Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Legacy of Bill Holm: Sage of Minnesota

Reading the Prairie Home Companion newsletter on Friday, I learned about the death of Bill Holm. Garrison wrote a fine tribute to the man who he calls "the sage of Minnesota." Although I never met Bill, Robert Bly introduced me to Holm's stories and poetry. I read Bill's books at my favorite place on the Oregon Coast where I used to go for my solo retreats after leading our "Healing the Hearts of Men" gatherings at Heceta House in the 1990's. The place, called Gull Haven (now Ocean Haven) at the time, has a small cabin -- the Shag's Nest -- out on a point of land overlooking the ocean where Bly often stayed (and, as I recall, Bill Holm frequented himself).

I love poem this poem by Bill, especially the last stanza about the "dark secret of the ones long married."

Wedding Poem For Schele and Phil

A marriage is risky business these days
Says some old and prudent voice inside.
We don't need twenty children anymore
To keep the family line alive,
Or gather up the hay before the rain.
No law demands respectability.
Love can arrive without certificate or cash.
History and experience both make clear
That men and women do not hear
The music of the world in the same key,
Rather rolling dissonances doomed to clash.

So what is left to justify a marriage?
Maybe only the hunch that half the world
Will ever be present in any room
With just a single pair of eyes to see it.
Whatever is invisible to one
Is to the other an enormous golden lion
Calm and sleeping in the easy chair.
After many years, if things go right
Both lion and emptiness are always there;
The one never true without the other.

But the dark secret of the ones long married,
A pleasure never mentioned to the young,
Is the sweet heat made from two bodies in a bed
Curled together on a winter night,
The smell of the other always in the quilt,
The hand set quietly on the other's flank
That carries news from another world
Light-years away from the one inside
That you always thought you inhabited alo
The heat in that hand could melt a stone.

Take a listen to Bill on the three audio links from past Prairie Home Companion shows (provided below Garrison's tribute to him). And then read his poems, books, and the "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bach" essay on his website. The man left us far too soon ... just 65 years old ... but his legacy lives on in his writings and in our fond memories of this giant of a man with the booming voice and gentle heart.

The Legacy of Bill Holm: Sage of MinnesotaSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friendship Revisited

This past month I was reminded about the importance of friendship in my life. Two people who were in my life 30 years ago found my blog and contacted me -- the first was a woman who was my last girlfriend in high school before going to college. We went opposite directions to college -- I went east to St. Olaf; she went west to South Dakota State. What I recall most today is the heartache I felt when I received a "Dear John (Todd)" letter from her not long into my first semester at school (she had fallen in love with another "man"). It took awhile for me to forgive her and move on ... to a new girlfriend I suspect (too many years have passed by for me to recall when I "let go" of my high school sweetheart for a new love).

I don't remember ever seeing her again, not even at class reunions because we've never been to the same reunions. This year, she sent me her Christmas letter and a bunch of photos of herself and her husband and their retirement home overlooking a river valley in Minnesota. Along with the letter was a note inviting to me to visit her and her husband whenever I return to Minnesota. I responded to her with a long email describing highlights of my life today with links to sites on the internet about my family and work life. I know I would enjoy seeing her again and spending some time reminiscing about our "young love" relationship so many years ago. We were great friends in high school (saving one another from the miseries of being young in a small [big for western Minnesota] town in the early '60's). Looking back, I can see that she taught me how to be a friend to the opposite sex -- and how not to break up with a friend of the opposite sex!

My other "old" friend who contacted me last month was a guy called "Gunnar" who was in my life during my "college dropout" years. I had left St. Olaf after my first year (Grampa's money ran out) and headed to Minneapolis to work before getting into the University of Minnesota. My foggy mind doesn't remember much of those years, so I'm hopeful that Gunnar may have a better memory than mine (though there may be some things I don't care to hear about ever again!). We've been exchanging email messages over the past few weeks and I'm enjoying our reconnection. He still has a weird sense of humor and never passes up an opportunity to share his passions and opinions. I laughed out loud when I read his blog post on Harbingers of Spring (and had to write comment on it). I look forward to continuing our conversation in the digital world and, perhaps, getting together face-to-face sometime (whether we do or not, it feels great to have been "found" by a friend ... and still experience what we enjoyed about the friendship after so many years have past).

Then yesterday, I received an email from David, a great friend who has had breakfast with me and a group of men friends nearly every Tuesday morning for 18 years (except for vacation times and when he has gone to India for months at a time). He left in November for 5 months in India, Nepal, and Laos ... and I miss him. I thought his message about his past ten years offered some wisdom for all the rest of us:

"Going from an overly busy life to retirement is not always easy and one has to face one's inner demons at some point. I continue to be blessed with comparatively good heath and have been able to stay active which has been a part of my life style for years. I have also been blessed with a loving family and many friends. My bucket list has nothing on it at this time since I was able to get back to the Himalayas one more time this Fall. In the past ten years, I have buried both of my parents and have lost some friends along the way as well ... not to mention some who are now actively shedding their forms. Death is always a good reminder of not knowing how much time we have. So as I told a friend recently, keep your bucket list short and your fences mended and never put off 'til tomorrow what is truly important to you."

What's left on your "bucket list"? Do you have any "fences" to mend with anyone in your life? What really matters to you that you have been putting off 'til tomorrow? Any friends from the past that you'd like to reconnect with?

Thank you Beverly, Gunnar, and David for your friendship "back then" and now in my life!

Friendship RevisitedSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend