24 September 2011


For as long as I can remember,
there has been nothing but time.
This disturbing meteor
streaks across every sky.
But as the heavens rotate,
eternity looks on with disinterest.
Time affects only the changeable.
The things that do not alter are these:
vast space, curiosity, and gratitude.
Wherever there is deepening appreciation,
or comprehension,
there is God.

Trust in present beauty as a foretaste of forever.

14 September 2011

Two Years Ago

Roger Walter Veinus died suddenly on 14 September 2009 after a long struggle with a multitude of health problems. Roger, born 3 July 1948, was the adopted son of Abraham and Julia Veinus. Although he lived for more than 40 years in Seattle, Roger always considered himself one of the “Boys from Syracuse.” He lived in Syracuse, New York, during his childhood and most of his adolescence, with a very significant year spent living abroad with his family in Italy. Roger moved to Seattle in the late 1960s to teach French at the University of Washington. During that time, which was also the era of the Vietnam War, Roger thought deeply about peace and compassion. He realized the only way he could live with self-integrity would be to become a conscientious objector to the war. Instead of joining the military, Roger provided  volunteer community service in a mental hospital in Seattle. The experiences he had there deepened his compassion and helped him to see all people as the unique, beautiful, and sometimes prickly characters we all are.

Certainly everyone who knew Roger was charmed first by his kindness, next by his humor, and then by his ability to appreciate all the music of life. Roger did love music. He sensed it in the swaying of trees in the wind, in the rhythm of a pen moving across paper, and especially in the beautiful and moving passages of his beloved Schubert and Beethoven works. He found deep solace in Beethoven’s Late Quartets, particularly the “Heiliger Dankgesang,” or Holy Song of Thanks, in opus 132. One reason that particular passage meant so much to Roger was that he himself personified gratitude, sometimes even to a fault.

Roger also loved poetry. He loved it, and he lived it. Though in recent years he hobbled more than he ran, he was always taking part in the dance of life. Many times he repeated the phrase from T. S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”: “Except for the point, the still point,/ There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” The dance, being the interplay between people, holiness, gratitude, and exploration of the inner soul, was Roger’s life work. From another of his favorite poems is this stanza from Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time”:

“My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.”

Roger achieved that difficult object, and set a bright example of love, communication, and compassion for all who knew him.

Roger is survived by his brother, Peter, Peter’s family, and by the large corps of his friends who became his family as well. He was preceded in death by his mother, Julia, with whom he shared a particularly close relationship, and his father, Abraham. All of us will miss him tremendously.

08 July 2011


Sun and water,
Water and sun.
And through it all, a bright weariness,
A taste of something beyond,
Life lived strong, as if in a dream,
Hazy, and slick with sweat and smoke and grime.
But always the sense of water, and the red light.

Rising up as if I could touch the sky.
So near that there is only a fine mesh separating me
     from distance and light and swirling black air.
But also bright.
And then like a tumbling leaf, I plunge down into the right spot.
And life starts again,
Too sharp to bear---except the living Now,
And the water,
And the sun,
And the bright, smoky air.

06 July 2011

Come, It Is Time

Come, it is time.
It is time to tie your shoes, to stand down from the bus going nowhere.
Stride out: into the house if you will,
up to the dusty university,
down to the dock.
Anywhere will work.
Read out the obituary of your first wife in a loud, clear voice.
That part is over now. You have done all you could.

Where are the tiny footsteps?
Have you outpaced them entirely?
In your haste you left behind the one thing that mattered.
Throw away your broken toy. He who broke it is more important by far.

The old man sleeps in a borrowed bed.
Your grandson runs down the beach, searching.
Now is the time to stop reading the empty poems whose words you can't remember.
Find the little hand and grasp your rusty sword.
Together you can beat the alleyways and empty wooden corridors.
It won't matter if you can't find a single tiger.
The talk will be sweet, and the memories without regret.

Go! He is waiting!

03 March 2011

The Secret

Stay very still.
What do you hear?
Don't listen with your ears.
Go deeper than that.

Once you push away all the sounds
      and the thoughts
      and the anxiety---
      even the grief---
You'll arrive at a quiet space.

Look around
(again, don't use your eyes,
this goes deeper than sight),
You won't see anything.
You won't hear anything.
But if you look and listen carefully,
you'll see something invisible,
hear something inaudible,
feel something intangible.

It is love.
It is reassurance
It is appreciation.
It is quiet companionship.
It is an interested listener.
It is the familiarity of music.
It is the awareness of beauty.
It is the one that you seek.

That is the secret.

14 January 2011

Treasures at the Library

    I have been haunted most of my life by the memory of a book I read once when I was very young.  It was most likely a library book, because it certainly wasn’t part of my life for very long, but in spite of its short stay, it made a lasting impression on me. Of course I can’t remember the title or anything concrete about it. If I could recall even a word of the title I’m sure I would have tracked it down long ago. No, the impression I have of the book is much more vague. All I can recall is an image of lovebirds in a cage, of a pavilion in a garden with fountains and marble steps, and haunting, bittersweet strains of music I can’t quite hear. There also seems to have been something about olden times and rustling silk and patient love waiting in hope, even if that hope is in vain. The image of the birds is the most vivid of this watery memory. That, and the feeling of old times gone. Over the years I have tried again and again to recall more than this, but if I try too hard, the memory slips away and I don’t know if I am inventing details or if I am really remembering a snatch of phrase or fragment of a passage. Even as I think about it I seem to recall something about a window. I’ll leave it at that.
    Losing that book has colored my life somehow. In part it may have been the wispy memory of those lovebirds in a cage that led me to become a librarian in the first place. Or maybe not. Whatever the reason,  I seem to be always on the lookout for a treasure of one kind or another. Maybe it’s not really that particular book I’m seeking anymore but something less substantial, the purpose of my life, maybe. I do know that I always have the hope that a new book, a new person in my life, a new bend in the road may hold a clue or a key I can use to finally comprehend life’s elusive meaning.
    And then last week I found it. I really did! Just when I arrived at a spot where I felt maybe I didn’t need to ask the unanswerable question about the purpose of life anymore, I found it. Not the answer, no, the long-lost book! In December I was listening to the radio and heard Daniel Pinkwater talking about an old favorite book that had been reissued by the New York Review company. That book, The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber, is one I have loved for years and years. I grew up with its clever words and beautiful fairy tale, and I’ve read it more times than I can count—enough that the words resonate inside of me and I know when my favorite lines are coming. So I looked up the New York Review Children’s Collection and ordered one of almost all of the children’s books for the Marshall Public Library. Two were books we already had, but they were so dog-eared and well-used that I knew a brand new book with a clean cover and crisp pages would be much more tantalizing for children to choose. Then last week the stack of books arrived, and as usual I leafed through each of them and set aside a few to take home and read word by word.
    I remember it was early in the morning. I had a library conference to attend so I came extra early to make a head start on the day. I took the first book off the pile and opened it to a page a little past the middle. I looked, then looked again. The story I had turned to was short, only about three pages long, but it was MY STORY, the one about the lovebirds! As I read it, I didn’t find the marble steps or the fountains or the striped pavilions (those might be waiting in different stories), but as I reread the words the memories and enchantment came flooding back. I hadn’t really forgotten after all, the story had been in my heart all along. Only then did I look to see which book of the many on my desk I had picked up. It was Eleanor Farjeon’s The Little Bookroom, one of the books I had reordered because the library’s original copy had been loved almost to pieces.
    I’m still trying to figure out that experience. Was it just a coincidence? Or was there something deeper? All I know is that I thought the book was gone forever. But it was really not five steps from my desk these past years. Maybe many things are like that, waiting patiently until we stumble across them and realize they have been there all along. Is my life different now that I found the long-lost book? Probably not. But I hope I will have a little more faith that what I seek really does exist. If I look carefully enough I will find it, waiting patiently to be rediscovered. And maybe like the words of my story it will flow into me with the familiarity of an old friend’s voice or slip into my life like my feet into a comfortable pair of shoes. I do know I won’t stop looking, because after all, nothing is ever really lost.