Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Retreating Thoughts

Retreating Thoughts
By Quentin Smeltzer, www.SmeltzerNation.com, 1/8/11

Every year our church holds a men’s retreat where the men of the church don’t retreat so much as they venture forth to a simple lodge in the woods near a lake for two and a half days of camaraderie, prayer, discussion, a hike and an indoor golf tournament.  The accommodations are rustic.  The food is hearty but simple.  The thoughts shared are sometimes profound, sometimes prosaic.  I always laugh and I sometimes cry.  Let me amend that:  I always cry and usually at the oddest, most unexpected moments. 

They say men cry more at movies then do women, and we cry more at movies if we see them on airplanes.  I can also attest that we cry more in a cabin in the woods.  The words that pop out of our mouths and into our heads in new places with new people are new and unexpected as well.  Or maybe we’re just cry babies. 

This year I found myself well up when we were discussing transitions and I realized, maybe for the first time in my fifty four years, that I may well lose my father to old age in the not too distant future.  He is eighty one. 

My dad and I have reconciled after some turbulent times.  I love him and I know he loves me.  But there are so many regrets, so many things said and unsaid, so many things done and undone. 

Just ten years ago in my mid forties I believed I had no regrets and now my life is packed full of them.  How did this happen?

I have made many changes in my life and most of them have been for the better.  I gave up drugs and serious drink but somehow I recently decided to take up smoking.  Let me amend that as well.  If I said I took up smoking your children and mine might read that and start smoking.  And I would not want that.  If I said I took up smoking, my insurance company might raise my rates or deny my claim.  It’s a funny world we live in.  America may be the freest country in the world but we are far from free.  I am not free to tell you I have taken up smoking even one cigarette a day.

Thinking about a passage we read from bible on this retreat I finally realized how to see God.  God is us; people, and all creation.  So I understand that part now.   What I still don’t understand is why we live and die.  “Why do we die?” I asked Nick, who works for Pitney Bowes. 

“It’s all about the cycle of life,” he said.  “It’s a transition.”

“Ah,” I said, but I still don’t get it. 

If I did take up smoking it would not be because I want to die.  I want to live forever and in fact, I hope to get younger with each passing day.  Smoking may not improve my chances of attaining these two goals but, let’s face it: they are kind of a stretch anyway.

If I did recently take up smoking, say, just one cigarette a day, I might have smoked my one cigarette standing on the balcony outside my lodge room just now, listening to the snow melt from the trees in the dark of night.  I might have had this thought, that if I wasn't smoking I would just be standing there.  But because I was smoking—if I was smoking—I was doing something.  Something half stupid.  Something half mystical.  Something that isn't allowed at this lodge or almost anywhere in the world anymore, but something nevertheless.