Saturday, October 24, 2009

Of Trees and Flannel Shirts

We had great plans for today.

It has been a rough week; I have been working overtime assisting my colleagues with the H1N1 onslaught, Michelle has been taking care of sick kids and her responsibilities at the Mission, and the condition of the home reflects our absence. Last night we made grandiose plans to get the kids up early, do a complete home-makeover, and get the place in ship-shape. It didn’t happen.

Our plans also included taking my vehicle to the Mission “mechanic” (a title proudly bestowed on any auto repair shop owner who will bill us rather than demand payment at pick up). We have a running joke that every Mission vehicle (most are donated) must have at least five major problems to qualify as a St. Luke’s car, and mine well-exceeds that number. Here are but a few of my vehicular woes in no apparent order: No rear-view mirror: check. Brakes shot: check. Check-engine light blaring: check. Screaming belts: check. Bald tires: check. Heater fan inoperable: check. Dropped off at the mechanic: nope.

I picked up a morning paper and read that the leaves were at peak colors this weekend in the Western New York area. I considered all the projects that required my attention, and quickly realized that I needed to get in touch with the great outdoors. Now I am not the kind of fellow that jumps in my Subaru and speeds off into the country to become one with nature (nature would reject me anyway); but when I read that story I felt an inner compulsion to look at trees. I knew not where, but the colors of fall were beckoning, and who was I to turn a deaf ear in their leafy direction?

Just before noon I donned the appropriate denim and flannel and informed my beloved that I was going out; when she asked where I felt sheepish and reluctant to answer. Oh, what the heck, I thought. “I’m going to look at leaves.” There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as she considered my statement. She was folding laundry, and had that “I’ve got a million things to do” look that women sometimes get, accompanied with a chiseled scowl that could have been a transplant from General Patton. I broke the silence: “Do you want to go with me?”

After promising a breakfast sandwich and coffee from Tim Horton’s she consented. The issue of child supervision had to be addressed first. The young ones were up at the crack of dawn and already running amuck (I got up with them to let my sweet babboo sleep in, a move I suspected would come in handy later…perhaps a nap?). The teens were still drooling on their pillows at the crack of noon; I awakened the seventeen-year-old and asked her to keep an eye on her siblings. She responded with a reasonable amount of seventeen-year-old-emotional-roller-coaster-daughter disgust, and we were off.

After fulfilling my role as hunter-gatherer in the drive through of the local Timmy’s we drove away eating biscuit and egg sandwiches while sipping French-vanilla cappuccinos (definitely not a lumberjack breakfast, but those are tough to come by in the city). All the while Michelle was relating in minute detail the challenges of her students. I enjoy listening to her stories; I like the little ones she teaches and I love to hear about their progress. We pulled into the park and I continued to listen. I realized that this was a conversation that might not end any time soon. The leaves were no longer calling. They were screaming. It was time to enter the present.

“All right, the time has come to be in the present moment. We are no longer discussing our plans, our week, our frustrations, or anything else. We are here to look at leaves,” I said, trying to look stern but gentle at the same time. “Agreed, but I’m bringing my coffee” she replied, and we ventured out into the cool fall air. We entered by the Japanese garden near the Historical society, and walked along the park lake; later we viewed the park from atop the pedestrian overpass. We finished at the Elmwood Farmer’s Market, an outdoor affair every Saturday in autumn in the midst of one of Buffalo’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

The views were nothing short of stunning. The air was cool but not cold, the sky was steel-gray, but the leaves were like fire. How often this week did I drive by these sights and not notice them? How was it that our conversations were so in-depth that we were unable to see beyond our thoughts and cares? Why did I allow the worry and concerns of the day blind me of the splendor from God’s almighty hand?

We are a people on the move, constantly running from task to task. We have accomplished so much, but we have likewise lost much. Our ability to wonder in God’s handiwork has been lost, and moments such as these seem so magnanimous precisely because we have lost touch with nature. Living in the present moment is a challenge, a discipline that must be practiced. There is much to be gained: peace, silence, and gratitude.

St. Faustina knew that well. She penned this prayer in her first diary:

O My God,
When I look into the future, I am frightened.
But why plunge into the future?
Only the present moment is precious to me,
As the future may never enter my soul at all.

It is no longer in my power
To change, correct or add to the past;
For neither sages nor prophets could do that.
And so, what the past has embraced I must entrust to God.

O Present Moment, you belong to me, whole and entire.
I desire to use you as best I can.
And although I am weak and small
You grant me the grace of your omnipotence.

And so, trusting in Your mercy,
I walk through life like a little child,
Offering You each day this heart
Burning with love for Your greater glory.


  1. Wonderful post, lucky for you and Michelle to get away from the family and the chores on a Saturday to spend some time looking at leaves.

    Love the prayer by St. Faustina too!

  2. I love that prayer!
    You had a Sabbath Moment!! I write about sabbath moments on my blog every Saturday in case you haven't seen it. Moments when we live in the present moment with God. Love your sabbath moment.


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