About Gordon C. Stewart

I've always liked quiet. And, like most people, I've experienced the world's madness. "Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness" (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Jan. 2017) distills 47 years of experiencing stillness and madness as a campus minister and Presbyterian pastor (IL, WI, NY, OH, and MN), poverty criminal law firm executive director, and social commentator. Our dog Barclay reminds me to calm down and be much more still than I would without him.

Priming the Pump

Featured

IMG_1537

The pump that wouldn’t pump

The outdoor pump at the cabin didn’t work this spring. It worked late last summer when we bought the cabin, but the spigot was bone dry this spring and into the summer. When I shared my tale of woe with the 10:00 AM gathering of Sylvan Shores residents, one of the men asked, “Have you primed the pump?”

City folks know nothing about priming the pump, except for the adage about getting something started. Sometimes, as during days and weeks when a writer has nothing to say, you need to prime the pump by reading or just shushing the distractions to get the water flowing again.

“How do you prime a pump?” I ask. What’s that?” Good natured smiles and laughter break out around the table.

“Well, do you have one well or two wells?”

“Got me,” I said. “All I know is when I pull up the handle, nothing happens. It worked last summer. How do I prime the pump?”

“You gotta pour water down it before the water will come up from the well. Just pour some water down the pump until it’s primed.”

Seemed simple enough. But there was no place on the red pump crank to pour water. Maybe I needed to take the handle mechanism off the top of the pipe in order to pour water into the pump, but it was rusted onto the pipe. The question about two wells led me to wonder.

IMG_1536 I went back to the cabin and took the cap off the well that supplies water to the cabin’s indoor plumbing fixtures. What I found was an electrical system. Wires interconnected and programmed to pump the water from the well into wherever it was programmed to go. Since the well controlled electronically hadn’t been re-programmed, and the outside pump with the red handle wasn’t working, I concluded the pump in the yard had a separate well and that it needed to be primed. Or, perhaps, the hand-pumped well had gone dry over the winter.

Once again, I pumped the red handle up and down repeatedly with the same results. No water to water the shrubs and flowers. We were doomed. This pump wouldn’t prime!

Then Bud and JoAnne dropped by for an altogether unexpected visit. Bud wasn’t supposed to be out and about. He’d been homebound following quadruple by-pass surgery and serious complications that followed it. They hadn’t been at the coffee hour and, so far as I knew, didn’t know the story about my ignorance.

We pulled out a chair in the yard for Bud to sit. I told him about trying to prime the pump. “I don’t think there’s a separate well for that pump,” he said. “I think there’s just one well. Let me try it.”

Bud stood up, took hold of the red handle, and pulled it all the way up, and, like the rock that Moses struck in the wilderness of Meribah, the water gushed from the pump.

IMG_1534

The pump that pumped. No priming needed!

It was a miracle! There’d been no need to prime the pump. I just needed to force the handle all the way up, which I had feared doing lest I break it.

Now the Ninebark and the few flowers we planted are watered between rainfalls, and the miracle of the well that never needed to be pumped gives hope to a writer that one extra tug on the handle can get the water flowing again.

  • Gordon C. Stewart at the cabin, August 14, 2018.

Remembering the Music Man

Video

Turning 76 reminds me of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from The Music Man. Every town loves a parade. What’s a town without a parade? Or a big marching band? The Music Man, Harold Hill, arrives in peaceful little town of River City, and convinces its citizens that “they got troubles”. He’s a con man who sells musical instruments, promising to create the greatest marching band the world has ever seen, led by 76 trombones.

Sound and look familiar? No parades. Please, no parades.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 12, 2018.

The Pied Piper 2018

Featured

Hameln1

Children of my generation learned the story of the Pied Piper. It’s one of those Grimm fairy tales lodged in our brains.

The Pied Piper is a kind of public savior who, during the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages, was freeing the city of Hamlin of the source of the plague that was killing them: rats. Thousands of them followed the music of his flute. But when the city reneged on its agreement to pay him, the Pied Piper led the children out of the city, instead of the rats. Only the irresponsible adults … and the rats were left in the town.

The recent dream of brain surgery shared here on Views from the Edge in which the surgeon was removing a rat from my brain led me to ponder why such a dream would wait until 2018, so many years after I had been freed from the rat-infested house on Church Lane.

Then it occurred to me. Six decades later, I am living again in a rat-infested house. The President charged with protecting the people and its Constitution is a rat, and the rat’s not just out THERE; the rat has gotten inside our heads. Every day. Every night. America is living through a nightmare.

Where is the legitimate Pied Piper who will lead the rats out? More importantly, will the adults care more about their children and the constitutional republic than the rat they confuse with the Pied Piper?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2018.

The Dream of Brain Surgery

Featured

It was just a dream. Or was it?

1-The-Trial

‘Josef K.’ in the film rendition of Franz Kafka’s The Trial

It woke me three nights ago, but it won’t go away. Against every conscious attempt to push it away, it is still demanding my full attention.

I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. A surgeon opened my brain and was pulling an animal from the side of my head: a big, brown rat, resisting the surprised surgeon’s efforts, and then another, while the other part of me in the dream watched and cringed. That was it. That was the dream.

From the time I was very young, nothing frightens me as much as a rat. I was five years old when I saw my first rat after the family moved into the 120 year-old house on Church Lane — the one with the open cistern and the huge hole in the basement wall. A rat would scurry across the kitchen floor after leaping from the kitchen cabinet my mother had just opened. At night I could hear the rats moving in the wall next to my bed in the upstairs bedroom. Occasionally a family cat would kill one and offer it to my mother as a present; the sight of the gift sent chills up my mother’s spine as much as if it had been alive. Mom was scared to death of rats. So was I.

The rats I learned to hate were not pet rats or the white rats of laboratory experiments. They were sewer rats who lived in the open cistern with the tunnel to our basement, like the beady-eyed creature that leaped at my father when he blew him out of the opening in the basement wall with a shotgun. I’ll be 76 in a few days, but in my mind, it happened yesterday. 

Which brings me back to the brain surgery dream three nights ago. The pain in my head came from the rat that lived there. The rat wasn’t leaping from a cupboard or scurrying through the walls; it lived inside my head. I was helpless to remove it. It took surgical intervention, and its presence in my head surprised the surgeon as much as the part of me that was observing the procedure.

The rat represents everything I don’t want to be. It’s ugly. It’s dirty. It’s sneaky. It’s vile. It doesn’t operate in the daylight. It does it’s business in the dark of night. And, if you don’t kill it, it may kill you. Even if you shoot it, it will leap for your jugular.

It doesn’t take a Jungian dream interpreter to “get” the symbolism of the rat inside my head. I have been, and still am, my own worst enemy. You can run from the evil inside you, but the guilt remains. Betrayal, deceit, denial, divorce, hiding in kitchen cupboards, scurrying in bedroom walls, living in the cistern beside the house where the human beings live.

I’ve long known the truth of Carl Sandburg’s poem “The Wilderness”: “O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head…”. Like the rest of the human race, I, too, have a wolf in me, and a fox, a hog, a baboon, a fish, an eagle, and a mockingbird in me. But I have an animal not listed in Sandburg’s menagerie. I got a rat inside my bony head.

Childhood fears never die. And, like a former pope who hated his predecessor so much that he became him, if one isn’t careful, one becomes what one fears and hates.

Where is the surgeon who can remove it? What practices can pull the rat from my head and the free me of the horror inside my ribs? Or, is the challenge to live with it the same way I’ve come to terms with the other members of the menagerie of me — to go face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball, and, after all these years of running from it, muster the courage to make friends with my own worst enemy?

Rat on a green background

The rats of my childhood disappeared when the opening in the basement wall was closed with brick and mortar and the cistern was filled with concrete. It will take more than bricks and concrete to remove the one in my head, but the process has started, and for that, I’m thankful.

“The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death. I was both the subject and the object in the dream, the self relating to its own self. There is light in the darkness. Hope abounds.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 2, 2018.

Walking. Solus, with the Light-House.

Featured

“This light-house, a single firefly illuminating the dark.”

Andrew familyLike the “single firefly” (a family on a front porch) in today’s I Can’t Sleep post, Andrew, Alice, and grandson Calvin are being more natural at the cabin this weekend. I’Il think of them in light of David Kanigan’s commentary (scroll down to read) and The Fireflies that lit up the pitch dark sky above the wilderness cabin almost a month ago.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, August 4, 2018.

It was a week ago. An otherwise unforgettable day, but for a moment, a single firefly with its other worldly bioluminescence, which keeps circling back.

“Do you want a ride home?”

It’s a short walk home from the train station, ~2000 steps. One hour in the quiet car on Metro North didn’t quench it, the thirst for more solitude, more Alone, more decompression. I walk.

The torso leans forward, the feet step one-two-one-two.  Lean forward? A tip from a Youtube fitness coach who explained that it propels you forward. So I lean forward. If he told you to hop on your right foot and rub your stomach round and round with your left hand, you’d do it.

It’s humid. God, it’s Humid. Torso leans forward, thick air pushes back, slowing forward motion. Thunderheads build in the distance.

The neck tie is in my brief case. The slim fit button down…

View original post 312 more words

Elijah and Barclay’s Ball

Video

Some things bring a smile. This short clip of Elijah and our dog Barclay playing with Barclay’s ball is one of them. Turn up the volume and smile.

 

  • Grandpa Gordon with Grandma Kay, the movie producer. August 1, 2018

Elijah, the next Andrew Zimmern

Featured

Elijah and his spoonJPG

Elijah and his spoon

Elijah has a palate like the host of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. It doesn’t discriminate, and he LOVES food. His tastes are far-reaching and wide-ranging. Mexican? Chinese? German? American? French? Escargot or a grub or tasty earthworm from the lawn? It makes no difference.

AndrewZimmern_crop

Andrew Zimmern

Like Andrew, who, BTW, lives in the same town, Elijah would try it. He loves it all.

The big news is that Elijah is eating with a spoon, as well as his fingers, and he’s proud of it! 

Who cares if he drops a few peas, or some applesauce, or gets a little food in his hair, or shares his spoon with the family dog!

  • Grandpa Gordon (‘Bumpaa’), Chaska, MN, July 31, 2018.

 

Elijah love and joy with Grandma

Featured

There’s love and there’s joy. The two go together. But not always. Sometimes love brings sadness. Likewise, sometimes joy — or, rather, what seems like joy (self-indulgent self-satisfaction — knows nothing of love. We live for the moments when love and joy are joined at the hip.

Elijah and Kay swing

Elijah and Grandma joined at the hip

This photo of Elijah and Grandma on the swing serves as a reminder that love and joy really do belong together. Could two people enjoy each other more than Elijah and his Grandma?

  • Grandpa Gordon, Chaska, MN, July 29, 2018

 

 

 

Sunday Morning

Featured

“[T]here is such a sense of stillness and peace that the wrong sort of movement, even one’s very presence, might be felt as an intrusion….” The photo and words by Oliver Sacks on David Kerrigan’s post rang a familiar bell this morning. We’re back in ‘civilization’ — far from the stillness and peace of the wetland, the birches, oaks, and pines — but knowing the senses of awe and intrusion of which the writer speaks. Thank you, David, for sharing. Thank you, Oliver. RIP.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Sunday morning, July 29, 2018.

I find myself walking softly on the rich undergrowth beneath the trees, not wanting to crack a twig, to crush or disturb anything in the least — for there is such a sense of stillness and peace that the wrong sort of movement, even one’s very presence, might be felt as an intrusion… The beauty of the forest is extraordinary — but “beauty” is too simple a word, for being here is not just an esthetic experience, but one steeped with mystery, and awe… Standing here…I feel part of a larger, calmer identity; I feel a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.

~ Oliver SacksThe Island of the Colorblind


Notes:

  • Quote Source: Brainpickings
  • Photo: Pine trees stand forming a forest near Briesen, Germany, on Thursday. Brandenburg’s forests produce sustainable wood resources of roughly a million cubic meters. (Patrick Pleul, wsj.com, January…

View original post 3 more words

Elijah and his Cheerios with Grandpa

Featured

Elijah and his truck

14 month-old Elijah 

It’s been a while since Elijah and Grandpa had a conversation on Views from the Edge. Elijah celebrated first birthday in late May, and has had a lot to say to Grandpa (“Bumpaa”). His words continue to cheer me. But it’s his baby Cheerios that bring the greater joy. His actions speak louder than words.

Elijah loves Cheerios! He carries them around the house in a plastic cup, plunges his hand into the cup, and pulls out two or three Cheerios. He loves them almost as much as light sockets, computer wires, and the remote to the television. But, when he eats his Cheerios, no one tells him to stop.

Kay and I been out of town last week, enjoying a lovely week at the cabin in the low 70s with breezes from across the wetland, but we missed the little guy! Yesterday Grandma resumed her Friday routine of caring for Elijah. He ran to Grandma and threw his arms in the air asking her to picked him up before he went back for his cup of Cheerios.

Elijah and Bumpa2

Elijah and his Cheerios with Bumpaa

When Grandma sent word that Elijah was calling for me — “Bumpaa? Bumpaa ?” — I joined the two of them at Kristin’s apartment. During our time together, Elijah was dipping his hand into the Cheerios. But he wasn’t just feeding himself. He was sharing his Cheerios. One by one, he reached out his hand to place his precious Cheerios into Grandpa’s mouth. He was doing what human beings are meant to do. He was sharing his Cheerios with Bumpaa, and it came naturally, years before he learns the commandment to love his Bumpaa as himself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 28, 2018.