Saturday, September 05, 2015

A Letter to Tim

My dear brother,

All these years, I have carried my encounters with you in the center of my being: pale light falling on your face in San Francisco General Hospital's cafeteria; the redness of your cheeks and nose with their pockmarks, signs to me of what your battle-scarred heart looked like; the watering of your pale blue eyes that was sometimes from the heart and sometimes from the body struggling; the mellow, quiet tones of your voice; your hands gently moving the salt and pepper shakers around, first having made them symbols of the people I loved, your reaching into my pain so expertly because you knew to first let me into yours.

Tim, I don't know where you are now. I can't feel if you are still alive, but I think I can feel your soul still, because you were part of my re-birth back into life. A part of you at least, lives: You are: in me. I hope and pray that means you are alive in God, wherever you are. I hope you are somewhere safe.

You were so alive then, though I don't think you really knew this; you felt, I think, like an anorexic trying on clothes alone in a department store full of over-life-size pictures of anorexic models. You thought you were obese and unwanted, but you were so, so much more than that narrow slice of your existence.

You spoke to me about the world of the gay man, that kaleidoscope of sex, bars, bathhouses; the long days at the chaplaincy where hurt and saddened and angry friends and lovers gathered in the AIDS ward on the fourth floor and watched each other burn to death, slowly, and disintegrate. Most of them looked at me across the table with hard eyes like diamonds, flashing the question: Why are you here? I must have looked like a naive pain-voyeur to many of them.

Your eyes were never diamonds; they were great pools of dark water, with lights deep in the center. You lived in that world, but as a person who deeply wanted to be loved. You wanted permanence, because you had a permanent heart open to others: you wanted real love because you really loved--even a rich girl from Santa Barbara, a sheltered girl. I know I looked like a person for whom there was no excuse for wounding; I was straight in a straight world; I was pretty, I was educated, I was in San Francisco on an internship in the attitude one would have at space camp.

You, though, looked past the appearances in me, though you could not in your own case. You saw the ugly wounds in me through the pretty veneer, but you knew, in your world, that no one was seeing past your ugly veneer into the beauty that you were. You told me that you were too ugly to find love.

And Tim, you were physically ugly. You reminded me of the Walrus in Lewis Carroll's poem; your large movements were bumbling and awkward; but, Tim, you didn't see yourself meta-morph from a catapillar when you were exercising the great gift God gave you, when you sat across from me in that horrible cafeteria, that place full of the pain of those who must feed themselves while those they love suffer away in little white rooms above or below. Tim, when you were allowed to exercise your gift of counsel, your skin turned inside out and revealed the beauty within, and made the cafeteria into a cathedral. When I think of you now, after almost thirty years, I think of light shining through water. You lived always in "I-Thou" mode and this was also the source of your pain. How could you be honest, be yourself, exercise your gifts, when that self was partly bound up with a kind of chimera that promised love but really had nothing to do with it, when that self had the deepest, hardest cross possible for a human being?

I did not understand then what 'gay' really was--I knew the fundamentals, but it was a phenomenon 'out there.'  I didn't think of 'gay people' as individuals, and then I came to San Francisco General Hospital to assist the chaplaincy. I was an assistant counselor and I went into patients' rooms, all kinds, and offered my heart, my ear, my assistance in the smallest of things. I was an advocate, a counselor, a spiritual sewer pipe.

After visits with the suffering, most truly poor people I have ever met, I would, exhausted, overwhelmed by my own inadequacy to face the tsunamis of pain and disorder and confusion, crawl behind the altar in the hospital chapel and lay on the floor, weeping. I thought the tears might send it all to God, and that He'd pay attention because I was a too-small sewer pipe for Him.

Tim, you were somehow assigned to me; perhaps you saw me crawling into the chapel one day. But you took me under your wing and met with me often to help me learn how to be a sewer pipe without drowning in the tsunami of waste. You introduced me to the concept of the wounded healer, who is--all healers, following the example of Christ healing from the Cross. You didn't tell me about; it,somehow, you were a walking liturgy for me, a living drama. You see, Tim, I listened to your words and read the Henri Nouwen book you gave me, but what really went into my soul was who you were--this tremendously beautiful man who was searching in the dustbins for real food.

What would have happened in your life had you been told, shown, loved into knowing the beauty that you really were, had you understood that the sin was not your identity, that the overwhelming percentage of you was beautiful? What would have happened had you understood that the hurt within your very being had somehow made you one of the most powerful wounded healers I have ever known? That you were in one sense, a walking miracle? What if you had really understood that the chaste life is a kind of radical pruning that cuts away anything purely natural, anything self-absorbed, and gives you the choice that makes you free, makes you a saint? It is the choice that happens when all that is left is the will, without any dross-attraction to lower things, to creatures, and asks us to love without return, without ego, without consolation...and then, oh Tim, the glorious turn: storge, philia, even eros, yes, the eros you thought was what you needed from a man, sheds its caterpillar skin, is pruned away, and shows itself for what it truly could be, is: the Eternal Youth, the source of springs, leaping down like a golden lion from the high mountains to both kill you and embrace you, and transform you, making you through your hard-won chastity a power-house of love, shooting out across the desert plain like water first pressed through a narrow pipe.

Did you, though, Tim, in your great wounding of always being a kind of outcast, a pariah, a warped tree, did you truly have it in you to make that great saint-choice? Were you rather determined by your very real internal perceptions and feelings and identity, no matter how it came about?

Did I have that choice then? I was selfish, green, spoiled, in love with my own feelings. We sat there, in that pale, weak city day-light, past lunchtime in an empty cafeteria, loving each other, fellow mis-guided believers, in small trickles and great rushes, but without answers. The most important answer you gave me, an answer that only flowered later like a cornflower in the high desert, was that sometimes the desire to be truly loving is not enough, though it is essential. It is the larger piece of the puzzle of what it means to be truly happy, to be truly good, to finally live and be supernatural love, in God.

The other, missing piece was the recognition of God who is both Love and Truth, Beauty and Woundedness, Justice and Mercy, the recognition of Reality rising like the great mountains of Afghanistan, rising like a great cathedral beyond the changing, deciduous aspens and the sulfur-blue lakes and green fields of the Kabul valleys of my infancy.

Did you, or I, have that view? Even if we saw glimpses of the mountains through the driving rain of our needs and wounds and bad choices, did we have the strength to reach even the foothills, or to understand the mountains' relationship with the merciful valleys? Had anyone taught us? Did our needs, our fears, our weaknesses, make us think we had no choice: I in my selfishness, you weeping in your dust-bins?

Partly because of the light I saw in you, Tim, amidst the darkness, hope was born in me--hope that a God who would make such beauty that still lived, that would deign to live in the rubbish heap that was both our souls, would, somehow also be merciful enough to show us the way if we desired it.

Now, it is thirty years away for me. For you, it may be the eternal present, or you may be an old man now. I have learned, Tim, more about those mountains--I have climbed some of them and have stood in the crystal air above the mists; I have seen the beauty of the valleys from the heights, and sometimes I can begin to see how they need each other, justice and mercy, truth and love, and how our very woundedness allows us to see their connection, if our hearts are desiring One above all else. I know now, Tim, that the pure of heart, the chaste hearts, see God, those who desire Him above all things, and that they are set free to love beyond the disorders, the woundedness, the tsunamis of waste that come from us all.

I have also fallen down deep crevasses, Tim. I have become hard, I have forgotten about the ever-crawling worm of pride within me; I have forgot that my ropes are not strong enough and that we must not trust to them but rather let go and fly like eagles on God's wind, a wind that takes us down to the valleys, and back to the mountains while we wait for the time that "justice and mercy shall kiss" within ourselves, and in the tortured human story of this world.

Tim, I wish at the last that you could have seen how God saw you. Maybe, if you have died, you do see it. I pray always, then, that at the moment of your meeting with God that you were able to drop yourself and run, fly, to Him for his mercy and because, finally, you understood the great eros in His justice.

Tim, if you found final forgiveness and are now on the heights planting aspens, be again my mentor.

With you in Christ on the Cross,


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ode to Chaucer's Prologue

When the eros of nature swirls like sweet liquour
in the mouth of the poet,
when the West Wind has taken his psyche,
then the desire of nature, Venus,
is at seeming odds with
all that Beckett stood for.
Yet the longing of the folk to go on pilgrimage,
that human longing, ambiguous and imperfect
is a two-fold bridge-longing:
And within the divine purpose that contains them both,
enemies Venus and St. Thomas, warring nature and super-nature,
become instead fruitful polarities.

*indebted to the ideas of Arthur W. Hoffman

Monday, July 06, 2015


The ships at Aulis lie like beached, dying seals,
blackened hulls heaving in heat-waves,
tar the smell of rotting flesh, slicing through
the wafts of salt, nutty shore reeds, and baked marble.

Men scream, chant, bellow, their faces
in the night by torchlight living choral masks;
Agamemnon paces full-armored,
his helm-mask overlayed by a single sheet of gold:
a pantomine of gods, frozen in the expression
of a lion looking up from his kill.

The kings of a thousand men planted in a circle,
tortured by, married to a golden god-doll
shimmering in the haze above the sea;
Helen in Priam's Troy made them thirst beyond
all water, their inner law enslaved to the huntress.

Iphigenia travels towards Aulis in a marriage train, deceived;
she is to be married to the knife, to the dream of chasing a harlot;
she is to lose her maidenhead to the lust of an army
and a pantheon of demons destroying their toy-men
in a game of balance.

Hellas, are you Agamemnon, lusting to be Troy?
Hellas, are you the people screaming in the torchlight outside the megaron?
Hellas, are you Iphigenia, scapegoat?
Hellas, what have you done?

Have you left your early morning olive trees,
your marbled hillsides,
the simple cries of crickets,
the careful meditation of smoothing white cheese,
the joy and leisure of hearth and philosophy
to chase Helen, to die at Troy,
to placate the irrational, faceless, cruel gods?
Have you forgot those gods are cruel,
those gods of gold are the gods without law are the gods
smelling with delight the odors of the funeral games,
the games that are playing now on screens everywhere?

I see Agamemnon in his armor, a blue suit;
I see the kings of a thousand circled around him;
I see the people screaming, bellowing in the torchlight
outside the Zappion and the Parliament;
I see the gods of finance softly speaking about sacrifice.

And I see, her, Iphigenia, throat sliced open,
in the faces of the old, the simple, the poor,
and the children who have lost their patrimony:
their cathedrals of beauty, their shards of pottery for voting,
their innocence and joy.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Diagram in the Dust

St. Augustine confessed, "Scarce
understanding came even with many learned masters not merely lecturing,
but making many diagrams in the dust."

Only four hundred years after Christ,
this drawing diagrams in the dust must
have been custom:
if modeling, mashals, exhortations, lessons
did not sink in, did not convert overtly,
then the master kneeling
in a last resort to draw a picture, meaning
that truly the truth had escaped,
bounced off
a blindness, an ignorance too rooted to be easily uprooted.

What diagrammed drawing
the stones
the Pharisees fade in shame?

For the Jews, words were signs, multi-leveled,
not these banalized, horizontal, shallow things
floating in unreal space, lighter and more meaningless
than clouds shaping and re-shaping with the wind;
the word
could have been both word
and diagram,
a perfect Euclidean sphere-word
bearing eternal perfection,
a real child of the

The One in the flesh leapt
the myths, histories, laws, schools, masters:
He made a diagram in the dust;
perhaps something so simple,
that all not united with it faded into mere chaos.

Being Himself in the flesh drawing a diagram
for a bit of marred flesh
as only the artist can judge the painting before the paint,
as only the writer knows
the character before the story was written.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Wedding Story...or Don't Judge a Book by It's Cover

On December 27, 1964, 50 years ago, it was snowing heavy and 40 degrees below zero in Spokane; the Winter Festival Queen of Whitworth College and the poor boy from Olympia, WA, were getting married in Spokane. It was the worst winter in decades, and not many could get out, or in; it would be a wedding in the bleak midwinter, indeed, but immediate family got there.

The groom, unbeknownst to the bride, suddenly came down with the flu the day of the ceremony, the ultimate trick provided by his best man. Making his way through everyone wrapped in silk and tulle, he willed himself to the front of the church to wait for his Snow Queen.

She came, a lovely, petite woman in a simple, heavy satin gown. She wondered why he wasn't looking at her, and then realized he was "as white as a sheet." The college roommates in the back of the church thought in scorn, "He's awfully emotional."

The bride's father was the minister, and when he realized that the groom wasn't well, immediately got them to kneel down and the ceremony continued. The minister then realized that kneeling wasn't going to stop what was just going to happen, and held out his shoe so the groom could throw up in it. The guys in the back thought, "Okay. That's out of bounds...he's way too emotional."

Meanwhile, the groom's brother, standing on the steps leading to the altar, suddenly went white and fell like a tree, hitting his head with a sound like a cannon going off; happily, a non-fatal, glancing blow. The mother of these two young men stood up and started screaming, the ambulance came, and the bride quietly asked her father, "Should we just do this another time?"

"No, no," said the intrepid father, "let's just get through this."

No one in the audience knew the extent of the groom's damage until the new couple, "Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Wrye" was announced and the couple turned around. Then, a collective gasp.

The reception was full of gentle pity and quiet exits, and the honeymoon was spent playing Yahtzee  with the groom's new in-laws.

How has the marriage been spent?

1. A move to Afghanistan to serve as missionaries three years later, with a child on the way. Courage or rashness? Answer: Both.

2. Another move to Afghanistan after a long furlough, with two daughters. Adventure or madness? Both.

3. A move to Greece in 1974 (smart).

4. Back to California.

5. A doctorate.

6. Another move to Russia, during the fall of the Soviet Union. Exciting.

7. Denmark. Cute.

8. United Nations International School NYC, for 11 years. Cool.

9. Retirement. Doing it well.

What's in between the lines? Their marriage ceremony was, in a way, the cover to a very different book, one of adventure and of mostly blessed health; but in a deeper way, it is emblematic of the values and virtues they have passed on, most effectively, by modeling, by living.

My father has always seen my mother as a queen, and my mother has always believed enough in my father to continue walking down the aisle, through sickness and health, for better and for worse.

Their health was spent in simple and sincere service, all over the world; they helped, together, re-order and put onto good foundations, a number of schools, my father a fair, just, humble leader and my mother a strict but inspiring teacher to countless elementary students. They used each gift they had to the greatest extent they felt prudent and charitable.

Their times of sickness showed their deep love for each other. When my mother had a brain tumor removed, I had to take my father in charge and make him eat, and stop him from buying her a Steinway (a bribe to stay with him?). I held him as he wept at the thought of her death. My mother told me once, "We have a commitment to commitment, because we know this honors God. This gets us through the bleak times." This is the foundation from which a great love was built.

Their adventures have been many: they have seen so much in a life together--coups in Afghanistan, the beauties of Greece, the struggle of politics, the crash and deep beauties of Russia, and 9-11 in New York, when dust-covered parents ran straight from the Financial District, forty blocks, to the school to be with their children, my father out front to comfort them and quell the panic.

But the real adventures have been, I think, the small hours in the darkness, when the sorrows and stresses were too deep to speak about, the regrets, when they had to watch each other be crucified in the way it happens through out life; they have tried to face failures and sorrow together, as a team, and never turn on each other in suffering, standing below each other's crosses faithfully. They pick each other up and consult with each other on the way of God, the way of Christ, of charity, of Christ's Mother, as best they can with their imperfections.

They get sick, have baggage, drive each other crazy sometimes. Their fights are long, silent, symbolic, gentle, almost courteous battles that usually end up as jokes, like the time in Denmark when the husband wanted the kitchen shade up, and the wife wanted it down. One knew when one or the other was home based on the position of the shade. The husband wanted the light, and the wife didn't want to see the guy across the courtyard taking a shower behind a full-length window. Sometimes I just wanted a good old Italian fight, instead of English reserve, but mostly I appreciated not being put in the middle, ever.

I've learned lots of things from them about which I said to myself, "I think I'll do that differently." It is also the privilege of my children to learn valuable lessons in the negative from me, and yet still try to love me. As my parents have got older together, they've become more open, more honest with themselves.

They love to laugh and they love to help. If one could pick one word for them, it is 'service.' I have learned about this, about humility, about honoring the good, and loving yet what is not perfect from them; mostly, though, I have learned about perseverance.

They are not famous and many dreams, expectations of theirs have been truncated by life.  But the dream, the accomplishment of a successful marriage has been theirs, through 'commitment to commitment and honoring God.' They know that the dream wedding is one in which two people intent on virtue unite in love and friendship, not one which meets the outside expectations, one which reflects what Cicero says in De Amici, paraphrased: "Only two people intent upon virtue can be friends or have true unity."

Thus, they have loved each other through disappointment (beginning on the wedding day), danger, adventure, sickness, unexpected joy, which they have received as gifts and not as rights. Their love has been made deeper and more precious because they have not tried to grasp 'happy' but instead gained it through the practice of virtue. They have not hunted for beauty, but have become beautiful through humility, the humility that comes from trusting God in the humiliations of life. I have often thought that God has taken especial care to send them the trials that would answer their real dreams, the dream of the soul that wants to please Our Lord, that values truth and honesty above success.

I, their second daughter, know that I am watching them slow down, almost imperceptibly, like a slowing snowstorm, and become more and more restful and quiet. Because the loss of either or both of them will be like the roof is gone from my world (how will I be virtuous, constant, without them? How will I reach their standard for my own children?) I am beginning to give them back to God now, in the small goodbyes after summers at Orcas and Christmases in Lander; I make sure I remember to thank Him from Whom they came, and from Whom came I, through them.

I know now, as I didn't when my grandparents had their 50th, what a glorious accomplishment this is and I cannot do it justice. I was a young, rash, mostly unvirtuous thing then, and am now much more humbled and beat up, with wrinkles of my own that I appreciate, and able now to appreciate their accomplishment, an accomplishment not worldly, but more akin to Christ's own example of simplicity, holy obedience, humility.

One cannot do justice in words, or anything simply worldly, to the gift of parents who were able, through their desire to serve God, stay married and do it with grace.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


One day, in the deepening dark and cold of the year,
I stood stiff, like a deer alert, in the wind and the twirling leaves,
bits of death and change that battered me and settled on my back, unwanted.

One day, in the deepening dark and cold of the year,
I flew light, and soft, like a bird, in the wind and the twirling leaves,
bits of death and change dancing in a pattern, around me in a mosaic, providence.

photo credit: Marylynne Wrye

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Like a leaf still green
falling to the ground unseen,
you, my sweet, unfinished,

Like water, fresh and sweet
rising away, lost in the heat,
you, my child, never held,

Like a note full and mellow
swept from the strings of a cello,
you, my Ellie, untouched,
live on.