It’s surprising to me that I now often take comfort in the fact that I don’t really know much of anything – that I am a total mystery living in a universe of mysteries. In my earlier years, it was the exact opposite: I always took comfort from knowing. It seemed like the more I knew, the stronger and safer I would be. Back then, life was a puzzle that simply needed to be slowly and carefully learned, figured out, and ‘put together’. Now, however, in my 79th year, I take genuine comfort in the realization that, yes, life is a puzzle, but one that is infinitely vast and multifaceted, and therefore infinitely beyond understanding. When I was younger, it was as if life was an amazing but finite sky that I somehow needed to analyze and understand. Now, in these elder years, life is still that amazing sky, but I now know that this sky called life – or reality -is completely without boundaries. Now, I take pleasure – and comfort – in simply being constantly amazed by that sky, and in realizing that the phenomenon called ‘Hamilton Salsich’ is an essential and everlasting part of that boundless, wondrous, and eternally mysterious sky.
A GREAT MYSTERY
(Jimmy Lee H., 76, Blessings, CT)
he found a great mystery.
It was made of stillness and sincerity,
and it stood before him
like an unfolding tree.
It told him,
in words that seemed homemade,
that all things were sympathetic to him -
the air that thronged around him
wherever he was,
the endless silence
that sweetly waited for him
to notice it,
and this moment
that is thoughtfully choosing him,
like each moment does.
He stared at the mystery,
and he knew the whole universe
was sincerely staring back at him
and wisdom was dancing
from mystery to mystery,
from stars to planets to stars.
This morning I was sitting at my desk, listening to some Mozart sonatas for violin and piano and trying to think of something to write in my blog, when I suddenly felt tears coming. I’m sure it was the beautiful music that started them. Just hearing the loveliness of Mozart making a violin and piano dance together with easy magnificence sometimes does bring me to the tears of gratefulness. But this morning the music and the tears took me away from our small house in Mystic and out to our extended family in Rhode Island and northern Connecticut and Massachusetts and New Hampshire and St. Louis, hoping they are all well, and then around the whole earth, where I knew so many millions of people were not at all well, were seriously suffering, right in those very minutes while I was listening to the loveliest of all music. Strange, how musical beauty at its best can bring out the beauty of compassion – how the simple splendor of a sonata can make one feel the sorrows of a suffering world. I guess it’s the ancient mystery of togetherness – how splendor always shares its home with suffering, how the elegance of beauty brings it into partnership with the darkness of sorrow and grief. It gives me, again, some insight into the vastness of this amazing universe, where joyfulness and sorrow and beauty and bereavement endlessly dance in partnership.
When I was a boy, I loved visiting a small store not far from our house, called The Unique Shop. I would often walk down there and browse among the many toys and games and gadgets. I fairly quickly fell in love with yo-yo’s and magic tricks and juggling, and spent many an hour sending my yo-yo dancing on its string, making magic in simple but special ways, and tossing three small, shining balls.
I loved to spin my yellow-and-blue yo-yo in tricks like walk-the-dog, rock-the-cradle, and around-the world, and I especially loved to show off my skills to the many very cute girls in my class at Holy Redeemer School. At recess, I would usually twirl my yo-yo in the fanciest ways I knew, especially if Ann Reilly or Cindy Coburn were watching.
I also loved learning and performing magic tricks, some of which I purchased at The Unique Shop. I especially prized the little black top-hat that looked quite empty when I showed it to Ann or Cindy, but then, with a smooth twist of my 12-year-old hands, alakazam!, a soft white bunny would appear in the hat. “Wow! That was good, Hammy!” Those magic words from gorgeous Ann and sweet-looking Cindy always gave me goosebumps, which was another kind of magic for a lucky kid like me.
I also worked hard to learn to juggle, tossing three Unique Shop balls together for what seemed like hours, and soon, the motions of my arms and the movements of the balls seemed cool and graceful, and so finally, one Friday afternoon at recess, I let three of my most colorful balls loose in the air above my arms and saw them rise and fall in flowing patterns, and Ann and Cindy saw them too – and smiled and clapped their lovely hands!
Sad to say, I never got to hold Ann’s hand at a Friday night movie, and Cindy kicked me when I tried to kiss her at recess. Some tricks I just wasn’t able to learn.
Good friends sometimes close a letter with “much love”, and just now, on a frozen, snow-covered day in Mystic, I see much love all around me. I see it in my wife’s flowers carrying themselves with great grace on a window shelf near where I’m typing. They were set there years ago because Delycia does more loving than anyone I know, and the blossoms are beautifying both our home and the snowy scene outside the window. I see love, too, in the pendulum clock hanging on the wall behind me – a clock made by craftsmen who probably loved their labor, loved setting the parts in their proper places so the chimes would reliably sing their song every fifteen minutes. When you love your work, the love lives on in your creations, and this is true even for the cold, old streets of our town which were plowed last night and today by drivers who do their work with precision, and perhaps (I hope) with pride. They may not see it this way, but I see much love in what they have done for all of us, allowing us to move about town today and take this white winter day in stride, and maybe even in joyfulness, maybe even with much love.
And we felt much love coming to us from these snowy scenes as we did our beloved morning walk today. Nature loves all of us – always – and it was easy to sense that love on this snow-covered morning.
According to one dictionary, to ‘abdicate’ means to give up being a queen or king, and I would actually love to do that — would love to stop pretending to be the king of my life. I guess I have finally learned, at the age of 79, that the best way to live is to let life itself be the king instead of little me. Life, in all its vastness and mystery and supremacy, surely knows more about what’s best for me than I do. Hamilton Salsich trying to be the king of every second of every day is as silly as one wave trying to preside over the whole ocean, or a single ray of light trying to control how it shines. Each moment of my life is fashioned from an immeasurable number of sources and causes, and it seems bizarre to me that I sometimes think I can control all these forces, waving my scepter like a hopeful but clueless king. I indulge in this silly charade every day, but now I’m hoping to set my make-believe crown aside and let the only real ruler, the everlasting Universe — some call it God, some Allah, I just call it Now — hold sway. It’s astonishing what this infinite Queen-King can do.
In this morning’s dawn (below), which we saw on our river walk this morning, imagine a single ray of sunshine thinking it’s in complete control of its small, separate light!
As we drove along the interstate one wintry morning recently, there were signs I’d never seen before. These signs, naming exits and streets and towns, had actually been there for years, and I know we had passed them many times. In a sense, though, they were as new this morning as the sunlight shining on them. After all, since yesterday, new dust and dirt had settled on them in brand new patterns, the weather had reworked them by further wearing them down, and the light was landing on them in ever so slightly new ways. In that sense, these were signs I’d never seen before, signs that were newly redecorated, rejuvenated, and I might say remade in the hours and days since we last passed them. The signs seemed to almost flash their newness at us as we passed. For me, this implies a startling fact about our universe – namely, the newness of all things. Despite my usual inability to notice it, there is newness everywhere – in signs on the interstate, in clouds assembling in the sky in ways no one has seen before, in cars spattered with snowplow salt in patterns that are each, in tiny ways, different from any previous pattern in the history of cars and road salt. I couldn’t stop thinking about it as the day passed – this newness, this freshness, this utter novelty and originality of everything. It seemed like an astonishing life I was living, a life where starting fresh happens every second, a life in which all things – including me – are no more than one second old!
It’s interesting to me that the word ‘resolution’ derives from the Latin words meaning ‘the process of reducing things into simpler forms’, because this is exactly what I hope to do in 2021. As the years have passed, life, in some ways, seems to have steadily grown more complicated for me, and I yearn to discover (or perhaps rediscover) the simplicity that I believe lies at the center of life. Indeed, not life itself, but my thinking about life, has made things complicated, and I hope in the next 12 months to ‘resolve’ – or ‘re-solve’ – my life, to break it down into its essential ingredients, to see more clearly the simplicity and cleanness and newness of my moments and hours and days. Surprisingly, it won’t take willpower to do this. In fact, it’s my own ego-centered willpower that’s caused most of the complications and confusions of my life. I’ve always thought ‘I’ could accomplish a good life all by myself, simply by exerting my willpower, but that attitude actually created more disorder and bewilderment. I was like a small wave in a vast ocean, a wave that thought it was the boss and could manipulate the ocean to do its will. In 2021, I am going to try to do what a smart wave would do – let go of the belief that it’s separate and alone and simply relax into the immense power of the ocean and let it do the work. I am an inseparable part of an infinite ‘ocean’, or force, which some people call God, but I prefer names like Love or Spirit or Light. Since I am part of this force, all I have to do to simplify my life in 2021 is yield to the vast power of Life, spelled with an uppercase ‘L’. Some people say “Let go and let God”, but I say “Ham, let go and let the endless ocean of Love and Spirit and Light do the work.” That’s the best resolution I could make for this new year — to surrender my paltry willpower to the unadulterated and tender strength of Life itself.
Imagine living in the midst of Yellowstone National Park and almost never going outside to see and study and appreciate the beauties of this awe-inspiring place. How foolish that would be, and how regretful one would feel if, at the age of 79, he looked back on 40+ years close to Yellowstone and realized that he had missed countless chances to explore and discover and appreciate its wonders.
That’s sort of the way I’m feeling this morning as I think about my beloved mom and dad. They’ve been gone for 30+ years, and I realize, sadly, that it’s now too late to see and study and appreciate the beauties of their awe-inspiring lives. I knew them for more than 40 years, but I realize, more and more, that I knew only the margins, the borders, of their lives. I rarely took the time to venture into their inner lives to learn about their stories, their histories, their fears and loves and sorrows and triumphs. They were two grand and magnificent people, as splendid and stunning, in their way, as Yellowstone, and yet it’s as if I stayed inside my small personal life for those 40+ years and almost never set forth to get to know my mom and dad.
I don’t mean to say I was a ‘bad’ son, or that I never hugged or laughed with or had wonderful experiences with my parents. No – I grew up in a loving and happy family and have wonderful memories of mom and dad. What I don’t have – and what makes me sad this morning – is memories of just sitting quietly with them and getting to know them, in a deep and personal way. I didn’t ask them often enough about their hopes and dreams and fears and sorrows and joys and triumphs. I didn’t ask them for heart-to-heart talks. I didn’t say, “Mom, I’m feeling a little fearful these days. What has made you afraid in your life, and how did you deal with it?” I didn’t say, “Dad, can you tell me about some of the obstacles you have overcome in your life?” My mom’s mother died when mom was only 9, but I never asked her to tell me about how that made her feel, and how she dealt with it, and I never asked dad about his feelings when his mom and dad died.
So I am feeling regretful this morning. I lived with or near two magnificent people for more than 40 years, but never truly got to know them. Yellowstone National Park is amazing, but so were my mom and dad, but, sadly, I rarely walked their trails or climbed their summits.
Fortunately, yesterday and today we did not overlook the magnificence of the rising sun. In fact, we have become students of the sunrise, walking along the Mystic River on countless mornings as light was slowly and beautifully starting to spread again. Here are some photos from the last two days …
For most of my life, I thought of beauty as being something very special, and therefore scarce, something few and far between. There was beauty, yes, but there were also mounds and acres of plainness and ordinariness. What I’ve been happily understanding, though, over the past 40+ years, is that beauty is not only not scarce, but is actually everywhere. On my walk this morning in the Peace Sanctuary, I came across these scenes …
which probalby few people would characterize as beautiful. But as I paused and studied them for a few moments, what I began to see were gracefully flowing patterns of stone, leaves, limbs, and twigs. For some reason, I imagined myself as someone who had suddenly, just then, been healed of blindness, and, as I stared, the elegance of the scenes started to materialize. Wow! I silently said over and over again, like a blind person stunned with brand-new vision. To someone with the new and astounding skill of eyesight, this old cliff and this tangle of tree limbs and leaves would be a blessing beyond belief. They would stand and stare, awestruck – which is what I did for a few beautiful moments this morning.
Today, instead of posting one of my own writings, I want to share this wonderful message from Fr. Richard Rohr, from the website of the Center for Action and Contemplation. It is followed by a powerful story told by a member of the CAC community. (The audio voice is me, not Fr. Richard!)
In his newest book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis points out that we need both personal liberation and liberation from unjust and harmful systems. Unfortunately, many people have been taught that salvation is merely an individual escape plan for the next world, which has not produced many liberated people or healthy systems. He writes:
“In every personal ‘Covid’, so to speak, in every ‘stoppage’, what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected.”
We all think we are freely and consciously making our own choices when, in my experience, most people live most of their lives unconsciously! Before transformation, we are basically sleepwalking, going through the motions on the surface of life, which is why spiritual teachers like Jesus and Buddha tell us to “wake up.” When our ego or small self is in charge, we are not free; we are being ordered about by our preferences, our likes and dislikes. Is it really liberating to believe the world revolves around us or conversely, that we must hold it all together?
As we engage in contemplative prayer and allow God to transform us through great love and great suffering, we are reminded of our inherent connectedness. We are liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow separate from everyone and everything else, including God.
After an authentic God encounter, everything else is relativized. There is only one Absolute and it is God, not us or our culture. Both are de-centered. Through prayer we find God both deep within us and all around us. We know our True Self is part of God and lives in God. We are no longer limited by our culturally conditioned reactions but have access to a greater Source of love and ultimate freedom.
Pope Francis recognizes this freedom in the healthcare professionals who have risked their lives and worked so hard for so many months:
[Healthcare workers] are the saints next door, who have awoken something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.
They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves: not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service. 
There is no authentic freedom if we do not also consider the rights and well-being of others. As Pope Francis reflects:
Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate. . . . 
The transformed person finds freedom in the service of Life and Love. Your life is not about you. You are about life!
References:  Pope Francis, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future (Simon & Schuster: 2020), 36.
 Pope Francis, 13.
 Pope Francis, 27.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Scripture as Liberation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.
Story from the CAC Community: When I entered my fifth rehab for addiction and alcoholism, I remember sitting at meetings wondering silently: Who am I? and What am I to do now? I was introduced to Richard Rohr, began to support CAC, and my sobriety led me to contemplate while awake. I have learned that I do not change my life, so much as I cooperate with Providence in allowing my life to be directed and changed. I have momentary breakthroughs. Today I am sober, and sober-minded, and am learning to ‘grow-up.’ I did not, nor will I get back, all that I have lost. In the end, it is rubbish. It is passing, as am I. But God remains. —Michael G.
Speaking of freedom, Delycia and I feel fortunate to have the freedom to watch overflowing sunsets from our sunroom. Here is the gift we received last evening: