Archive for the ‘this old house’ Category

I have watched dreams die.

Personally, matrimonially, and vocationally, I have become acquainted with the acrid smell of death. Yet I am not defined by death—as much to my own surprise as to anyone else’s—because I have heard in time the giddy laughter of resurrection. Time after time.

I cannot explain why my life is joy rather than gloom, generally so at least, without recourse to the loving arms of Providence. I settle easily into solidarity with the prophets and singers of Israel’s memory, as with the abiding astonishment of a crucified Messiah’s unlikely followers when I read the things they wrote, the words they’ve left. Those people feel like long-lost cousins or well-worn friends. Absent for years, we pick up immediately where we left off.

My dead dreams have come to life. Personally, matrimonially, vocationally. If the aroma of death still lingers, it is retrained and repurposed by the lively breezes of dreams reborn in dimensions, textures, and colors superior to the original.

I cannot explain this, if I may repeat myself so soon, except as evidence gently presented of loving Providence. A further, tentative, redundant declaration: this pattern in my life surprises me more than anyone. ‘The lines…’ —oh, those ancient poets again— ‘…have fallen for me in pleasant places.’ They gave out their words ahead of time and here I sit, repeating them as though my own.

This truth is not easy for me to put into words, rumbling along in the heart as it customarily does at an almost inaudible volume. It is perhaps not so much for speaking out or writing down. But it does nurture its own expectation that death is not privileged with the final word. I think I now accommodate the blows of fresh, new deaths with the barely surprised smile of suspicion that this, too, is only for a moment.

Which is why I find myself coming to write on this crisp morning of blue New England skies about a deer named Morris.

We bought a home in Portland, Connecticut not a month ago. This is its own story of dreams reborn, two of them at the least. But that is not my story exactly, not now, not this morning, not with a strangely potent grief for a dead deer weighing down my heart in a way that makes me feel foolish, naive, overwrought. And compelled to write about him.

One of the harmless little fantasies I’ve carried about for too many years to count is having a backyard that, as my Latin American friends would say it, gives to the woods and to find deer wandering into that backyard for me to contemplate and admire. It’s a sentimental notion, the mark of a small-town boy become a city guy who doesn’t sufficiently understand that deer eat everything you’ve planted, bring their ticks with them, and are generally a nuisance to be warded off with stuff you buy at the Tractor Supply.

But I do know this about my little dream, which is why I’ve never pursued it. Life was differently shaped than wood-bordering yards, it seemed. But I had taken the measure of this abiding dream well enough to name it to close friends, to a wife, and to myself. They smiled benignly, sometimes dismissively, about my little deer dream. Life is not like that, I sometimes thought I heard them think, and even if it were, that’s just a little bit childish at your age.

Then it happened. Not a month ago we took possession of our beautiful new-old New England home—ah, there’s another story—with its backyard giving to the woods and a first conversation with neighbors turning to how that’s a veritable deer highway back there because it runs to the river and deer need water, particularly after a night of dodging bobcats and coyotes and sharing their woods with bears, fisher cats, red foxes, and lots of other deer.

Dreams stirring, dreams awakening, dreams reviving, dreams reborn.

Then came Morris. On that first night in our new home—only a week ago—the motion-sensitive light on the back of our new home’s crown came on to show us a beautifully antlered buck exploring our back yard. Clearly something was wrong with this animal. Its left front leg hung uselessly and unsupportive, causing this gorgeous creature to lurch painfully about in search of, well, he really loved early Winter’s paltry remains of pachysandra, gobbling as though there were no tomorrow.

In spite of his injuries, which became grotesquely visible as he began to return from his daytime hidings in the woods behind us, he had a jauntiness about him that made it impossible to see him as a pest, an intruder, just an animal.

He became Morris.

Morris was in clear decline. Soon he was investing some daylight hours in lying beside the house in obvious distress. Our dog Rhea and I would occasionally sally forth to view Morris more closely, to make his acquaintance, one might say.

Uncharacteristically, Rhea kept a respectful distance. So did I. When Morris would see us approaching, he’d lurch as best he could in the other direction, sometimes back into the woods, sometimes just far enough to eye us warily from what might have passed for a safe distance if we had intended him any harm.

I called the police to see what one does. ‘We let nature take its course’, came the voice over the phone, surely a voice that commented to a colleague about ‘another city family up on Karen Drive’ after he’d let me go. Ah, Nature. Red in tooth and claw. I wished I had ammo to pair with the one weapon I own in order to put Morris out of his misery, but after a notorious school-shooting tragedy this New England state puts classes and fingerprints between a hunter and the ability to purchase ammo. It takes weeks.

Morris didn’t have weeks.

Two days ago, I found Morris on the ground, back in our woods—I claim them now, though not with title—lying prone between two fallen trees. He had collapsed or lay down and was unable to extricate himself. I knew the end had come. He looked at me with frightened eyes as I approached, struggled a bit to pull loose from his accidental captivity and flee. He didn’t have the strength.

I pulled one of the trees off of him in the vain hope that he’d be able to get up after I’d done so. But for what what I hoping? Morris was going to die.

Yesterday, he looked at me when I approached in my painful, self–inflicted duty to ‘go check on him’. This time, his eyes seemed plaintive, not frightened. He didn’t kick, didn’t struggle.

This morning, the coldest of the impending Winter, I wandered out. The life is gone from Morris’ beautiful, traumatized body. Clearly, a vehicle had hit him hard, probably only days ago. His lifeless eyes are open, staring. They are glorious eyes, eyes designed and created, eyes now devoid of life.

I cannot say why this has been such an emotional experience for me. My hunter friends will be laughing, my fishing friends asking ‘But you kill and eat what you catch, don’t you?’

They’re right. This was ‘just an animal’. But his nobility, his helplessly injured vulnerability, his proximity, his antlers rattling against the house as he gobbled pachysandra, the way in those first days he kept disappearing and then showing up from behind a new tree when you least expected him. These have fallen on me like an avalanche, making me…well…leading me to sit here and write down these thoughts instead of bending my shoulder to the harness of so many waiting tasks.

I had a dream of deer creeping into a backyard I would never own. Yet I have a backyard like the one in my dreams, now. It gives to the woods. On our very first night in this new place, Morris came creeping—creeping, lurching, creeping—into that yard and captured our hearts.

He arrived as to an appointment.

Why has Providence resurrected my little, inconsequential dream in the form of a mortally wounded antlered buck? Why has this all happened so very close to our windows, indeed in our very own space, if ‘own’ properly describes anything in a world where these things are given? Why is Morris’ once majestic body lying out there in the cold, right now, right there?

Why not a doe and her fawns making a quick appearance and then gone, or an unremarkable quintet of ordinary deer in our backyard? Why not a simple story of ‘lots of deer around here these days’, an anecdote that would prompt a neighbor casually to counter, ‘Oh, I had nine of them the other night…’?

Why Morris?

Is there instruction here, a thing to be learned? Do dreams come alive wounded sometimes? Does Providence beckon us to see remote things called ‘wildlife’, ‘prey’, and ‘deer’ as Morris, who looked at me with eyes that in the end lacked the strength to be afraid?

I don’t know.

But I wonder.

And that is all I have to say about it.


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A white, slightly dented white car in the driveway means Philip is under roof. A respectable Dodge with just a hint of the rakish to its lines angled into the asphalted slot where a big old tree once stood means Lucas is home. While my pickup languishes in the airport Economy Lot (long story, one for another day), the presence of either of these Sanders-family chariots mean that Son Christopher is also within the walls of this old house.

All of this good.

As I return from my bike ride on a hot Sunday afternoon, I see that the LAN party has ended. The cars of the LAN partiers have returned to their erstwhile nest.

In the circles that frequent this old house, the ‘LAN party’ is a product of Costa Rica days. A pack of digital-native sons developed the multi-day/night computer-game frenzy that goes under this moniker. They shut themselves in the chosen home, connect into a Local Area Network (thus ‘LAN’), take vows of chastity against the allure of sleep and her un-mannish siren song, and stock up on Mountain Dew. Then the games begin! (more…)

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One never knows the potency of love until one has been brought low.

I was reminded of this on Sunday as I sat by the bedside of a life-long friend who had for nine days walked a bumpy road of recovery from cardiac surgery. ‘Forgive me, I’m going to cry a lot today’, my friend warned at the outset. And he did. We did.

‘The body of Christ has been phenomenal … overwhelming.’ He groped and did not find all the words he required. As I entered his room, an attractive and bright-eyed African-American woman of substance had just departed his and his wife’s Caucasian company. ‘She’s our pastor’, my friend’s beloved explained. We luxuriate for a moment in the unspoken beauty of how human need and divine touch unite the broken and invigorate the shattered.

‘I’ve had heart surgery … and I’ve had heart surgery’, my friend told me. (more…)

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Lucas is an enigma.

A twenty-something business student in Indianapolis, Lucas grew up with my oldest son in Latin America. Yet he is here. I mean right here. In-the-house here.

By some generous act of Providence, the apartment Lucas shares with two colleges students and an undisclosed but not absurd number of acts, suffers an infestation of flees. I have never before been grateful for fleas, but I am so now.

Lucas has, over the years, hung out in somewhat irregular fashion in our house. When I use to hang out in this generic sense, I do not mean anything as defined as to spend the occasional evening, to come by to watch the Super Bowl, or to join us for dinner. Those connotations do attach themselves to the concept of to hang out. But they do not define Lucas. (more…)

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Surely this old house has seen its domestic drama. Its sturdy structure cannot eradicate the drama and pathos that cling to human beings and the dense clusters and knots we call ‘family’.

On May 31 of this annus horribilus my beloved departed this old house. I was abroad, through aware of the scenario that unfolded as my wife’s friends nudged their cars and their vans and their trucks into a driveway into which we had all nosed homeward on countless shared evenings.

No longer are mornings and evenings in this place a shared and common thing. She is gone and I am alone in this old house. (more…)

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They built this house, on what must have been Indianapolis’ far north side, in 1930. Peace in Europe was, fleetingly, twelve years old. Men who had clung to the trenches’ muddy, bloody edge were deciding whether to talk about that to their ten-year-old boys.

An economic shattering so profound that it can still be called the Great Depression was using up its second page on a nation’s hungry calendar. Improbably, the land just across 64th Street had been donated by John and Evaline Holliday fourteen years earlier to the State of Indiana on its one hundredth birthday. I reckon the proximity of Holliday Park contributes a third to the value of my home. (more…)

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