Tuesday, May 18, 2010

In The Wake of The Deluge

Sometimes I wonder if the people who come up with names for neighborhoods, apartment complexes, streets, and parks should be required to take a course in literary aesthetics. I think zoning boards should prohibit names which sound stupid.

For example, my neighborhood is called Raintree Forest, which sounds to me like a feminine hygiene product. To my knowledge, there's no such thing as a "raintree". I'm sure of it because the spell-check on my computer keeps highlighting the word in red.

Here in Tennessee, and perhaps in America in general, there is a fixation for naming suburban developments after English towns and villages. Having traveled the UK many times, I know something about the real places that suburban planners steal names from, and often they are not as quaint in reality as one might think. Have you ever been to Sheffield, England? If you had, you wouldn't name your neighborhood after it.

When E and I separated, I moved into an apartment complex called "The Enclave". Given the isolation one feels in the throes of a marriage dissolving, the complex was aptly named. Yet, the solitude I experienced emptied me in a way which allowed my soul to be make room for the love that would come by way of friends, strangers, my children, and Spirit.

My two-bedroom place was pathetically empty- a bed in my room, and two beds in the other for my daughters. They were alarmed by the bare bones, but I liked it. The one luxury we had was a television sitting on a small wooden box.

I put an easel in the dining area, and started painting again. I had stopped painting during the first months of my 25 year marriage, and now felt myself being pulled back into what had been a contemplative exercise.

When the girls would visit, we'd eat on the floor in the living room, where I would lay towels in case there was an accident involving food. I tried to make light of the situation by comparing it to the family camping trips we'd enjoyed in years past, but it didn't lessen my daughters' concerns that my fortunes had truly gone south.

Most nights, after going to sleep, I would wake up drenched in sweat, starting at 1 AM, and continuing til about 5 or 6 until I finally couldn't take anymore. I would rise, and go for a walk, but the neighborhood surrounding The Enclave wasn't much of a walker's paradise, so eventually, I started using the treadmill in the gym of the Enclave's clubhouse.

My isolation and restless nights drove me to exercising, and before I knew it, I had dropped 40 or 50 pounds, power-walking 2 miles early every morning. Since I was already up, I now had a good 90 minutes before I needed to pick the girls up at E's for school. I discovered that my church, Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal, had a morning prayer service at 7, so following my power walk and shower, I'd head for the pews.

There were usually only 3 or 4 of us in those early morning hours, huddled in the first two pews, the sanctuary dimly lit, cold, and quiet. Led by Randy and Cathy, we would quietly work our way through prayers, creeds, and scripture readings. I remember most of these mornings as rainy Spring days which served as a metaphor for my journey, rainy with a slight chance of resurrection.

Randy, who would eventually become a full-fledged priest, had been someone I'd run from in the past. He had seemed a little too flaky to me, and was "Charismatic" like a lot of the crazies of my past who had attached themselves to me like barnacles to a boat's hull. This boat would come about, or turn around, when it saw Randy coming.

Once he told me, "The Lord's been talking to me about you. Don't worry, most of it's good."

I started building a wall right there and then, and told him I had no interest in what the Lord was telling him. And I truly didn't.

The first time I attended morning prayers, the irony of redemption greeted me in the form of Randy's hug. I was informed by our past, yet I felt strangely safe, and sensed that one or both of us had changed.

I became a morning prayer regular for that short yet excruciatingly painful period of my life. Randy and Cathy would embrace me upon arrival, and upon intoning the words "Peace be with you" at the service's end.

One day, I asked him if he remembered what God had said to him back when I had started building my wall. He said, "Oh, that? That was just crazy talk!"

Those days of early morning power walks and prayers got me through the early pain of divorce. Sometimes, departing from the church in my old Mercedes, I would experience a deluge of tears. My therapist told me my heart was thawing out, and making room for love, but I just wanted to dam up the flood of tears and get on with living.

Other times, I'd have a remembrance of a painful event that I had shoved to some dark corner of my memory. I would be taken by surprise, ambushed by a rusty, jagged remark. Often, I would be haunted by the unknown price my kids would pay for my decision to leave their mother. Of course, that is still a viable concern.

Of those tear stained days, what I remember most is the centering experience of being in a house of God Almighty in the early hours, intoning ancient prayers in the hope that I wouldn't completely lose my way.

A few months passed, and the gavel came down, and the divorce was final.

I continued my exercising, but eventually, morning prayers fell by the wayside.

Six years passed. Water under the bridge. Water over the bridge.

In the wake of the Nashville flood, I had a personal awakening. I had no personal losses as did so many other Nashvillians, but those deep waters brought with them a mystical effect on my life. Seeing the mini-islands that the flood created, I faced a reality check. How like an island was I willing to become? How willing was I to isolate from my daughters, my friends, and my dearest companion?

There were patterns of behavior that might isolate me if I continued on. No, there was nothing scandalous, nothing extraordinary, but like so many Americans, I was easily lured into feelings of self-entitlement.

Looking around at the massive damage the flood brought to Tennessee, and seeing peoples' homes and lives put in disarray, I found myself with a crowbar and a hammer at the homes of a few friends whose places had been decimated. I was reminded of how good I had it, and of how blessed I was in friends, family, love and work.

Witnessing the generous spirit unique to Middle Tennessee, and exhilarated by the experience of volunteering, even in the most basic of ways, I was reminded that this is how we're supposed to live all the time, not just while in dire straits.

The flood had swept across my eyes, and cleared my vision, and revealed the island I might be unto myself, if I didn't find my center.

So, on a Tuesday morning, 6 years to the day of my divorce, I walked into a small neighborhood church at 7 am, and bent my knee before God Almighty, hoping I'd find myself surrounded and grounded by Spirit in the wake of the deluge.


  1. Good words.
    Thanks for sharing, Philip.

    An old preacher once said you can see farther through a tear than you can though a telescope . . . I believe him~

    Blessings on ya, amigo!

  2. i really enjoy your writing style. It's very gentle and honest. You have a way of telling a story without trying to impress your audience with how smart you are or how great a writer you are. So many writers do that. You just tell it effortlessly with a lot of grace and vulnerability. Keep at it, phil. you are inspiring me. i've started to write my story. you will be the first to read it.

  3. I've been hiding out in your head for several weeks (thanks to our mutual friend, Darrell Harris).

    I so agree with "Joan." As a writer, I love clear and clean writing. Just say it. I take what I have to say seriously, but I am not impressed with me. So, whatever is written should reflect all that. That's probably why I love your writing. You actually SAY something. And, it is worth reading. Thanks.

  4. This is good stuff, Phil. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I love the part about the names of the neighborhoods - that has always bugged me. I had a friend who worked in the sales office of an up and coming Franklin subdivision. One of the areas of the subdivision was named Versailles, but the entire staff pronounced it "Versales" (with a very southern accent heaped on top of it). One of them professed to know how to speak French too...

  6. Ah, Ver-sales in the spring time.

  7. Anonymous29 July, 2010

    I loved listening to you rant back in the day at Taylor and am thrilled that through the magic of the internet I can once again listen to your voice. Keep posting and keep praying.

  8. Anonymous,

    Have I really been "ranting" for that long? How tragic. Thanks for reading.



Your comments are welcome, and I will try answer any questions, if possible. Thanks for reading! pkm