Poem # 38 – Loneliness


O the loneliness and the fear
I feel when I go into the wilderness
Where the jackals and the wolves
Howl for my soul.

Out there, I’m alone. Only God,
And even Him I’m not so sure of.
Why the wilderness? There there is
No running from fear, pain, myself.

Naked and alone I must look
At myself. A grain of sand in a
Hostile world, trying to be so important
But only hanging on to the rock
Who gave me birth.

emptychair– Dale Hartwig (1940-2012) loved the wilderness. He went to his cabin in northern Michigan whenever he could.  Poem #38 was written during advanced Parkinson’s from his room at the Care Center in Grand Rapids, MI. Dale was one of seven classmates who gather annually for reflection and the renewal of friendship. Since Dale’s death, there are six. An empty chair preserves Dale’s seat in the circle.

Poem #5 – Dale Hartwig (1940-2012)

Prisoners Exercising, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890  with Van Gogh looking out and beyond.

Prisoners Exercising, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890 with Van Gogh looking out and beyond.

Dale Hartwig stood out from the crowd. He wrote for himself. His was a rich inner world, a necessity for survival as Parkinson’s shrank his world to the size of his room at the care center. His writings, shared with a group of six close friends, deserve a larger audience.

Dale’s verses and poetry often echo the Hebrew psalmists. They are visceral, sometimes crying out  like Vincent Van Gogh exercising in his asylum at Saint-Remy, and at other times delighting at the sight of a fluttering leaf or falling snowflake outside his care center window. None of Dale’s pieces have titles.

Like prisoners, they only have numbers – the order in which he wrote them, as best we can tell.

Poem #5

Behind and before, Thou goest, O Lord.
Like the wind I cannot see.
But why so silent in ways of my need?
To let you but walk to trust in me.
O my steps are oft frozen from fear,
And my thoughts locked to the darkness around.
O God, only You can move me beyond
The prison that seems to abound.
Come, Lord, and move me, just one small step
Toward the One who would give me so much.
I am who I am, so little sometimes
But, with You, so much, so much.

The last time Dale joined the annual Gathering of classmates in Chicago, he surprised us. He wasn’t supposed to leave “home” – but he did. He somehow managed to get himself to the train station in Grand Rapids, Michigan, board a train for Chicago, and make his way from Union Station to Hyde Park by public transportation carrying a suitcase on the stiffening legs he still exercised daily.

When it came his time to share what had been happening in his life, he handed me a sheaf of papers and pointed to the number 5 on one of the pages he had typed. I read it aloud for him. Every face was wet. “I am who I am, so little sometimes But, with You, so much, so much.”


Old Friends

Dale Hartwig (red shirt) and the Chicago Seven Gathering, McCormick Theological Seminary, 2004.

Dale Hartwig (red shirt) and the Chicago Seven Gathering, McCormick Theological Seminary, 2004.

This morning news arrived of the passing of an old friend. Dale is a classmate, one of seven who call ourselves The Chicago Seven. The Seven met annually until 2004 when the gathering was reduced to Six because of Dale’s advancing Parkinson’s. The gatherings have continued to be powerful bonds of friendship, but never again so meaningful as when there were Seven.

MEMORIAL TRIBUTE to be shared at the Celebration of Life & Victory over Death for DALE HARTWIG

Dale was such a joy for all of the Chicago Seven (now Six). His quiet spirituality brought a stillness to the room, or tears, and so much reality and the tenderness of a poet. The last time all seven of us McCormick alums gathered in Chicago, we sat around a long table sharing our thoughts and work. Dale and I were sitting next to each other, as we often did, at one end of the table. When it came his turn, Dale moved some papers in front of me and asked that his words be read. His contribution, as I recall it, was a Greek exegesis from a New Testament text that reminded us of his love for biblical exegesis, he being the only one of us who left seminary to become more proficient in NT Greek than when we left. His sharing also included a poem he had written. As I read it aloud on his behalf – his surrogate voice – he began to weep because his words had been heard! Here’s the poem in memory of that sacred Hartwig moment – one of many – that the rest of us will forever cherish.


As the surrogate voice reads on,
the author sits and sobs
his wrenching tears from primal depth;
from some abyss of joy
or nothingness…or both.

The author’s sighs and piercing sobs-
arrest routine,
invoke a hush,
dumb-found the wordy room.

He cannot speak,
his Parkinson’s tongue tied,
his voice is mute, in solitude confined,
all but sobs too deep for words.
Another now has become
his voice, offering aloud with dummy voice
the muted contribution
in poetic verse the ventriloquist’s voice has penned.

The abyss of muted isolation ope’d,
his words, re-voiced aloud,
hush the seven to sacred silence, all…
except from him, their author.

Whence comes this primal cry:
From depths of deep despair and death,
from loneliness, or depths of joy
We do not know.

The surrogate voice reads on
through author’s sobs and sighs,
through his uncertain gasps for air
and our uncertain care.

The iron prison gates – the guards
of his despair – unlock and open out
to turn his tears from prison’s hole
to tears of comrade joy.

His word is spoken, his voice is heard,
a word expressed
in depth and Primal Blessing,
pardoned from the voiceless hell.

The stone rolls back,
rolls back, rolls back,
from the brother’s prison’s tomb,
the chains of sadness snap and break!

At one, at one, we seven stand,
in Primal Silence before the open tomb,
as tears of loss, of gain, of tongues released
re-Voice unbroken chords of brotherhood.