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She often looked away to another place, stretching her wings with a faraway look on her ivory face. Somewhere a faint voice called to her from a distant place that was drawing her nearer. I feared I’d awake one morning to find she was gone, so I cherished the moments we had left to share.
After she really had gone, I hoped I could accept and learn to understand.
Then the beckoning voice grew stronger and clearer. Soon would be the time she’d fly from here, for there was a tug at her heart she had to be nearer.
I remember the day, sunny and fair. The last there was for us there was to be…a warm day in January…
I held her close to let her know I loved her still. We sighed one last time and shared a glance in each other’s eyes. Then she whispered a message for me to share…the last three spoken truly were, “I love you…”
Then she raised her heart toward the clear blue sky. There was a tear in my eyes for I knew it was time we said, for now…Goodbye.
It was the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do—to raise my arms toward skies so blue, and feel that heart beating in my clutching hands. Maybe she felt me tremble at that moment when I realized I was to be left with only memories of the dearest soul I’ve ever known.
Then all the magic between us rushed through her fingers and mine…those fingers I wished I might always hold.
All in one instant, the last her hand was touching mine; there became fingers and soft feathers intertwined. I hesitated, and then loosened my grip—and my dove was but a flutter, an angel in flight…high above me soaring from sight. We both felt a tug at our heart strings as she left me there earthbound and faded from sight.
Some days I’m reminded of that fateful moment so long ago. And I want my soaring friend to know; I’ll be here as she left me; with a full heart, yet empty handed…with open arms.

I love you Momma, Matthew Lyle

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The cold pillow sets there next to me…the empty spot where she used to lay. The tired yard shoes, worn gloves, and ragged coat she wore to tend to garden and chore…she would leave them next to the washer, just inside that squeaky back door. Her keys hang there on a board with hooks and notes and paintings called tole.
She wasn’t a terrible driver, but she somehow seemed to get lost a lot…and on the way she’d go junkin’, especially Friday morn. I think she wandered and reminisced to songs of old, looking for yard sales and old friends to pass the time away…window shopping and chocolate dropping and being happy with things she had. She looked around and saw the half acre yards that others had to mow and knew she’d get tired of all that after a week or so. She was so much more than what others collect, polish and protect.
She was dry flowers and baby showers and dusty bottles of rainy day wine…clothes she wore when she could fit in them, and clothes she wore when she was happy just being who she was. God’s girl, whether she felt skinny or a little bit more.
She is still here…on the radio station that was hers. And those songs that would bring her cheek to mine on a worn spot there on our living room floor. She is here in the reflections in our coffee cups…I’ll keep hers next to the pot, on a napkin, upside down…just in case she happens around. Here…in the way the lid never quite got settled straight on the container of flour. I miss her baking…as will our children. She lives on in their smiles and mannerisms.
She had a way of sensing another’s tear about to form, and touching a cheek to capture that drop on its way down. She had a prayer in her fingertips, a reassuring song in the quiet look from those kind eyes. She could look out on a cloudy day and remind us all that sunshine through a mantle of green is only possible because of darker days and rains. She was all those things and much more.
But in quiet moments I will remember walking with her, and the sharing of dreams. Knowing which parts of her hurt a little more when the clouds were swelled with rain. How she would tear up a little when she heard a special song, or read something written in her grandma’s hand. I will recall her scent…that little bottle that reminds me of embraces and love that she sprayed just above her heart. Oh how it lingers still on the sweaters and coats she wore. I will keep them hanging there where they belong…and give them an occasional spray to refresh the hugs and love there.
But mostly, I will be grateful for the memory of her breathing there on the pillow next to mine, keeping her vows…making mornings worthwhile. I will recall midnight talks we had quietly after our kids were asleep. And I will feel her watching me sleep…on those nights she came to me late, after time spent pondering, folding clothes, and things she was always did to make ends meet. She was special like that.
And every day when I make the bed up, like she always did…I will fluff her pillow again…and hold it to my nose and breathe in her essence. And when I lay me down to sleep, I’ll look over there at the cold pillow setting next to mine…and I will give thanks and recall all those nights when her pillow was yet warm.
Matthew Landsman 03-2012

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I cannot fault the earth that gave place for the tree to root, nor the rain and sun that provided it life.  And yet there grew the tree.

I won’t place blame on the axe that fell it, nor the man that wielded it and brought it to crash on the life giving ground.

I cannot fault the carpenter that gave it form and function, or the blacksmith that forged the spikes. I can’t blame the hammer that drove them. A hammer can both build and be used to break…or in the case of assembling a particular cross; both.

reflections on Christ - crucifixion

I cannot blame the thorny bush, or the soul who cut the branch that formed a crown.

I cannot fault the sun that rose and shone that day, or the path he walked while those that gathered stood idle.

sunrise

I cannot blame the day that was passing during which he died, or the fabric his perished being was wrapped in.

cross

I won’t place blame on the darkness in which he was laid to rest, or the strength of the men who placed a boulder to seal the implacable tomb.

But I can be thankful for the dawn, for the deliverance and evident rebirth. I will continue to praise the miracle and reunion when the third sunrise came to pass.

I can be forgiving of those who put timber and tools to use, who brought an end to one life as we know it…and in turn, eternal life to being. It seems that even misguided evil can manifest mystery and miracle.

In all of my life, I have been taught sacrifice on so many levels, but I think I finally understand how love makes it worthwhile, hope makes it possible, and faith–faith makes it real.

I cannot see the wind, but I never question that it rustles the leaves and lifts the desert. I cannot touch the sunshine, yet it brings me sight and accompanies me through shadow and warmth. I cannot understand why the stream fills with salmon that return to spawn and die, without ever knowing if the effort would turn to fry and perpetuate the life cycle. And yet they leave the sea and head home nonetheless.

I no longer feel my mother’s hand upon mine, and yet she never ceases to touch me. And I won’t stop believing that she waits for me and others where she is now.

All I need is forgiveness, acceptance, patience, faith, and most of all love…to know that come morning, the stone will have moved, and reunion will be at hand.

And sure as the sun will rise at Sunday’s dawn…so too will have the Son.

cross tomb

Keep the faith and be good to each other. I bid Happy Easter to one and all.

Matthew Lyle Landsman

Early Easter 2012

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John and Norma…it was meant to be. Not one in a million…one in billions. And yet there they were for the duration. Though nobody knows for sure what the duration will be ahead of time, but the intent is there for more decades than we are sometimes gifted. The granting of one love and that set of vows is the real gift…One set of lives together…then the addition of family, little lives out of combined souls. It is indeed an enviable accomplishment. John and Norma…plus Jason and Jeremy. Priceless.

John was called to service, to duty, to sea. While his home was at times on the waves near lands and countries where the winds of change were in need of stern encouragement…But the real rudder and true North stayed home upon land. I speak of course of Norma. And while others waited for flags and masts to emerge from beyond the horizon, Norma kept the home fires burning. And she contributed her part as liaison between those out to sea and the faithful souls in wait of a port busy once more with vessels and loved ones home safe again. Perhaps today she serves as ombudsman between the ones left earthbound, and with God there on her heavenly shore…

I have thought a great deal about the dedication, the faithfulness of both of them, about faith and fears, and the strength that comes from the successful passing of as many missions and separations for extended periods. The times John spent out at sea reminds me of some words spoken by a late President when I was but three years old…Recently it has taken on a new, deeper meaning…

“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.” (JFK)

This lends then to my vision of our young couple living at a distance with many miles of land and oceans between them, and yet the elements JFK referred to also lent to keeping them together with the common bonds offered by the saltiness of the swells that supported crafts on the waters, of the tears on both ends of reaching bow and safe harbor. The salt from the sweat of labor and battle…and in times of anxious waiting. Elements  on both ends that brought the salty sea into the hearts at home, and the promises and comforts of home to places beyond the horizon where patriots travel in duty to country, and in hope of coming home.

Although Norma’s departure to a different sort of sea was untimely and equally unexpected, she is none the less afloat on a sea of a celestial sort, somewhere beyond the horizon, beyond the place where ocean meets the sky. Somewhere down the road, John will arrive at that place…past the spot where a river crosses over the bar. A place where the line between heaven and earth become one. A place where a living soul waits, and a departed soul beckons to beyond the shore and one waiting there.

Matthew Landsman 03-04-2012

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My buddy Steve the word smith. He had a way with words for sure…When word of a difficult future was given him in summer 2009, the doctor was frank and to the point. Blunt in fact. So was Steve…As I recall, he said something along these lines…”Doctor, have you ever heard of a place called Rainier Oregon? Folks from Rainier are tough. Folks there don’t take any spit.  (He didn’t say spit…but I would be roasting over one if I said what he did say, in here)  And neither do I …I am Steve Keith, I’m a logger from Rainier Oregon, no matter what you tell me, I’m not gonna go down without a fight.

That was Steve. My buddy Steve would have made a good Marine, in times of old; a classic gunfighter. He rarely showed fear, he faced it…he shared it, he weighed it…and all the while, he was looking out for those around him. He protected most souls from his dilemma.

Steve and I talked for hours over the months…I never saw him again in person after July 2009, but the memory and vision of who he was will remain intact, untarnished, and not frozen in time, but saved vignettes over time, moments of laughter, of bravery, of frailty, and honesty and brutal truths.

Steve was happy with the state of all things except the obstacles he faced. They were an inconvenience to his plans and aspirations. But at the same time; a catalyst to reach out to family, to friends, to the past, to things unknown…to seek a little validation, and to deliver the same to those deserving of it.

Steve shared with me some reflections of attitudes that were changing inside of him regarding simple everyday activities like a trip to the store, a drive to a place that was previously insignificant and mundane, Steve told me that to wake up every morning and feel his wife next to him was a gift. That he knew his remission was a miracle not afforded many. That every moment of every day was not only a gift, but an opportunity to mend, to rediscover things overlooked. In truth, there was indeed a moment that it appeared a reprieve might have granted him a greater deal of time than it turned out as actually so. But still he chose to maintain his fresh appreciation of life and lives, as well as his dedication to making the same life and lives better and more memorable. Treasures in fact. This entire journey made him a better soul…a more complete and passionate human.

Steve had left behind the tools of his trades, the need for trudges through the muddy woods, for early morning drives to sites where building rose and grew through sweat and sinew…to fulfill and bring to reality another’s dreams. In place of the duties, there were the pleasures of not only performing reparations to personal properties, but too to life and souls. Steve engaged instead in bridge building and fence mending, pothole filling and patching leaky roofs.

He built a family out of the one born long ago but never quite melded as a cohesive unit. He built bridges over ravine and stream. Over time, proverbial rain and spiritual winters can erode and wash away and otherwise consume the proverbial earth that connects people. Minor crossings in ankle deep brooks can become crevasse and canyon, impassable without a conscious effort to bridge the gap   He mended fences to contain the flock and protect the newly formed bonds between those he loved and who he hoped might always love one other.

And perhaps over the passing of time, there may have been many storms of wind and rain, with a steady drip from a leaky shake or shingle leaving puddle and pool on a floor indoors…but no one tends to think about patching a roof in  the midst of August sunshine. So too are the tendencies of life, and Steve began to realize that one day when  the rains returned, he might not be able to contain the drips and drafts…So he opened ladder and toolbox…and tended to things before the gathering of storm and clouds…and he slept better with the knowing things had been tended to…

And along the rocky road that he had become accustomed to; he became aware that not only a well placed shovel of fill, but a slower pace would smooth the passage, and would also add to an appreciation of the sights along the way…a realization that the gift is as much in the journey as it is the destination…

It has occurred to me, that while readying for his passage to the next phase of his being, Steve chose to not leave a void where his physical presence left off…but to instead gift his children and extended family something tangible and certain…Each other…He made the best of what already exists in the hearts of each of them, and through carefully orchestrated desires and the innate need for a common and collective belonging…in a few short words…Family…mended, blended and lovingly; extended.

In our last meaningful conversation, Steve and I talked of his days in school. Of his time on the courts, fields, and diamonds. Steve was a capable athlete. I’m not sure if his abilities were as much God given as they were a cultivated result of his great work ethic, abundant desire, and a supportive love not only of victory…but of team and a desire to share in the joy of collective celebration among peers and friends. Steve mentioned on more than one occasion of being assigned a play to both end and to win a game. Along with a basket that sealed the win for his team; Steve carried the honor of faith in his ability to carry the moment, for the rest of his life. It helped that he made the shot when his number was called of course…but that was a definitive and character building moment that he took with him. Thanks Coach Doumit

We also talked of his days as a logger. That while not being a part of a sizable operation; the inherent hard work and related perils were no less present. Steve never shied away from tasks and effort demanding days…Even when the end of days was at hand. True to his character and place in the world to the very end…My friend Steve.

Now…In your mind, if you walk to a spot, between Vernonia and Mist…find an old stand of elderly Doug firs…mixed with cedar and pine, berries and fern…near a stream and a place where tall tales begin…A place where you might convene with the memory of long idle saws, muddy corks and long days fighting the brush and cursing the rain…And ask the age old question of whether a tree falling in a place with no one about makes any sound at all…and should you listen closely, you will hear a familiar voice flowing after the cutoff of a long barred  saw…and indeed you’ll hear a warning of “tree coming down”, then a crack of green timber, and the landing’s sounds…followed by a Friday afternoon happy declaration…when Steve declares, “it’s five o`clock on my watch…let’s shut it all down…quittin time boys…”  That, my friends is the sound of a tree falling, when no one’s around…

I am compelled to remind the lot of you, and myself, to not end a day with anger lingering between you and others. If you need a hug, give one. If you need a kind word, speak one. If you harbor a broken heart, mend one. If you feel a song in your heart, put out your hand and dance with someone. If you need an apology, make one. You get but one chance at a last impression, one time to say farewell…each night you lay your head down to rest might mark that last opportunity.

Folks have all heard a song in which the question is asked, “what if tomorrow never comes?” Even if you perish tonight; tomorrow will still come. It will come to everyone you leave behind, and they will have only the final impression and whatever unfinished moments to live with for the duration. Be sure you do right by them, that they know they are loved, and had a fresh hug on your parting ways. Tomorrow always comes…treat it with care.

I will end my words today, with the words I heard from Steve at the end of nearly every conversation over the past couple years……I love you brother…and call me anytime.

Matthew Lyle Landsman 06/17/2011

 

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After sixty one years, the life that accompanied mine no longer shares the morning coffee, the news of the day, or a conversation long after the day has passed. She no longer stirs the pot I momentarily forgot…fills the ice tray I left nearly empty. She is no longer the soul breathing quietly there on the pillow next to mine…

I’ll still talk to her, and reach for her hand when I stroll. I’ll still snatch a rose from a bush down the way; sing her a line from a special song. I’ll stir my coffee quietly, and tuck my shoes away…just in case she is still lingering somehow.  I’ll want to always please her…to take away the evening chills…to find a way to kindly tease her. I’ll still keep my promises, and after sixty one years, my vows still remain. My attentions and intentions are the same.

I have often said I’d like to live yet another eighty eight years. I have a feeling I will be re-living the last sixty or so every day from now on.  The thought of her still makes me smile, still makes me proud, and still accompanies my thoughts from the waking moment to the midnight’s dreams…

I’ll breathe in her essence, and exhale her laughter…again and again…until there are no longer moments…no longer breaths. Till there are no more promises left to be kept, no more roads to follow, no songs left to sing…And then, and then, and then…she’ll fill my cup, and my hand…with hers, my heart with her pulse, my mind with her poetry and prose…my eyes with the creations and senses there in the canvas, parchment, pen and ink, palette and brush…and from her imagination.

And from across a crowded room, I will again seek her warmth, her steps softly accompanying mine…and again there will be tears, but of joy this time.  And while others bid adieu to he who has been missing her, I will be looking again into those eyes, listening to the quiet welcoming behind those familiar sighs…we will again be young…and old all at once.

Familiar, yet fresh and full of youthful anticipation…I will finish saying what you begin, and as before…I‘ll cling to your every word. For now, I’ll keep you close in my heart, until again you’re close at hand…

Written in honor of my friend Ben, by Matthew

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Just wanted you to know…I’m doing better now. I want to explain some things and hope it helps. I know its all been very hard.

I went on to heaven, a little at a time. I didn’t want to leave you all, all at once.

But in the process, there was a lot of misplacing memories, a lot mistaking faces…There was a lot of letting go…a lot of holding on…But all my precious memories made it here…a little at a time.

It might have seemed to some of the younger ones that I’d forgotten who you were…maybe I thought you were someone else…your parent, or an aunt or uncle.  Let me tell you how this works. The memories I hold inside were sent on ahead of me…a few at a time. If you were younger, there were fewer for me to have gathered in such little time. So if it seemed I’d forgotten you first, oh little one…that’s just not so. The recollections of our precious moments together already waited for me here when I would finally arrive.
Like I said, I went on to heaven a little at a time…and the things I’d known the longest simply took a little longer to be gathered and carried on ahead.

The last things to go were the first things I came to know…the music of my youth, the day of my first bicycle ride…And my first sweetie…my only one…Perhaps a brother, my mom and dad who’d gone on ahead.  All of this stayed the longest there with all of you and me till the end. Older memories take longer to shake loose and be readied for the journey. But all of it was, in the end, sent on to heaven…a little at a time.

As for the moments I spoke to those already gone on ahead…It wasn’t you to whom I directed my words…They were here where I am now, and we convened and they beckoned me to this place, and helped take care of the memories till I retrieved them.  They are all here and called me home as I made that journey…a little at a time.

In the end, I know I was old and it seemed I knew little, as my memories were already here where I am now.

And in the end, I knew you’d gather on a weekend, and I hoped the sun would shine…And a little at a time, I hoped you’d forgot how it was in the end, and that you too would begin to see things the way I had…and recall when I, and you too, were younger…and those gone on were still around…And a little at a time, I hoped you too will begin to forget how things were for a while.

I love all of you, and all our times so much you know…that is the reason for the long goodbye. There are so many memories and they can only be sent on…a little at a time.

And I hope that when I send the memories of me in happier times down for you to recall on holidays and evenings when a fire is needed to keep warm…I hope that you recall, a little at a time…the movies without special effects, the music and private dances on a worn living room floor…And I hope you one day realize that the memories of my sweetie were the hardest for me to let go and be sent on ahead to wait for me… the last for me to know…and when the music ended, and I last let go your hand…I only had to wait a little while, to join all my memories again.

My heart is full, and I can now recall every moment you thought I’d forgotten…and it is you now that will begin to lose track of the detail. It is you who will polish and preserve just the warmest of them all…And a little at a time, you‘ll realize, that soon, we’ll dance again…and one by one…we’ll all get together.  I’ll be there waiting for you one
and all…to reunite you with your memories, that were sent here…a little at a time.  I will see some of you here all at once, but mostly…I’ll be waiting for the rest of you as you are sent here as was I, a little at a time…

Matthew L Landsman

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