spring writings


The Other Part of the Miracle

is the red-wingeds’ return, black
birds with a revel of crimson
on their shoulders, a call that sags

like a drawl, like the short-long-short
of their flight. March has finally
come. Mind you the birds perch

on cattails sprung and faded, and
the grass towering still above
the swamp is dead.

The mountains in view endure
a thin chill of snow, and
the ocean at my back grows tired

of raging. But if I stand long,
I see the birds are many,
their electric-red flashes almost

hard to believe. And the trees
that edge the wetland flush
a suggestion of chartreuse.

We have outlived one more
winter of storm and loss.
Surely miracle enough.

But the other part of the miracle
is the red-wingeds’ return.

{First appeared in Northwest Coast Magazine, Spring 2009}



I take issue with nostalgia. By definition, it signifies a “sentimental yearning for a period of the past.” In my view, such sentimental yearning often obscures our vision like the proverbial rose-colored glasses. I admit, I have never been good at nostalgia. I tend to err in the other direction, disproportionately remembering the past’s struggles and mistakes, and this tendency is something I wrestle with. Die-hard “nostalgics,” on the other hand, recall nothing but the glory and felicity. I am closely related to a few such individuals, and their memories of shared times and experiences often astounds me. It can be downright laughable. They have erased almost everything unpleasant from the past, including, especially, their own misdeeds! They have cleaned up the past so thoroughly, it is no wonder they pine for it with dripping sentimentality. In the shadow of such a past, the present will always pale.

I don’t believe we ought to flog ourselves for past mistakes. But I think the rosy mirage we see when we look over our shoulders nostalgically robs us of our ability to learn from the past and grow. It causes us to forget the important, healing words, “I’m sorry.” The greatest gift of the past, of history, is pedagogical. A sober awareness of our past should generally ward off sentimentality and give rise to humility and a staggering gratitude for the grace that has accompanied us. This is the kind of looking back we need for personal growth, but also for bringing healing and newness into our collective present.

Post-November 4 I find much to celebrate in looking forward. Yet I also believe that our progress demands that we not yearn for a past long-gone, a past which, from a safe distance, looks like a time of greatness, prosperity, and purity. Our progress depends on how honestly and soberly we can reckon with who we are, who we have been, and with the wounds we have afflicted on ourselves and others as well as the gifts we have imparted. Instead of glamorizing the past and embellishing the stories of our successes like old men spinning tales of fishing exploits, we must also tell about our mistakes and excesses. That is how we learn; that is how future generations learn.

A sober approach to our past may deprive us of the chance to wax heroic and drown our fears in the syrup of nostalgia, but it will also cause us to look at where we stand and at the beauty around us at this very moment, with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and possibility.

{First appeared in Oregon Humanities magazine, Spring 2009}

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One thought on “spring writings

  1. You have such deep insight, and inspire me. I agree that nostalgia can be damaging, and blinding. I find myself recollecting the past, and finding rainbows, but when I look deeper, I see sadness & darkness that was pushed aside.

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