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Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

Then there were times when

    The poetry flowed.

My words fell on paper,

    My creativity glowed.

*

The writing was easy,

   The meanings were clear.

My inner child,

    Always was near.

*

Then came the hurting,

     The word flow did cease.

I spiritually died,

    I knew no more peace.

*

Long years of silence,

    By my poet child.

I tried to be happy,

    Inside I was wild.

*

It grieved me to hear,

    The silence within.

I wanted so badly,

    The words to begin.

*

Years of discovery,

    Led me to causes.

I worked and recovered,

    Without many pauses.

*

I went back to Tulsa,

    My dead father to see.

To tell him I loved him,

    To set old hurts free.

*

It’s now a year later,

    The word flow returns.

Creative freedom,

    Again mine to learn.

*

Now there are new times,

    When the poetry flows,

The words fall on paper,

    My creativity grows.

*

Yet it seems like a new world,

    My heart is at ease.

Not flowing from hurting,

    My words are at peace.

*****

This poem was written in 1999, but I’m having this experience so strongly now that it’s really relevant today.

Photo credit:

“Inspiration” photosteve101 @ Flickr.com Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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My Dad disappeared

For about a year

When I was seventeen.

The last I saw him,

We left him

Passed out drunk

On the living room couch.

Relatives came and got

My Mom, sisters and me

Leaving Dad

Who wouldn’t quit drinking

Who wouldn’t accept help.

I thought

I might ever see him again.

 *

Later

He returned to our lives

A changed man.

He sobered up

Got back his old job

Built back his old life.

*

But twenty years later

After he died

I realized

I never knew what happened

When he disappeared.

When he was on the edge

Of killing himself

With the drink.

Rumor had it

That he worked

The wheat harvest

Something he had done

In college.

Wheat Harvest

*

I started to write

The story of what I thought

Might have happened.

I realized

The piece I was missing

Was what it would be like

To work on

The wheat harvest.

*

I said to a friend

“Someday…

Someday,

If I ever want to

Really explore

My Dad’s story.

I might just have to

Work the wheat harvest.

My friend Pat

Listened quietly.

 *

Later he said

“You’ve talked about

working the wheat harvest

three or four times.

I just want to mention

Someday – if you want

To work the wheat harvest.

I have relatives in Oklahoma

Who do that each year.”

*

I did what I do

When hit with

The unexpected.

I sat there

Numbly,

Quietly.

And then said

“Thanks for telling me.”

Talk about upping the ante

On a spiritual quest

To walk in

My Dad’s shoes.

My friend had

Certainly done that.

Now I was left

To put it all out there,

Or leave it as “someday.”

*

I finally called Pat

And asked if he would

Do me a favor.

Check with his relatives

To see if I might

Join their harvest crew

For the summer.

*

Meanwhile,

I tried to figure out

If this was

Completely nuts.

Quit my job,

Go off and work

On a harvest crew

To find out about

My Dad’s story.

I checked it out

With Scott – a good friend

Who was really grounded.

He’d give me a solid answer,

Besides, he was

An accountant.

Logical, linear.

I later realized

I was secretly hoping

He’d tell me

“This idea is crazy”

So I could give up

The whole thing.

Instead he said

“Makes a lot of sense

I think you ought to do it!

It will be part of

Your healing.”

Major gulp!

*

Two months later,

I was living in a trailer

In Lone Wolf Oklahoma

With six high school farm kids

Learning to drive a huge truck

Used to haul grain.

And following

My Dad’s story.

*

Bunk trailers and work pickups

Cara - the grain truck I drove on harvest

It was the adventure

Of a lifetime.

We followed the wheat

As it ripened.

Living like nomads.

It was a world

I had never seen before.

Living in an old house trailer

In one place for two weeks

Then moving,

Trailers, trucks, combines

A caravan

To the next farm

As the wheat ripened

From Oklahoma

To North Dakota.

Combines and tractors

*

Combines dumping grain on trucks

I learned many things.

I grew up in the city

But had the heart of a country boy.

I love driving a tractor

Or a wheat combine.

I don’t do well on little sleep.

Living in a trailer,

Farm boys are not

Particularly neat

When Momma’s not there

To clean out the tub.

When pulling wheat from

A plugged up combine

The dust really itches,

When it gets down your neck.

 *

And special things happened.

    I got to visit the filmsite

From Dances With Wolves.

We saw Mount Rushmore,

Me at Dances With Wolves filmsite

My first pic of Mount Rushmore

Both affected me deeply.

All in all

It was a magical summer.

*

It gave me the truth

About what I believe

Happened to my Dad.

How he had

A spiritual awakening

And realized

He had to return

To clean up his past.

I finished the story

I wanted to tell.

I wrote it as a novel.

It will be called

“Nothing Left To Lose.”

 *

But as I look back

What Pat said

When the idea

First came up

Turned out to be the truth.

He had said

“Dan, you think you’re going

On the wheat harvest,

To learn about your Dad.

I think this trip

Will be about you.

You will learn about

Yourself.

Heal yourself.

Claim your own power.”

*

He was right!

I often look back

On the wheat harvest experience

As a turning point in my life.

When I claimed the truth

Dan the writer

Of my path

Not to follow the business world

   Of my Dad and my friends,

But to claim my birthright

As a writer

Dan the writer

A teller of stories.

And a country boy.

I am completely convinced

I did the right thing

In going on harvest

To walk in Dad’s shoes.

Because I found – myself.

********************

Photo Credits:

Photos by Dan L. Hays Copyright – all rights reserved.

“The Wheat Harvest” the slowlane @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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In the fall of 1990, I had a vision – I wanted to write novels of hope. I had taken a 19th Century American literature course, and the teacher had said, “in 19th century American novels, you expected a happy outcome.  In 20th century novels, you typically expect a negative or unhappy outcome.”  I didn’t like that trend, and wanted to do something different.

The movie Dances With Wolves had just come out, and it really sparked something in me.  I realized that I wanted to explore a time in my Dad’s life I knew little about.

In 1967, when I was 17, we were living in Oklahoma City when my Dad’s drinking hit bottom. My aunt and uncle came and picked up my Mom, my 3 sisters and myself, taking us back to Fort Worth to live with my maternal grandmother. Dad disappeared for a while, then later returned to Fort Worth, somehow changed.  He sobered up and got into recovery, and reclaimed the world he had lost.  I never knew what had happened to him during the time he was gone, other than a vague comment my Mom made about him going and working on the wheat harvest, which he had done in high school.  I never thought I would see him again, and later wondered what his life had been like during the time while he was gone.

He died before it ever occurred to me to ask him about it.  I began working on how to tell that story, and after I wrote the first two chapters, I suddenly realized – if I explored this thread fully, I had – a novel of hope!  It was a tremendously empowering moment.

In the spring of 1991, I quit my job, went up to Oklahoma and worked on the wheat harvest, to try and imagine what my Dad’s life was like after we left, and what might have happened to him.  How I got there is a story of its own: Dances With Wolves Filmsite.

The book I wrote in 1993 was my best guess as to what happened.  It was entitled Nothing Left To Lose.  It was a novel,  written from a very loving and generative perspective.  But how did I get to that loving place in describing a man who had been violent toward me when I was a teenager?  I later realized that I needed to flesh out the back story.  I will do so in several books, beginning with my first published memoir, Freedom’s Just Another Word, about the time around his death and my healing process.  The reason I never published this novel will be the topic of the second book I will publish – Healing The Writer; writing that book freed my creativity!

I now plan to publish Nothing Left To Lose, the novel about my Dad written from a loving and healed perspective.

The novel begins like this:

Chapter 1
Eyes downcast, he trudged along, conscious of the uneven surface along the shoulder of the highway, stumbling occasionally on chunks of gravel or small pebbles. He looked up periodically at the cars speeding past, as if to keep his bearings. His face was lined and weary and his entire body ached. He was wearing a worn brown corduroy jacket, a wrinkled plaid flannel shirt, dark blue polyester pants, white socks and cordovan loafers.

It was about 5 pm and the sun had just set. Night was approaching rapidly and the chill of February in 1967 was harshened by a brisk wind which picked up in gusts as he walked. He tried to walk faster, his hands deep in his pockets, but had to step carefully so not to turn an ankle on the uneven surface beside the roadbed. His vision was limited by the flash of oncoming headlights.

He had been told there was a boarding house in town where he could get a room for the night, and he plodded on, the directions vaguely held in a corner of his consciousness.

“We’re sorry,” they’d said at the detox center, “but all we can do is provide you a place for 5 days. We just help people dry out. Then we have to give the bed to someone else.” They had directed him to the boarding house, wished him well, given him back his clothes and money, and sent him on his way.

His feet hurt, his whole body ached, he craved a drink but knew that he must make the most of this chance. There was another pain, too, an emotional void when he thought of all he had left behind, all he had lost. He wondered where they were now, but he knew he could do nothing for them. Yet he longed for their voices, for any source of warmth and comfort to relieve this coldness, and the blackness in his soul.
——————————–

Sitting and looking out the big picture window at the front of Miss White’s Boarding House, Peter Sanders watched the occasional car pass, and a few blocks away he could see the busier traffic on the main street. Busy, he thought, for our town. Cornell, Oklahoma wasn’t exactly New York, he chuckled to himself, but it was rush hour here, with cars heading home to supper.

At the corner of the main road where it intersected his street, he saw a figure hesitate, look at street signs, and uncertainly begin to walk toward him. Another drunk out of the center, he thought to himself, betting that the man was headed here. This was where they mostly came when they had nowhere else to go.

Peter got up, stepped to the door of the kitchen, cracked it open. “Miss Vera,” he called.

“Yes, Peter?” she replied.

“I think we got a visitor coming in.”

“Alright. Send him through to me.” Miss Vera stepped wearily into the living room. She had seen so many come through her doors that the novelty of it had long since worn off.

Peter sat in one of the overstuffed chairs in the living room, extending his feet toward the large space heater in the corner. Miss Vera went back into the kitchen. The man opened the door.

Ben Hays, my Dad, in 1971.

“Step in and warm up, stranger,” Peter called. He stepped quickly and gratefully over in front of the space heater, holding his hands out over it, shivering slightly. Peter studied him. He was about six feet tall, slender yet sturdy, with dark circles under the eyes, sunken cheeks. He had dark brown hair, cut short, rumpled and uncombed, and his clothes weren’t heavy enough for February. The clothes looked of good quality, but were tired from overuse. His hands looked soft. There were no calluses or marks, so he was probably not a laborer. His shoulders slumped wearily, hands twitched, and he had an almost nauseous look on his face. Peter imagined him to be a businessman gone to seed – gone down far and fast, too. Peter knew the look – he’d had it himself recently enough.

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“Ghosts Of The Wheat Harvest.” A man decides to explore his dead father’s pain, in order to resolve a relationship which still bothers him. He decides to work the wheat harvest to walk in his father’s shoes.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“The Wheat Harvest” the slowlane @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

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Written August 5, 1990

All I really wanted to say was “I’m sorry.”

I had said some hurtful things to my Father. But he had been dead for three years. How do make amends after they’re gone? It wasn’t perfect, not like him being there, but I was talking to him anyway. Just making up a conversation in my mind, inside my spirit. And answering for him – what I thought he would say. No, that’s not quite true. Some of the things my Dad had said to me, but I could not hear them at the time, or at least, could not receive his words.

My Dad had owned 5 acres of land in the country outside Tulsa that he was planting in pecan trees. We had been out there one time, with me clearing trees and brush while he grafted pecan trees. While we were resting, he’d been telling me stories about the good old days, like he always did. I told him that with any other adult male I would get up and leave if the stories got too much, and so I would with him. God, how that must have hurt.

And now I felt bad about it. I imagined us now out at that land once again, sitting in camp chairs under the large oak trees, resting in the shade. I was saying now what I couldn’t say before.

“Dad, I know it must have hurt you, what I said when we were out here that time; that and some other things I did.”

He answered me. “Yes, son, that did hurt. I never knew you didn’t like my stories. I didn’t know what to say.” He paused. “What other things?”

“Dad, I guess it was mostly me provoking you, arguing with anything you said, rebelling. Putting you down. I did a lot of subtle stuff. I didn’t know why I was so angry with you. I’ve learned more and seen where all that anger was coming from. But that didn’t make it right what I did.” It felt like my words were all rushing out, stumbling over each other, eager to be free. I felt awkward, like I was saying it poorly, now that I had the chance.

He replied. “Yes, it did feel like whatever I did wasn’t good enough for you at times. Almost like I couldn’t live up to your expectations. But Cowboy, I know I hurt you, too, many times. And I think that’s where your anger started. I didn’t ever remember – I was too drunk. But now I know more.”

We sat in silence for a few moments, reflecting.

He spoke again. “It’s real sad, but I guess it happens a lot. My Father was there for me, and then when I was 12, he left. He turned his back on me. I felt hurt, abandoned, and like he didn’t love me any more.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “And I can see now that I turned away from you when you were the same age. I began punishing you. I was really proud of your writing, your speaking, your acting. But I made stupid, ugly comments about them all – I can remember now – over here we see things a lot of things more clearly. And I know I hit you, abused you. I guess it was because you were daring to develop your creativeness – and I had never been able to. But that’s no excuse.”

There it was. What I’d always wanted to hear, wanted him to admit – I hadn’t realized it would be this hard to accept. I was having trouble catching my breath. We sat for a long time, not speaking. I spoke again, feeling my words. “Thanks, Dad, for saying that. That’s the way it felt for me, too. But the things I said to you were wrong, no matter what you did to me. I blamed you for all my problems and played victim and all that shit. I have to accept responsibility for what I did after I was grown up. I apologize.”

“Me too, Cowboy. I apologize, too. The sickness and the disease we carry with us makes us do hateful things, things we would not do if we were in our right minds. I never intended to hurt you. I was very proud of you. But when I was in my sickness, I couldn’t always let it show.”

“Thank you, Dad. I do know now that you were proud of me – you told me before, but I couldn’t hear it.” We sat in silence, hearing the breeze whistling through the trees, the birds singing in the upper branches. I drew in a deep breath.

“Dad, there’s something else.”

“I know, son.”

“I have to leave. I have to separate from you, and be me, be Dan. I have lived for 20 years trying to be what I thought you wanted me to be, not who I really was. I hope you understand I mean no disrespect by leaving.”

“No, Dan, I don’t think that way, not at all. I don’t know if you remember, but I encouraged you to go out and be whatever you wanted to be, and I’d support you.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, I meant that. If you want to be a writer, I support you in that. I am glad you are happier being that.”

“Thanks, Dad. But please know this. I will take with me the gifts you have given me.”

“Gifts? Like what?”

I started choking up. “Well, like when I saw you have the courage to come home and put our family back together after you sobered up. And even though it took 10 years, you got back your old job. And the guts to stick to it, even though it would have been easier to leave. Staying sober for 20 years. You modeled for me perseverance. And courage. You gave me my love of literature, of reading. My writing ability came from you. You know, I’ve always been real proud of you. But in my sickness, I couldn’t tell you either.”

“Thank you, son.” We sat quietly for a time. “So can we be at peace with each other?” my Father asked.

“Yes, Dad. At peace. I am a man, now, and I want to shake your hand – man to man.”

We shook hands, solemnly, firmly, slowly. “You certainly are a man, Dan. And a very remarkable one. Go for it. All the way. Let your writing go as far as it will – and that’s a long way!”

“Thank you, Ben. I will. I will remember you always, treasure all you gave me. You are part of the story I have to tell. You are one of the greatest men I have ever known.” I paused. “I’ll check with you along the way. Goodbye, Ben.”

“You do that, Cowboy. Goodbye. Vaya Con Dios. Go With God.”

———

Several years after I wrote this piece, when I felt I was ready, I went back out to the land with the pecan trees and read this piece out loud. I made a ritual out of it, read the conversation very deliberately and with a solemn sense of ceremony – because I knew that at the land he loved so much, he would hear it. I also knew the words would become more real for me as well, as part of saying goodbye to Dad.

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Redemption

Written December 30, 1988

At Thanksgiving of 1988 I returned to Fort Worth, a place of many of my roots – my family, early friends, beginnings.  I had lived there for about a year and a half in 1967 and 1968.  My family had moved back to the town where my parents had grown up, and where many of my relatives still lived.

We began attending Mathews Memorial Methodist Church, which my parents had attended while they were growing up.  It was there I had first found a sense of church family, and had formed some bonds that had lasted until the present.  It was currently known as University Methodist, but in my heart it would always be Mathews.

I had seen a flyer that stated there would be a garage sale at the church on Saturday morning.  That day I went over to the church, planning to browse the sale and just look around.  I went into the gym, filled with the chaos of a typical garage sale.  I saw a few vaguely familiar faces, but could not connect them with names.  I bought two books I had wanted for a while, and left.

As I passed the side doors of the church, on a whim I pulled at one, intending to roam the once familiar halls.  To my surprise, the door opened on to the side of the sanctuary.  I stepped in and listened, but could hear no one.  It was much smaller than I had remembered; a sanctuary seating approximately 400, with light blue carpet and baby blue walls, stained glass windows of Bible scenes down each side.  Now it was hushed in muted stillness, tranquil and warm.

I walked in and sat on the second pew, memories flooding me.  Our gang had all been in a Christmas play together, performed on the platform beside the pulpit.  Our youth minister had stood at that pulpit and preached a memorable sermon, using the analogy of a ship: “Who are you, where are you going, who is your captain?”  A stately matriarch sat in the choir loft on Sunday mornings and glared at the fidgety ones (like me) sitting in the balcony.  Once I had forgotten and worm white socks with my suit.  It was Communion Sunday and I had to kneel before the entire church at the altar rail, convinced they were all looking at my socks.

Then my eyes wandered up to the wall behind the choir loft.  It had a large circular stained glass window; Jesus, seated, with arms outstretched – offering.  Along the outer border were three segments of a verse: My Peace – I give – unto you.  I had always been attracted to those words, because you could combine the segments any way you wanted and they still made sense.  I had forgotten about the stained glass, and it affected me powerfully.

It hit me with tremendous force that the title of my first book was “Search For Peace.”  It was an autobiographical chronicle of my spiritual journey, my struggles to find God, yet also my resistance against God.  For the first time I realized that the title of my book came from some corner of my heart where the words in the stained glass window had been stored.

Looking back down at the altar rail I remembered Sunday night services.  They would dim the lights in the church, and people were free to come forward, kneel at the rail and pray.  I suddenly remembered vividly a prayer of mine one night when I was 18.  I had said something like “God, I don’t know if You’re up there, but if You are, and if You are listening, here’s what I have to say.  The way I am running my life is not working.  There’s something bad wrong, but I don’t know what it is.  So if You’re up there, and if You really care, help me! I can’t give you much, but whatever I have I give You.”  That experience had stayed with me vividly through all the years.  I could even tell exactly where at the altar rail I had been when I prayed that prayer.

I had recently been feeling an incredible sense of peace and freedom, after a long struggle with some very deep seated issues.  The peace was not just intellectual statements any more, but I felt it down very deep inside me.  My gaze drawn back to the stained glass, I thought of a completed circle – finding peace and returning once more to the exact place where the journey began – from beginning to beginning.  I went and knelt at the altar rail, at the same spot, tears welled up and a prayer of thanksgiving flooded from my heart up to God.

———–

Several weeks later, just before Christmas, I was back home in Houston and awoke to a rainy day.  I had been carrying the experience in Fort Worth in my thoughts for several weeks, yet its full significance eluded me.  There was some element of it that whispered at the edge of my awareness, like a long forgotten but barely remembered memory.

I needed exercise, and went to a local mall, The Galleria, to walk – which I sometimes did when the weather was inclement. It was a pleasant form of exercise; it had the additional bonus of fascinating people watching.  As I began walking, I noticed the vast number of people hurrying, doing their Christmas shopping, but in a terrible rush; some of them did not look happy!

For several laps I had noticed a grand piano sitting in an atrium area at one end of the mall.  As I passed one time, a young, neatly dressed black man sat at the piano, playing a light, soothing melody – appealing, yet unrecognizable.

I stopped, sat down on a bench, and began quietly listening.  It was a complex piece, lifting up to airy heights, then deepening, ripening fully, powerfully, then scaling back upward in a soothing pattern.  I found myself becoming very tranquil and calm, though the hordes were still bustling past.

He finished and arose.  He had seen my interest among the bustlers, came over and sat next to me.  In talking with him, I discovered that the piece was his original composition.  He had had no formal training, could not read music, but just played for the love of it.   He did not work for the mall, but had just seen the piano and sat down to play.

Since I had missed the beginning, I asked if he would play it again, which he gladly did.  After he finished, he returned and sat shyly next to me.

“Wow,” I said, “that is a really beautiful piece.  No one gave you lessons or anything?”

“No, I just picked things out by myself.  I’m out of practice.  You should hear it when I’ve been working on it.  I missed some parts.”

“Well, it’s really wonderful as it is.  You really do have a gift.  You should stay with it and develop it!”

We sat quietly for a moment.

“By the way, what’s the piece called?  Does it have a name?”

“Yeah, sure. I call it Redemption.  It just seemed right.”

“Why did you call it that?”

“Because of what Jesus has done in my life.”

“Mmm.  That is really special.  Beautiful.”

We talked for a few minutes more, shook hands, bid each other well, and he went out of my life.

It took several more weeks before I realized the gift he had given me – a Christmas gift.  He gave me the word that had been eluding me, though the concept was well documented.  I guess I had been too close to the experience to see it.  It was the sensation I had been experiencing and trying to describe.  Redemption.  From the vague and pleading prayer at the altar rail at Mathews, to the thankful prayer of gratitude upon return to the same spot.

Redemption. My Peace – I give – Unto you.  I had sought; I had found.  It was not just an awareness or intellectual comprehension of a concept.  It was an offer that had been made – by God, through His Son Jesus, and at that moment of my life, I could fully appropriate it, claim it.  Not just thinking it to be true; not just believing it – but knowing it.  Deeply.  I felt overwhelmed with love.

My greatest Christmas gift. From God, to me – Redemption.

 

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