their every story: take hold of my own dream. Be as strong as the seas are stormy and proud as an eagle’s scream.”
I’m filled with grief and sorrow, but there’s another part of me that has grown as strong as the seas are stormy. I’m frustrated I need the court’s help to even see my children, but I know what it means to walk miles and see the beauty in the depths of the woods with the endurance to decide that 6 miles into a hike is exactly the time to go wandering down a hill to get a closer look at that bleached white tree down the hill.
Even now, I want to cry because there actually is pride in the person I am becoming. I reached down for anger and found nothing, but I opened my ears and heard a reminder that I am becoming the person I once dreamed of being. Mile by mile, step by step, I am being reforged into someone that my children and I can look upon with joy and pride. I don’t have to be sorrowful today, for I am becoming exactly the kind of person I would have been proud to be when I was young.
This isn’t the road I would have chosen, but it is the road I have, and I am walking it well.