Thoughts: The Closest We Get


“Normalcy became one of my favorite words.”

Those are the words from one of my parishioners, talking about a time years ago when she was fighting her own battle with cancer. It’s not a normal time, even when, as with me, the battle goes well. A day or more a week is taken with tests and such. There’s stuff to read that you would never read under normal circumstances. I tend towards mysteries and self help novels, not “The Secret Life of the Prostate.”

Normal would be good. Only, I am not sure what normal is any more.

It’s been a decade of not normal. Not all bad, mind you, just not normal. Emergencies abound. Unexpected emergencies pop up like weeds. The kinds with thorns. At times I feel like the juggler, who is on a unicycle, riding through fire, while the audience throw knives. on a tightrope, that is fraying.

Mostly, I am pretty good at handling changes and challenges. I generally have a moment of panic, then I do the deep breath thing and dive into the fire. I keep a level head. I plow through.

One of my favorite sayings is “How do you eat the elephant? One spoonful at a time.” The same thing applies when there a dozen elephants. Another favorite saying is one I stole from a refrigerator magnet (I know, I have only the highest brow inspirations.). “Begin Anywhere.”

Those two, along with Psalm 46:10 – “Be still and know that I am God.” are pretty much how I live my life. And mostly they get me through. I really don’t have any complaints. In the midst of all the crazy stuff, the important things are solid. I have a wife I adore and who adores me. That in itself is worth the price of admission. And I have three kids who I love and love me, who I can be proud of and who are building lives for themselves. I have interesting and rewarding work.

But I do wonder what normal would be like. Do people have lives where things don’t explode on a regular basis? Where weirdness pops up like a mine-field gone amok.

I am not sure I can even tell you what normal would be any more. I can tell you what I would LIKE it to be, but what it actually might be in real life? I’ve kind of lost it. It’s to the point where I see weirdness everywhere.

What would I like it to be? For me it would be a quiet life, in a quiet place. Send me to a back canal in Venice, or the cliffs in Tintagle, or the far shores of Cape Cod in the fall. Someplace quiet. Removed from the bustle. I’d get up each morning, sip coffee and write. I’d spent time in quiet places, just thinking and praying. I’d write again late in the day. I’d have long romantic dinners with the woman I love. I would not have a cell phone and no one would need me in emergencies.

The truth is, Vermont too is a good place for peace. And it’s been the peace here that has helped me wander through the weirdness. Vermont actually embraces weirdness. No one gets ruffled by it. Most of the time we don’t even give weird a second thought.

My sanity keeper is my mornings. While the rest of my world seems out of control, but if I can get a couple of hours to think, pray and write early in the morning, I handle the rest of life pretty well. I fight hard for that time. The weirdness would like to consume that part of my life too, but I have become pretty strong in reclaiming it.

I suspect we all have that one thing that contributes to our sanity in the madness. It is different for all of us. And there is a temptation to surrender that one thing because it seems “selfish” in light of all the needs of others around us.

But it isn’t selfish. Without that one thing, whatever it is, we are not able to be our best selves when life goes beserk or becomes nearly overwhelming. To give that one thing up is to choose to come undone in time.

I’ve made that mistake, and the results were a disaster. A disaster that affected me and the people around me. It took years to come back from.

So whatever it is that brings you peace and strength, cling to it. Don’t give it up for anything or anyone. You will be better for it. And so will the people around you whose needy weirdness pulls at you.

It may not be normal. But it’s the closest we get sometimes.

Be well. Travel wisely,


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